How to win at writing competitions…

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…or improve your odds at the very least. Because, in no small way, writing is art — and art is subjective — and I don’t know if you’re up against Paulo Coelho or a local WI, or if the prize is a Pulitzer or a set of Lego.

Anyway, aside from the terms and conditions, there’s multiple ways you can boost your chances of success — and a wealth of opportunities available whether you’re new or experienced, or you write literary or genre (or even flash fiction or poetry, for that matter).

  • The Costa Short Story Award is offered to unpublished writers, in conjunction with the hugely popular Costa Book Awards. There’s no entry fee, a 4,000 word limit, and the prize is a not-to-be-sniffed-at £3,000. Enter here.
  • Or, how does £20 a word sound? The Reader’s Digest 100-Word Story Competition is a perennially popular competition that asks writers to submit stories of exactly 100 words: no more, no less. It’s free to enter, and the prize is £2,000. Enter here.
  • The American Short(er) Fiction Contest is for those of you in the States and promises its winner publication in a future issue of their national magazine as well as a cash prize of $1,000. The limit is just 1,000 words, and the entry fee is just $17. Enter here.
  • The National Flash Fiction Youth Competition, held by the University of Chester, is a great first contest for UK students. Winners have their stories published in Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine, the word limit is just 360 words and the prize is £100 — enough for a few week’s worth of noodles. Enter here.
  • The Keats-Shelley Prize is a contest of two parts: essay and poetry. All shortlisted entries will be published either online or in print, plus winners of each category will receive £1,000 and an invitation to an oh-so-fancy awards ceremony at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Word limits are 3,000 words for essays and 30 lines for poetry. Enter here.

Thinking of joining a writing group? Image

So, you’ve found a competition you want to enter (hopefully several). What are the golden rules before you click submit, send that email or post that SAE?

Number one: follow the rules (natch)

Check any guidelines or judges’ requirements before you enter: this sounds simple, but it’s shocking how many writers submit a romance to a sci-fi competition, or only 1,500 words instead of 15,000. Don’t get your work thrown in the bin before you get to the first round.

Number two: be confident, but not too confident

Submit your very best work, but know when to stop editing: it’s easy to lose your original voice if you polish too much.

Number three: feedback, feedback, feedback

Always seek it from trusted readers before you send your entry, and it doesn’t hurt to send judges a quick email after results are drawn to ask if they have any tips. Always be polite!

Number four: enter as many as possible

It’s a lottery, and you have to be in it. Plus, judges will get to know your name, which can open up opportunities down the road. Look for competitions run by local writers’ guilds and workshops: there’ll be fewer entries than in national competitions, and they often give a critique to finalists.

And number five, of course, is never give up

It helps to reserve a favourite cake or TV show as a psychological reward (or consolation) for your result: don’t consume as you would normally, except when the writing contest is over and you need sugar and brain defragmentation. You’ll have the motivation to enter more competitions, just so you can can binge on the next season afterwards.

Speaking of more entries, why not send out the same story? Always check competition rules: some prohibit re-submitting your entry until after results are drawn, and some demand original work only. If you can submit to multiple competitions at once, always do so.

And never lose faith in your work. Failure doesn’t exist, only lessons: what could have you done better?

If the answer doesn’t immediately feel you with squirmy regrets, remember: it’s often just the luck of the draw.

“Failure doesn’t exist, only lessons: what could have you done better?”

About the author: Bethany Scott is a copywriter and horror novelist obsessed with narrative and plot structure. Her novel Twitmisery is coming soon. Follow her @bethanyrscott or visit