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Richelle M Putnam

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Contests: One Foot in the Door
by Richelle M Putnam   

Last edited: Friday, March 08, 2002
Posted: Monday, February 04, 2002

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Why contests may be the best bet for novice writers

WRITING CONTESTS: ONE FOOT IN THE DOOR
As a writer, do you lack discipline in completing and mailing out stories and articles to publishers? When you finally do submit, do you receive rejection after rejection, and become frustrated and disappointed?
Discover the wonderful world of writing contests, and your life just might miraculously change. Mine did. Now, I am a published author in both print and electronic publications. I conduct writer workshops, teach creative writing at a local college, and I’m an editor for Gotta Write Network. Also, I have obtained agent representation for picture books, and just recently a large well-known publisher requested my young-adult manuscript after receiving my query letter.
Did writing competitions accomplish all that? No. My writing did. But contests opened a door that had previously been locked, and got my manuscript into professional hands without a writing résumé or publishing credentials.
Preparing for contests has forced me into a strict writing schedule in order to complete a project. I would’ve never written many of my short stories if I hadn’t been writing for a specific contest. You don’t have to win. Even an Honorable Mention becomes an award to proudly include in your résumé.
There are hundreds of writing competitions, but, as in everything, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly. Be wise. Choose contests carefully, and enter based on the awards, reputation, how long a contest has been in existence, and what rights they claim. If your entry is to be published, they may claim CERTAIN rights, but never relinquish ALL rights. As the author, you should retain the rights to your hard earned work.
Here are some tips on researching contests:
1. Read competition announcements in e-zines, magazines, books, and on websites. Save potentials in a "Competition File." Choose competitions that are offered by well-known magazines, publishers, or organizations. After entering, jot down the story you entered, where you entered it, and file the information in a "Contests Entered" file. Maintain a tracking sheet for the individual manuscript, as well as a master-tracking sheet for all pieces out for consideration. On your calendar, mark the date that results are due in so you can follow up.
2. A few of my favorite websites regarding contests are:
· www.chopeclark.com
· www.klockepresents.com
· www.inscriptionsmagazine.com
· www.wordweaving.com
· www.bylinemag.com
· www.coffeehouse4writers.com
· www.scbeginnings.com
· www.writingcorner.com
· www.writingworld.com

