Winning a prestigious literary competition is often the first step towards both recognition and publication.
Most budding authors dream of winning an important writing contest. It's not only the money--in fact not even primarily the money (although a first prize of $2,000 is nice to hold in your hand)--but the feeling of success. As a writer, you have arrived!
Details of current literary competitions can be obtained from Google or such excellent sites as Winning Writers (http://www.winningwriters.com).
It's important, however, to carefully judge the worth of the contest you plan to enter. Factors you should consider are: (1) Is the contest free or does it charge an entry or reading fee? Generally speaking, free contests are not worth entering. They carry little or no prestige, and winners are often chosen at random; (2) Has the contest been established for at least three years? Contests come and go like confetti in the wind; (3) Is the ratio of prize money to entry fees at least three hundred to one? In other words, if the entry fee is $5, I would expect the prize money to total at least $1,500; (4) Is it possible to read winning entries from previous years either on the web site or in print? The book illustrated above, for example, contains over 100 winning and commended entries from the Tom Howard Poetry Contest. And what's more important, this book is easy to obtain. You don't have to write to a post box in downtown Phoenix; (5) Have the judges been named and is it possible to find out something about them? For example, are they fellow writers, or are they critics, or do they teach in some college or university? Generally speaking, writers tend to be more easy-going and far less fault-finding in technical areas like grammar and punctuation.
I'm often asked if it is preferable to lodge entries online or by mail in those contests where both options are available. Unless your entry is short, e.g. a poem of less than 70 lines or a prose piece no longer than 1,500 words, I would say, "By mail." Online processing can often play havoc with formatting, and the greater the length of your submission, the more likely that formatting problems will occur.