Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A Few Thoughts On Writing Contests

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Do you enter writing contests? How many have you entered? Do you enter the ones that carry a fee or do you avoid them? Have you ever given up on writing contests only to later step back in the ring?

What are you looking for when you enter a writing contest? The monetary prize? Free publicity? Validation?

Have you ever dusted off an older work if it fits the criteria, or do you try to stay limber by coming up with something fresh?

Who do you feel benefits the most from these contests, the writer or the organizer?

I’ll go first.

I’ve entered several, and won a couple prizes. At first I entered all of them, the free ones as well as those that charged what I thought was a ridiculously high fee, usually explained off as covering administrative costs and/ or the prize purse. Though, sometimes the fee seemed more like a way of weeding out the not-so-serious contenders, along with those who simply could not afford it. I took a break from entering contests for a while. It felt like taking a break from buying lottery tickets. I've put them off now, at least for the time being. A writer can only handle so much rejection.

As far as the ‘what are you looking for?’ question goes, I would have to say all of the above. I’m reminded of that Samuel Johnson quote, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” But don’t discount validation. Every writer wants to be appreciated and told, yes, what you are doing is good; please carry on. One has to hear it from somewhere. And as for publicity, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

I confess to dusting off an older work and submitting it when it fit the criteria. It was for expediency’s sake, not because I was slacking. I often have more than one project on the go, so if I happened to have something suitable and finished, I’d send it off so that I didn't miss the deadline. Oh - and I actually kept a calendar for a while, listing recurring contests and their corresponding dates so that I wouldn't miss them. Is there an app for that?

As far as who benefits the most from these contests, both parties do but in different ways. Writing on demand can be a good exercise. And if you don’t win or place, you at least have a new work to add to your portfolio. The contest organizer gets a few dollars added to their operating budget, and maybe some free content if there is an online component highlighting submissions. No, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a win-win, but if down the road the winner goes on to become a bestselling author, the contest organizer can always claim to have given them their start.

If you do decide to submit, my only bit of advice is that after you drop your manuscript in the mailbox, or click “Send,” then forget about it, put it out of your mind and move on.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Michael Januska

Michael Januska is an award-winning crime fiction writer whose works include numerous short stories as well as the recent novel Riverside Drive, part of the Border City Blues series set in Windsor. His first book was Grey Cup Century. He lives in Toronto.

Go to Michael Januska’s Author Page