Win big with writing contests

Win the judges over. Pump up your exposure.
By Hillary Casavant, Editorial Assistant | Published: June 9, 2014


iStock_000012638534XLargeWriting contests offer valuable opportunities for writers to score recognition and cash prizes. It paid off for these talented writers:

  • Michael Palmer received Bellingham Review‘s Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction for his entry, “A Glossary of West Texas.” The final judge was Joy Castro. Jackleen Holton earned first place for “Goldfish” in the magazine’s 49th Parallel Award for Poetry, judged by Kathleen Flenniken. Tom Howard won The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction, judged by Shawn Wong, for his story “Temple and Vine.” Bellingham Review will accept contest submissions for 2015 starting December 1, with $1,000 awarded to first-place winners.
  • Bellevue Literary Review awarded the 2014 Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry, judged by Tina Chang, to Laurie Clements Lambeth for her poem, “Chronic Care: ‘Broken Leg’ by Keith Carter, Photograph.” Abby Horowitz won the 2014 Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, judged by Nathan Englander, for “Pediatricology” and William McGrath won the Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction, judged by Helen Benedict, for “Forty-One Months.” They each received $1,000 and publication in Bellevue Literary Review.
  • Mary Heather Noble won the Creative Nonfiction “The Human Face of Sustainability” essay contest for “Acts of Courage.” She received $10,000 and publication in Creative Nonfiction.
  • Melanie Lefkowitz received $1,500 and publication for her story, “The Mango,” in Glimmertrain’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Submissions for the next award open in August.

Ready to throw your hat into the ring? Here are some valuable tips that will up your chances of winning the editor’s favor.

1. Contests hosted by literary magazines and writing organizations offer big payoffs and opportunities for exposure, but most also come with a price tag. Be selective when choosing which contests to apply to. Weigh the cost of the entry fee against the odds of winning and the level of competition. Aim for contests that offer a one-year subscription with the entry fee.

2. If you’re a writing newbie, start with a smaller publication or a smaller prize to increase your visibility.

3. Read past winning submissions and compare them with your own. Make sure your work is a strong fit for the publication or organization.

4. Edit, edit, edit! A manuscript gets one first impression. Write a grabbing first sentence, ensure each punctuation mark is in place and leave no errors behind.

5. Carefully read the full contest rules online before hitting “submit.” Many contests have specific topics, word limits, geographical restrictions and formatting guidelines. Don’t disqualify your work with an avoidable error.