How To Evaluate Writing Contests: Six Starter Questions

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At some point in your writing career you will probably encounter the
possibility of entering writing contests. As you peruse writing newsletters
and magazines, at any rate, you’ll almost inevitably find listings of
competitions; you may very well begin to wonder how to decide whether
a given contest is “right” for you and your poetry or prose. Here are six
“starter” questions you can ask yourself to initiate that process of

1. Do you recognize the press, university, writing center, magazine,
literary review, etc. that is sponsoring the contest? Do your writing
friends and teachers know about it? (A number of Internet boards post
warnings about “scam” contests-it can’t hurt to check those out.) In other
words, is the administering organization one you’d be happy to have
publish your work?

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2. Does the competition post the names of past winners (and the titles of
their winning works)? Can you locate the published stories, poems,
essays, or books? This lends credibility to the competition.

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3. Is an award guaranteed? Some contests stipulate that an award may
not be given in a particular year; this may not be appreciated when fees
have been collected; you may choose not to hand over a fee to such a

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4. What does the rest of the fine print say? Have you given over rights to
your work simply by submitting it? Such details are often included in that
tiny type. Read it carefully.

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5. Is judging “blind”-are you asked to submit a manuscript without any
identifying material on it? Such a process may help ensure fair judging.

6. If a fee is charged, does it seem “worthwhile” considering the potential
prize? For example, a $25 entry fee for a possible $100 prize might not
seem as alluring as a $25 fee (or less) for a $500 (or more) prize.

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Considering these questions should set you on the way to thinking more
critically about the contest process, and they’ll assist you as you
navigate the many listings and advertisements you’ll find the more time
you spend investigating opportunities to develop your writing career.

(c) Copyright 2004 Erika Dreifus. All rights reserved. Article reprint
permission is granted provided that the entire article, including the
“About the Author” information, remains intact and unaltered. Please
send a copy of the reprint to .

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About the Author: Erika Dreifus (A.B., Ed.M., Ph.D., Harvard University;
M.F.A., Queens University of Charlotte) edits the free monthly newsletter
“The Practicing Writer,” and is the author of several resource guides for
writers, including “The Practicing Writer’s Primer on Low-Residency
MFA Programs,” “The Practicing Writer’s Directory of 50 Paying Short
Story Markets,” and “The Practicing Writer’s Literary Contest Directory for
Writers of Book-Length Fiction.” Visit her website at href="">http://www.practicing-

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