Writing for competitions

My recently completed writing challenge to create 30 pieces of writing over 30 days for entry into 30 writing competitions has taught me many things, but as the deadlines pass and results come in I am learning so much more.

The truth as I have experienced it is that writing competitions can often be about as cold and cut throat as a teenage beauty pageant. At best they provide an opportunity to showcase your talents and explore your creativity, whilst handing out praise and recognition plus sizeable cash rewards to the cream of the crop. Quite right too. At worst, they are badly organised charades run by a band of dandy highwaymen eager to take your time, energy and hard crafted words off your hands before disappearing into the night never to be seen or heard from again- and they expect you to pay them for the privilege too!

I understand that it is hugely competitive market for writers at the moment, I understand and accept that you can’t win them all, I understand and accept that giving individual feedback to hundreds, perhaps even thousands of entrants is impossible. What I don’t understand is that it really only takes manners to acknowledge the heart and soul that writers entering into competitions offer up on a plate.

Much is written about what writers can do to make life easier for publishers and agents, much is written about the numerous rules, rights and obligations a writer has to follow in order to submit writing competition entries, and when I was working in PR much was written about how and when was the best time to approach journalists with kid gloves so that they would listen for long enough to hear your feature idea and so on.

And I realise, that I have been sat waiting for the scraps from the highly esteemed editor’s or judge’s table for longer than I can remember (and I’ll continue to wait and wait I’m sure, it’s what we do isn’t it?). Writers are the ones pouring their lives onto pages, whether for a novel, sort story, press release, poem, play or whatever, so wouldn’t it be nice if we could set the rules and act as doormen for our own creativity for a change?

Now I don’t want you to think that this is about sour grapes because I haven’t won a couple of the competitions whose winners have been announced…. No, no, no. There are many more competition results to come in and I live in hope of course. Actually, this post was more about recognising a competition whose structure I have really enjoyed.

The Poetic Republic Poetry Prize is one of the competitions that is amongst the best. Yes we had to pay to submit our entries, and yes there were a few technical faults that caused some chaos along the way, but this competition was well organised and fair as far as I can see. More details of the judging process can be found on the competition website, but essentially all entrants were also required to at as judges for the first two rounds of the competition at least. ALL poetry submitted received feedback so even if you didn’t win, you could at least see how you were received by your audience. Everybody participating got to read other peoples work, so helpful when trying to learn how to become a better writer and what kind of entries are being shortlisted. The prizes are sizeable. The organisation communicates with its entrants. I didn’t make the short list this time, and yes I’m a tiny bit sad, but it feels fair. I can see why my entry (A Hard Time To Cut Cloth) might not have fitted amongst those that did make it to the final 12, I voted for a couple of them myself so that’s really encouraging, and I will get feedback, hooray! A stark comparison to some others… As tempted as I am to name and shame I think I’ll end just here on a positive note.

4 responses to “Writing for competitions

  1. I am more and more getting cynical over some competitions. As you say, everybody can’t win but there are some that people are making money from. Lets say 200 (and that’s being a low estimate) entries at £5 fee. That’s a £1000 in entires. There aren’t many that offer prizes of more than a couple of hundred too so that’s some profit.

    I have actually won big competitions. UK Writing Magazine Short Story. Also, I’ve been in the shortlisted final 10 twice. They must have hundreds of entries yet the two that nearly made it, I sent out to Scribble Magazine and both were not wanted. Go figure. Scribble only prints what is entered in competitions so you are basically being charged to submit your work. It is free for subscribers, but again, you are paying through your subs.

    Another one – Fiction Garden. Their closing date was Oct 2011. Seven months on and there is still no winner announced nor has the site been updated since February. Smacks of a scam.

    I’m more inclined to go for magazines where it is free to subit to. I’m not actually in it for winning comps. The main thing is to get into print and have my stuff read.


    • I know, and yet you would assume that these competitions are run by people with an interest in and an understanding of what it means to write. It can be so anxiety provoking to sit and wait week after week, month after month with little or no idea when or if you work has been received, read, shortlsted and so on. Anyway, I could go on forever and get right on my soap box but I won’t! Just wanted to give credit where it was due though to the Poetic Repulic one which so far has been fair and open. Thanks Nick.

  2. Enjoyed this post having just entered a bunch of competitions myself. And I agree with your conclusions on the Poetic Republic competition, the whole things smacks of authenticity and being able to judge other peoples work was a great learning experience for me as a young wannabe poet.

    On another note the post above really shows why I have been so happy to find the dVerse poets group.

    Finally a place I can enter my poems and know they are always read, and more than that actually get feedback on them from other writers whose work I respect.

    It fills the hole that the competitions really miss.

    Here’s to the dVerse poets!

    • Doesn’t it just! I have written a poem dedicated to dVerse called Uncovering Eden which is in the poetry category on this blog, I am so thankful for them and that includes you too! Competitions are an arbitrary business on the whole. Feedback is soooooo important, because really that is what we are all looking for isn’t it, some encouragement, acknowledgement and acceptance. I’m not sure that is available from competition judges having to pick one winner from hundreds of entries….. Oh, and you ARE a poet, not a wannabe poet. If you are writing poetry then that’s really all you need to do to qualify so congratulations poet.

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