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How not to get Scammed: Strategies for Entering Writing Contests

by Karen M. Rider


When it comes to targeting submissions to contests, most authors understand the importance of matching the creative aspects of their work, including voice, style, theme and genre, to contest rules and a sponsor’s stated preferences. But do you know how to assess the logistical and financial aspects of a contest before submitting your entry?

You can make the time dedicated to the submission process more efficient and perhaps more lucrative by employing the following strategies. We’ll discuss each of them in a series of posts this month.

  1. Scrutinize the history and foundation of a contest before you enter. Zero in on who is behind a contest, how long it’s been around and how the contest is run.
  2. Calculate ratios between entry fees, types of entries and prize money to ascertain the ROI (return on investment) a contest has for you.
  3. A contest should be transparent—from who is sponsoring to who is judging and what’s written in the fine print, nothing should be vague about the contest you choose to enter.
  4. Become familiar with the works published by the contest sponsor as well as the works of judges
  5. Examine the works of previous winners and connect with them.
  6. Understand the copyright you will relinquish should your book or story become the winning entry.

Scrutinize a writing contest before you enter

“The reputation of the company sponsoring the contest—or the reputation of the people behind the contest—can be a strong indication of the quality of the contest,” says C. Hope Clark who has 14 years experience monitoring the contest market. She operates FundforWriters.com, a trusted source for professional contests, grants and other awards for writers. Clark suggests writers zero in on answering the following questions before entering a contest:

  • Who sponsors/supports the contest? (e.g., provides financial or other backing)
  • How is it financed?
  • Are professional publications and resources willing to promote it?
  • How is the contest advertised? (e.g., vetted listings?)

The age of a contest coupled with its growth reveals something about the integrity of the contest, too. Most scams are uncovered over time through overseers such as Writer Beware.com, a publishing industry watchdog group. “The longer a contest has endured the scrutiny of the [professional] writing community, the better the odds that it’s legitimate,” says Clark.

Another indicator of a contest that has proven itself beyond the test of time is the caliber of the judges and the publisher. A careful look at who is willing to put their name a contest can reveal a great deal about its integrity. No established author wants to associate with a gimmicky contest. “Neither does a decent sized, legitimate traditional press or literary magazine want its reputation besmirched,” says Clark.

 Should You Enter A Writing Contest Won by Public Vote?

Proceed with caution when it comes to contests that determine winners by public vote (e.g., America’s Next Top Author). “These contests wind up becoming a popularity contest that diverts from the quality of the writing,” says Clark. These contests may have a judge (or a small panel of judges) who selects finalists from among winners who were initially chosen through a reader voting mechanism, usually a website or Facebook page. Such contests usually lack the professional vetting of entries and will often publish all the entries. Winning a contest where your writing rises to the top of a heap of slush does not help a writer enhance their skills or their platform.

“Never take a contest listing at face-value, even from a trusted source,” advises Victoria Straus, novelist and co-founder of Writer Beware. “Always do some extra digging and make sure a contest offers you a “genuine” benefit if you win. If you don’t win, how will entering be worth your time and money?”

 Writers, tell us about your contest entry experience:

  1. What factors do you consider before you enter a contest?
  2. Do you set a goal for entering contests?
  3. Do you feel you've been scammed by contests in the past? How so?

Read the entire article in the May 2013 issue of Book Marketing Magazine available from iTunes.

Freelance writer Karen M. Rider has learned the hard way about the perils of entering writing contests. She has published numerous articles on success steps for aspiring writers and emerging authors. A frequent contributor to The Writer Magazine and Writer’s Digest, Karen is contributing editor with Book Marketing Magazine.

Learn More about Karen Twitter @KarenMRider

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