You’ll be amazed at the number of the reputable contests waiting for your submission.
2. Always compare entry fees to the prize. If a prize is worth $50.00, but it costs $10.00 to enter, forget it. I usually don’t enter contests that have a prize less than $100.00, or an entry fee over $10.00, unless it includes a membership or subscription to a popular literary magazine, organization, or is a well-known publication like By-Line Magazine. Competitions should offer a monetary prize, not just publication. Of course, the bigger the prize, the stiffer the competition will be. Contact past winners (there should be a list of winners and honorable mentions) and feel free to ask questions about the competition before you enter.
3. Many popular literary publications have writing competitions that not only offer cash prizes, but publication in the magazine as well, an awesome opportunity for new writers. Every entry is read and considered regardless of past publishing credits. Visit some of these websites for information.
a. www.worldwidewriters.com (World Wide Writers
b. www.glimmertrain.com (Glimmertrain)
c. www.all-story.com (Zoetrope)
d. http://www.interhop.net/~amethyst/ (The Amethyst Review)
e. www.bgsu.edu/studentlife/organizations/midamericanreview/ (Mid-American Review)
f. www.sa.ua.edu/osm/bwr (Black Warrior Review)
g. www.siu.edu/~crborchd (Crab Orchard Review)
h. www.writersdigest.com (Writer’s Digest)
There are many more. Excellent books that list contests and are updated yearly are Writer’s Market (www.writersmarket.com) published by Writer’s Digest Books, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books, The Best of the Magazine Markets published by Longridge Writing Group, and, for those young adult and children writers, The Ultimate Guide to Student Contests, Grades 7-12, by Scott Pendleton.
4. Enter every free competition you can. You have nothing to lose.
5. Check "Writer’s Beware" sections on the Internet for contest scams. A few good ones are:
a. www.sfwa.org/beware
b. www.sfwa.org/prededitors
6. Study guidelines. Many good stories are tossed aside and disqualified because of failure to follow guidelines. Make a checklist and before mailing your entry, check off each item.
6. Some guidelines read, "No work is eligible for submission if AT THE TIME OF ENTRY, it has won an award or been published or accepted for publication." Key phrase is "If at the time of entry." However, some competitions, like the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, set out: "All entries must be original, unpublished, and NOT SUBMITTED ELSEWHERE UNTIL THE WINNERS ARE ANNOUNCED." Every competition is different. Again, STUDY guidelines very carefully and don’t disqualify yourself.
7. Be bold. Don’t be afraid that your writing isn’t good enough. How will you ever discover your literary potential if you don’t release it to the world?
8. Request contest results. If winning entries are published on a website, in a magazine, or anthology, read and analyze winning entries. Determine what stood out and why they might have won. I have learned so much doing this.
Okay, so you didn’t win or place. Now what? Evaluate your piece. Was there something lacking? Were the characters memorable? Did the story flow? Was it original? Did you show instead of narrate? Judges look for good opening lines, active verbs, strong believable characters, and flowing dialogue. But if spelling, grammar, and sentence structure are poorly done, your manuscript will likely be rejected regardless of how good it is. Be as professional as you would in business. Revise your piece and enter it into another competition. A large percentage of contest entries are from fairly new writers and unpublished writers—just like you.
I read an article by a writer who refused to enter contests because winners were based on “one judge’s” opinion. On the same note, publication is often based on “one editor’s” opinion. Again, what have you got to lose?
All writers start somewhere. Competitions are a great place to begin.

=============================================
FEATURED ARTICLE
=============================================
by Richelle Putnam


WRITING CONTESTS: A FOOT IN THE DOOR

As a writer, do you lack discipline in completing and mailing out stories and articles to publishers? When you finally do submit, do you receive rejection after rejection and become frustrated and disappointed?

Discover the wonderful world of writing contests and your life might change the way mine did. After years of struggling, I am now a published author in both print and electronic publications. I conduct writing workshops, teach creative writing at a local college, and work as an editor for Gotta Write Network. I have obtained agent representation for picture books. And just recently, a well-known publisher read a query letter I sent and requested my young adult manuscript.

Did writing competitions accomplish all that? No, my writing did. But contests opened a door that had previously been locked and got my manuscript into professional hands without a long writing-related résumé or extensive publishing credentials.

Preparing for contests has forced me into a strict writing schedule in order to meet deadlines. I would never have written many of my short stories if I hadn't had specific contests in mind. One nice thing--you don't have to win to achieve victory. Finishing a story is a reward in itself. If you should win or place, so much the better. Even an honorable mention becomes an addition to your résumé.

There are hundreds of writing competitions. As in other areas of life, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly. Choose contests carefully and enter based on the awards, the reputation, the length of time a contest (or publication) has been in existence, and the rights they request. If your entry is to be published, the contest sponsor may claim specific rights ("First North American Serial Rights" and the option to include your piece in an anthology are among the most common), but it's rarely wise to relinquish everything. If you give all rights to someone else, understand that they--not you--now own that particular piece and you cannot touch it again without their permission.

Here are some tips on researching contests:

1. Look for competition announcements on websites and in ezines, magazines, and books. Save potential targets in a "Competition File." Choose contests that are offered by well-known magazines, publishers, or organizations. After entering, jot down the story name and where you sent it. Keep track of the information in a "Contests Entered" file. Maintain a tracking sheet for the individual manuscript as well as a master tracking sheet for all pieces out for consideration. On your calendar, mark the dates that results will be announced so you can follow up.

