What Every Writer Needs to Know about Writing Contests by Kirsten McNeill · Writer’s Fun Zone

What Every Writer Needs to Know about Writing Contests by Kirsten McNeill · Writer’s Fun Zone

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Have you ever thought to yourself, “what is the deal with writing contests? Does anyone actually win?”

I’ve entered a few writing contests throughout my life, none of which I won.

The most recent one I entered was a personal essay contest with writer’s Digest. I was more prepared for it than previous ones, but still, I didn’t win.

It was a one in a million shot considering how many people probably entered.

However, I’m glad I had these experiences to practice my craft and be challenged with new prompts.

How do you win contests?

That I don’t have the answer to, but I can tell you what’s important to know before you enter, giving you the best chance for success.

How Do I Know if Writing Contests Are Right For Me?

Writing contests are not a necessary part of the journey. I see it as a fun experience, something to try out just to say that you’ve done it.

If you have…

  • Extra cash to spend for the entry fee
  • A great idea to workshop that matches the theme of the contest (better yet, an already completed or in progress work that matches)
  • The desire for more exposure and a publication credit under your belt

…then you should try entering a writing contest!

Exposure and publication is only guaranteed if you win, but this is just one of many ways you can practice your writing skills and get your work out there.

Kirsten, What Are Your Best Tips for Successfully Submitting to a Contest?

Every time you’re thinking about entering a contest, consider the following:

1. Have you weighed the cost against the reward?

Contest entrance fees range in prices.

If you’re going to pay this amount, is the reward you get when you win worth it?

The first ever contest I entered was free and the prizes were $50-$80 CAD.

The personal essay contest cost $30 USD and the top prize was $2500 USD. These were acceptable numbers to me because I’d be making a huge profit if I won.

2. Have you edited your piece and had others read it?

When I found out about my first writing contest, the deadline was a couple weeks away. I took an old story I had, tweaked it a bit, then submitted.

No one else looked at it until later when I wanted to use it for something else. I realized then how much work needed to be done to it.

Just like with anything you publish, it’s important not to rush the process. I was lucky when I found out about the writer’s Digest contest because I had two months until the deadline.

It was easy to write the personal essay about my cancer journey, I had four or five other people read it and give feedback, and I had plenty of breaks in between working on it so I could come back with fresh eyes.

Whether I edited the story or not, there were no guaranteed wins, but I increased my odds when I took more time and energy to do it well without rushing.

3. Do you understand the rules of the contest submissions?

It’s important to read the application page THOROUGHLY, so you understand the theme of the contest and submission rules like formatting, word count, etc.

If you skim over it thinking all contests are the same, you could be disqualified before the judges have even read your story.

4. Have you gotten to know the judges?

I believe that no matter who you are (a contest judge, a publisher, a book agent, etc.), you will always have a bias of what stories are considered “good”.

It’s subjective. But what the judges of the contests can all agree on is if it’s well-written.

There is skill to writing, so it’s important to submit your best work to a contest.

The judges are reading who knows how many pieces, and you have to stand out the best you can.

If it’s hard to read because of typos or clunky story flow, they may not even finish reading.

Most contests let you know who the judges are and offer bios so you can get to know them. 

Familiarize yourself and that may help you decide what decisions you make about the piece you’re submitting.

Look at past winners of the contest too. Informing yourself of what succeeded will increase YOUR chances of success.

How Do I Know if a Contest is Reputable?

Like anything on the internet, sometimes you never know if something is legitimate or not.

My first writing contest was through the local library, and the most recent one was through writer’s Digest. I already knew and trusted these organizations, so it was an easy decision to pay them the entry fee.

How can you check if a contest is reputable?

  • Start looking in magazines, on websites, and at local libraries that you’re familiar with
  • Do a Google search using keywords like “scam” or “reviews” with the contest name and the name of the organization running it
  • Ask a friend what experience they’ve had with the contest you’re considering entering, or if they have a recommendation for a better one

Writing Contests in a Nutshell

Writing contests won’t make or break your career.

They’re a fun way to practice your skills, find a prompt in a subject you don’t usually write about, and potentially get published in a magazine or other publication.

Avoid putting too much pressure on yourself if you choose to enter one.

It’s enjoyable to be part of this experience and feel pride in knowing that you at least tried to win, but this isn’t the only way to build clout as a writer. It’s one of many.

Have fun with it, and make the most out of every experience.

Make the choices that are best for you and your writing journey. Good luck out there!

Never forget that you are worthy.



Kirsten McNeill is a Confidence & Writing Lifestyle Coach, Book Editor, and Self-Published writer. Her mission with Worthy Writers Editing is to bring sunflower sunshine to the creative world connecting writers to the confidence and passion they desire to help them publish and share their stories.


Instagram: www.instagram.com/confident.kirsten

Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/theworthywritersnook

Create With Purpose digital journal free download: www.worthywriters.ca/product/create-with-purpose-journal

Write Your Entrepreneurial Memoir digital journal free download: www.worthywriters.ca/product/write-your-entrepreneurial-memoir

Recommended Reading:

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Discovering Your Worth: Happiness Through Confidence by Kirsten McNeill (available as a PDF in the Empowered Writers Bundle on the Worthy Writers Online Bookstore www.worthywriters.ca/product/empowered-writers-bundle)

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