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Are writing competitions worth it?

By Melanie Roussel

My ambition for 2021 is to gather 50 writing rejections. That’s not as scary as it sounds.

Actually, it’s exactly as scary as it sounds, but not as gloomy as you might imagine. 

In 2020, despite the world turning itself upside down, I managed to amass 31 rejections. It would have been 33, but two of my short stories were published. And while I’m slowly stacking up rejections from literary agents for my hardboiled detective/sci-fi novel, most of these came from the near limitless writing competitions out there. 

I know a lot of writers who’ve completely given up on competitions. Usually, it’s a mixture of rejection fatigue and entry fees. That’s entirely understandable, it’s an expensive and time-consuming hobby, particularly if you’re seeing little return on that investment. 

However, I still believe competitions are an essential tool in your writing kit. Quite apart from getting your work out there, it also teaches you to write to deadlines. Especially when you’re not feeling it. It teaches you to deliver to spec and follow guidelines. And, yes, it teaches you to deal with rejections.

So, here’s some advice on writing competitions.

  1. Find free competitions – To name a few, The Liars League, Daily Science Fiction, Inkett and if you subscribe to the Writing Magazine, the subscriber-only competitions. If you’re looking for a list of competitions, I can thoroughly recommend the lists on Christopher Fielden’s website https://www.christopherfielden.com/
  1. Choose wisely – Do your research. Don’t assume that every fantasy competition is the best fit for your epic tale of a troll and her werewolf bride. Research past winners and check who the judges are. Does your work fit what they look for in fiction? If you’re going to spend your money, give yourself the best possible chance. If they offer a critique as part of your submission, never pass that up! Even if you don’t win, you’ll be gaining invaluable advice. 
  1. Pay attention to the guidelines – If they require your work to be previously unpublished, submitted in double spaced, size 12 Times New Roman, that’s what you give them. These competitions receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of entries. It’s too easy to bin any that don’t meet requirements. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the brilliance of your work will shine through the unwanted, multicoloured, Comic Sans font.
  1. Write, write, write – The most obvious and hardest bit to do. Once you’ve submitted your story, you usually don’t want to double up. Some competitions usually don’t mind you sending the same story to multiple place, some do. Always check the guidelines! However, they will mind if you pull your story late in the process because it’s been placed elsewhere, especially if it was already on a shortlist. 
  1. Don’t give up – the joy of committing to and submitting your work en masse is how you stop taking rejections personally. If you’ve always got half a dozen irons in the fire, the unsuccessful ones no longer feel like a body blow. Because you’ve still got a chance on another two stories, and another batch after that. You’re not waiting, hoping, praying for one chance. Just one in 50 will do.

Melanie Roussel lives in North London and works in the television industry. She is a 10-minute novelist and has most recently been published in Audio Arcadia and Blue Animal Literature. She mostly writes speculative fiction novels and short stories.

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

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