2. Compare entry fees to the prize. A contest with a $50 prize should not have a $10 entry fee. I don't usually enter contests that have a prize less than $100 or an entry fee over $10, unless it includes a membership or subscription or is a well-known publication like By-Line Magazine. Prizes can be cash, publication, or both. Of course, the bigger the prize, the stiffer the competition. Feel free to ask questions (via email or snail mail) about the competition before you enter.

3. Put contests that include publication at the top of the list. Many literary magazines have writing competitions that offer not only cash prizes but publication as well. This can be a great way for writers without credits or credentials to get valuable exposure and start building a resume.

4. Enter every free competition you can. What do you have to lose? (Again, do keep an eye on what rights they acquire if you win.)

5. Study guidelines. Many good stories are discarded because of failure to follow the rules. Make a list and check off each item before mailing your entry. Some guidelines read, "No work is eligible for submission if AT THE TIME OF ENTRY, it has won an award or been published or accepted for publication." Key phrase: "at the time of entry." Some competitions, like the Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition, have stricter standards and say, "All entries must be original, unpublished, and NOT SUBMITTED ELSEWHERE UNTIL THE WINNERS ARE ANNOUNCED." Every competition is different. Make sure you know what each contest requires and you'll reduce the chances of your story being disqualified.

6. Be bold. Don't be afraid that your writing isn't good enough. How will you ever discover your literary potential if you don't release it to the world? At the same time, send your best work. Polish your story till it shines. Proofread it yourself and pass it on to others with good grammar, punctuation, and spelling skills. When you're sure it's the best you can make it, send it off and start looking for the next contest to enter.

7. Request contest results. If winning entries are published on a website, in a magazine, or in an anthology, read and analyze those entries. Look at the different elements of fiction (subject, voice, dialog, etc.) and determine how their use made the story stand out.

8. If you enter a contest and don't win or even make the honorable mention list, evaluate your piece. Judges look for good opening lines, active verbs, strong believable characters, and flowing dialog. They also expect a professional-looking manuscript. If you slipped up in any of these areas, study writing books and magazines to see how you can improve. Then revise your piece and enter another competition.

I once read an article by a writer who refused to enter contests because winners were based on one judge's opinion. That may be so, but publication is often based on one editor's opinion.

Entering contests can train you to set and meet goals, to develop a disciplined writing schedule, and to constantly strive to improve the quality of your work.


WEBSITES THAT OFFER CONTESTS:
- chopeclark.com
- klockepresents.com
- inscriptionsmagazine.com
- wordweaving.com
- bylinemag.com
- coffeehouseforwriters.com
- scbeginnings.com
- writingcorner.com
- writingworld.com

WEBSITES THAT OFFER CONTESTS WITH PUBLICATION:
- worldwidewriters.com (World Wide Writers)
- glimmertrain.com (Glimmertrain)
- all-story.com (Zoetrope)
- interhop.net/~amethyst/ (The Amethyst Review)
- bgsu.edu/studentlife/organizations/midamericanreview/ (Mid-American Review)
- writersdigest.com (Writer's Digest)

BOOKS THAT LIST CONTESTS (UPDATED ANNUALLY):
- Writer's Market (www.writersmarket.com) (Writer's Digest Books)
- Novel & Short Story Writer's Market (Writer's Digest Books)
- The Best of the Magazine Markets (Longridge Writing Group)

WEBSITES THAT LIST SCAMS AND CAUTIONS:
- sfwa.org/beware
- sfwa.org/prededitors


***ABOUT THE AUTHOR***

Richelle Putnam is a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature. She has completed the Writer's Digest Fiction Course and Coffeehouse for Writer's Flash Fiction Course. She has won many writing competitions, has published fiction and non-fiction in both print and electronic magazines, and is a writing instructor.

This article was published by Fiction Fix, Coffeehouse for Writers' newsletter and may be viewed at their website.

Web Site: Coffeehouse for Writers


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Reviewed by Sandi Schraut 2/5/2002
Wonderful site loved looking through it... Come and read my articles and poetry. Please feel free to comment if you see something I can improve on!!!!

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