Thursday, February 18, 2016

Annalisa Crawford on Reasons to Enter Writing Competitions

Hi everyone! Today, I'm welcoming Annalisa Crawford to my blog to tell us a bit more about entering writing competitions. Also, I want to congratulate her again for placing third in the Costa Awards. I'm so proud of you!

Reasons to Enter Writing Competitions 

by Annalisa Crawford

I love entering competitions - I like the idea of having my stories out in the world without having to do very much market research, and I like the anticipation when the long- or short-lists are released, followed closely by the winners. And, occasionally, I win... which I also like. Okay, I lose, as well; it's a bit of a lottery. But that's not a reason not to enter.

There are several regular comments people repeat when I talk to them about competitions. It's too expensive. It's a waste of time, you'll never win. Contests are scams.

You might have your own reasons for avoiding them, but I'll take the ones above one by one, and answer any others in the comments.

1.      It's too expensive.
oYes, some of them are. I've actually paid £17 for a single entry before. I don't pay that much often, but I weight up the prestige of the competition, the overall judge, and the prize money - and then I decide whether I have a story/can write a story that is worth £17.
oSome are completely free - such as the Costa Short Story Award. But you have to bear in mind how many people will enter a free competition, which will make your odds of winning reduce.
oMost of the competitions I enter are between £5 and £10.
2.      It's a waste of time.
oI tend to enter stories that I have hanging around, those that I don't know what to do with or have been rejected by a couple of magazines. Competitions usually have a looser idea of the type of story they are looking for - whereas a magazine will have a definite style.
oThe story can be tied up for several months, but as long as you build this into your submission plan, it won't be a problem.
oThe discipline of writing a story, refreshing it, submitting it to a deadline is important. It gives you something to work towards.
3.      You'll never win.
oWell, firstly, someone has to - why not you?
oOn the other hand, you probably won't. You'll be frustrated and angry, but you'll get over it, and you'll write something else. If you're sensible, you'll try to work out why that story didn't work but the 1st/2nd/3rd place entries did. You'll learn without even trying.
oA lot of the larger competitions these days are being judged by literary agents and publishers. They are not just judging the competition, they are looking out for good writers. Even if you don't win, they might see your name, and they might be interested in you.
oYears ago, when I was just starting out, I'd see the same names on the long-lists and short-lists, then I'd see them placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Then I'd see them publishing their first novels. One name I remember seeing was Helen Dunmore.
4.      Contests are scams.
oI haven't heard British writers complaining about this quite so much as US writers. But, if in doubt, don't enter - or spend some time researching.
oRead the terms and conditions - I know most people don't, but in this case it's very important. You need to make sure you are following the rules so you won't get disqualified, but you also need to know what happens to your story if you win - do you retain copyright, will the story be published. The terms will also flag up areas where it feels scam-like, in which case, don't enter!

How about you? Do you enter? Have you won? Do you have doubts that I haven't covered above?

Annalisa Crawford lives in Cornwall UK, with a good supply of moorland and beaches to keep her inspired. She lives with her husband, two sons, a dog and a cat.

She writes dark contemporary, character-driven stories, and has been winning competitions and publishing short stories in small press journals for many years. She recently won 3rd Place in the Costa Short Story Award 2015.


  1. Winning the right one can launch a writer's career.

    Sadly, there are a lot of scams here in the US, and ones that are a lot more expensive than that. Research each one carefully.

    Congrats on your 3rd place entry, Annalisa.

  2. Thanks for hosting me today Misha, I love visiting your blog :-)

    Thanks Diane. A lot of the British competitions are international, so perhaps all you US folk could just pop across the pond.

    Here's a fantastic list of comps that I forgot to add to the post:

  3. I think you are amazing, Annalisa. Personally, I've been too much of a coward to enter. I like cheering for awesome people like you instead:)

  4. I pick and choose the comps I enter. Not got anywhere so far but I did get a short list mention for a writing magazine once. Thanks for the interesting post.

  5. I second Diane's comment. There are a lot of scams here.. everyone is trying to get their quick fix and all that. So yeah, I just tend to avoid contests. Also, I just don't even have the money for an even 5 dollar entry fee. Now, if I got something published in a magazine, maybe I'd use that money t enter a contest, but it really just seems wonky to pay to have someone look at your stuff like that. I dunno.

