Guest post: Why You Should Enter Writing Competitions by Ben Skinner

Sunday nights are double-dose guest blog posts and the first of tonight’s duo (the second will be along in an hour), is on the topic of writing competitions, and brought to you by competition guru Ben Skinner.

Why You Should Enter Writing Competitions

In 2012 there are a multitude of reasons why a large proportion of the population are looking at ways to supplement their personal income, and the growth of the internet has given us more opportunities to do this than ever before. We can all earn a little extra cash by filling in surveys, selling our unwanted goods, and even partaking in affiliate schemes. These and other methods can all help to increase the family budget.

There is, however, a way to potentially add significantly to your income while also improving and honing your writing skills, and increasing your writing portfolio – Writing Competitions. While there are no financial guarantees (you have to win to be in with a chance of getting paid!), the potential rewards involved are simply huge. The concept of winning cash or big prizes has been with us for a number of years but with the increase in online activity, there are more options now than ever before.

Getting started

Chances are that you’ll already know of some writing competitions that you’ve come across in your normal day – poetry, short stories and fiction writing competitions are particularly popular. Maybe you’ve been cynical about these in the past but it’s true to say that someone has to win them and it is also true that the best ‘compers’ (someone who enters competitions as a serious hobby) can actually make many thousands of dollars a year and therefore make a comfortable living in this way.

Why should I enter a writing competition?

This is a great way to improve your writing skills and gain confidence, even if you don’t win. But if you do, the feeling is great. And the prize helps too! Entering a writing or poetry competition is one of the best things you can do, especially if they offer a critique of your story as part of the entry. Well worth the time taken to write your entry to find out how you’re doing and what you need to do to improve! As well as the prize involved in winning, it’s also likely that your entry will be published either online or in a magazine or both! This provides writers with a fantastic opportunity for exposure to a huge audience who might not otherwise have read your work. Want more reasons? Sure!:

  • Writer’s block anyone? Loosen up with a contest submission. Take a troublesome chapter of your book, or a mind-numbing topical article and throw caution to the wind. Who knows, it could create a fresh, vital storyline that would double nicely as an excerpt from your book, or add pizzazz to that magazine article.
  • Don’t know a deadline from a dateline? If you are still working on that first book or article acceptance, entering a contest lets you taste-test what it’s like to work under deadline pressure—an essential quality in a writer’s life. If you miss the deadline … you automatically lose!
  • Contests come in varying lengths. Learn from them! Do you write short-short stories and think you don’t have enough storyline to develop a tale of 3,000 to 10,000 words, or more? What’s missing? Try a contest before you go book-length. Or perhaps you’re the novelist, who struggles to edit the unnecessary chatter—try writing a short-short story. Take one of your lengthy chapters and create a new technique by pulling key phrases out first—you’ll be amazed at how much text you can cut and still tell a great story—maybe even better, with more punch than your original.
  • Contests build comfort with your genre and help you understand where weaknesses may be plodding sluggishly through your creativity.
  • Test the waters of a new genre, without feeling the bite of an editorial shark. Stretch your imagination in a risk-free environment. You could discover a “new you.”
  • If you think your entry is some of your best writing (and it should be, or what’s the point?), guess what? You own it—sell it! Of course as a professional, you should abide by whatever contest regulations pertain to publishing the entries, but once the notification deadline has passed … it could be dollar signs waiting to happen!

Key points

If you’ve made the decision to enter a writing competition, there are a few key points worth remembering before you pick up your notepad!

  • Original material – you will be entering a commercial competition with a prize or reward, so make sure that you are submitting original material – that obviously means no plagiarism or rehashing of your previous work! (Unless submitting old work is permitted in the competitions guidelines, so read them carefully!).
  • Audience – think about who your target audience is, and by that we mean both the eventual readers of the website or publication where your entry will be used, and also the people who will be judging the competition!
  • Research – do your research of previous years’ / months’ competitions, or similar competitions on other websites or publications. What kinds of stories or poems have been successful? Is it better to write from a first or third person perspective? What kind of word count should I be shooting for?

Making money!

As you will no doubt be aware, some contests offer a straight cash prize while others might award a product or item. If your reward is an object rather than a wad of money then how do you make some extra cash if you don’t need it? The answer is simple – just sell it. A number of prizes end up on the auction site eBay and are a quick and simple way of converting those prizes into money in your bank account.

Thank you, Ben!

This post was written by Ben Skinner the Marketing Director of UK competitions site MyOffers. MyOffers are a free online competition site offering cars, holidays and cash prizes. Visit them at http://www.myoffers.co.uk.

***

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with memoirist Rosemary Sabet – the five hundred and forty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

4 thoughts on “Guest post: Why You Should Enter Writing Competitions by Ben Skinner

  1. morgenbailey says:

    I haven’t entered any for a while but had mixed success (you do have to be in it to win it, after all). I liked the themed ones the best as it got me writing something specifically for it that I still had if nothing came of it.

    Like

  2. Emma Beeken says:

    I feel a little reluctant entering competitions even the confidence thing aside. There are so many talented writers that seem to be able to part with (throw away) £25 (or much more!) on an entry fee whereas I can’t.

    Like

    • morgenbailey says:

      Thank you for your comment, Emma. I’m the same, anything over £10 is very off-putting and I’d have to feel my story was strong enough to warrant it. Having been involved in three writing competitions, I know how much they cost to run (judge’s fees, postage, prizes etc) and having a high entry fee is going to limit the number of entries, plus the prizes have to be worth it.

      Like

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