  6. Of course Annalisa likes them...she wins them!! Woo hoo.

    I hardly ever enter. I should, but I'm so lazy. I never do the proper research to know what's up.

  7. I've never entered a competition. I always figured researching them took as much time as researching markets to send my work to, and earning a publishing slot was sort of like winning a competition anyway.

    But as you indicated, Annalisa, there are solid reasons to consider entering a competition. The one that I think that possibly carries the most weight (beyond a major prize and publication) would be: "A lot of the larger competitions these days are being judged by literary agents and publishers. They are not just judging the competition, they are looking out for good writers. Even if you don't win, they might see your name, and they might be interested in you."

    Wishing you continued success in your efforts!

  8. Congrats Annalisa and thanks for all the competition info. I've entered a few contests, but haven't placed - which does tend to turn one a little sour especially when it costs dollars or pounds in the UK. For one thing, there aren't many Canadian contests that are appealing ( I know of one or two) and American contests sometimes are limited to US residents. Haven't tried any UK contests. Maybe one day I'll think differently. . .when I have more time to spend.

  9. enjoyed the virtual visit - thanks for hosting Annalisa who provided such good advice. She is proof that perseverance (and superb writing) can pay off. Excellent post

  10. I have entered a few contests, but I haven't won one since I was in high school, unfortunately. But I didn't consider the fact that literary agents were judging some of the entries; that's definitely something I'll keep in mind in the future.

  11. Great points Annalisa:) I often have to force myself to enter contests, but am usually glad once I've done it. I've only won a few though:)

  12. Murees - thank you :-) There's nothing to be afraid of, contests are usually judged anonymously anyway!

    Nicola - a shortlisting is fantastic... better than a longlisting... (which is also good because at least you get a mention) Here's to many more!

    Madilyn - Diane also said winning the right one can launch a career. Spending an evening researching them might be interesting. Like I mentioned in the post, some are completely free!

    Elizabeth - ah, but the point is, I don't win often. In fact, I've only placed 7 times since 1995!

    Terry - that's the one I think can appeal to a lot of people. Good luck, if you give it a go :-)

    D.G - thank you. Ah, I may have a guest post somewhere else tomorrow all about rejection ;-)

    Joanne - thank you. I like to call it stubbornness ;-)

    Neurotic - it's always worth checking out the judges!

    Mark - thank you. You only have a chance of winning if you enter! "A few" is a good number :-)

  13. I'm still so inspired by your Costa experience! I entered a few contests years ago and haven't tried again, but maybe I should give it a go. I need to branch out and try more things. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  14. Ha! I agree with Liz! You like entering those contests because you win them (no wonder given your amazing writing!). On the other hand, you can't win unless you enter.

  15. Julie - I know. I'm inspired by it too. If I can do it, anyone can! Definitely give it a go!

    Rena - but like I commented to Liz, 7 places (and only two 1st places) since 1995. But 7 more than if I hadn't entered :-)

  16. Congratulations again, Annalisa. I have many of those opinions re contests. They are quite expensive if you live in Australia with the current exchange rate if entering an overseas comp. I prefer to submit to magazines where I get a good amount per story and don't have to pay. I find it hard to access competitions that suit what I write. Ah, everything takes time. But it is one way to get noticed and looks good in a query letter and as you say, if you win enough, or are short-listed enough times, it may lead to publication. Nice thought. :-)

    Thanks for hosting Annalisa, Misha!


  17. I have entered just one competition and luckily for me won the special prize for my short story in that competition. I am just too lazy to enter competitions.

  18. Wonderful post! I've entered a few competitions (and just recently sent one in!), but I've never won. They are great opportunities.

  19. Denise - thank you. I've found a few Australian contests that look quite good. I use competitions for stories that don't fit anywhere else.

    Rachna - a 100% success rate! Awesome :-)

  20. Hi Misha - Annalisa has some very relevant ideas and her recent post is important too.

    If one doesn't enter then there's never a chance or that occasional acknowledgement of a job well done - practise is the important bit - so writing and entering then the habit sets in. I'm sure going local, helping out hospices etc .. will open doors - over time ... cheers and so well done Annalisa - have good weekends - Hilary


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