Online Writing Contests: Approach with Caution

Written by Sheritha Singh | May 10, 2017

Writing contests have grown in popularity over the last few years. The huge leaps in the development and accessibility of social media technology means that it is now easier than ever to enter writing contests. While writing contests offer writers the opportunity to catch the eye of a literary agent or publisher, they also have a few disadvantages that writers are not always aware of.

Read The Fine Print
Former Curtis Brown Literary agent and author, Nathan Bransford, advises that writers read the fine print carefully before entering any contests. For example, although the Amazon Breakthrough contest offered writers a $15000 advance, the contract Amazon offered was not negotiable. Bransford also warns that a contest win could tie up the rights to your work. Think carefully before entering and when in doubt – don’t enter.

Publishing Writing on the Internet as a Contest Entry
Some literary agents and publishers will not consider previously published work. What exactly is previously published work? The Writer’s Relief website explains that previously published work refers to any work that has been published in a book, journal, anthology, textbook, newsletter, newspaper, magazine, blog, web site, large social-networking site or online literary journal. Work that is already available online may be considered unappealing mainly because:

1. If work is already available online and is profitable, then the literary agent or publisher has already lost out on the profit.

2. If the work is published free and available as a free download, why would readers pay to read it?
However, each literary agent and publisher will also have their own guidelines as to what they consider previously published work.

#Pitmad Problems
Literary agent Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary recently shared a tweet on her Facebook page referring to the March #Pitmad contest advising writers to rather follow the proper query process instead. (#Pitmad is a twitter pitch contest that is held on a regular basis on Twitter where writers tweet micro pitches to agents using the hashtag #Pitmad.) The tweet which was originally shared by Jennifer Laughran, an agent at Andrea Brown literary agency, advises that writers who query a literary agent first have a 90% chance of having their query letter and sample pages read than writers who pitch an agent during #Pitmad. Laughrin believes that the chances of an agent reading a #Pitmad tweet are much lower than an agent reading a query. Jessica Faust added that “#Pitmad is a wonderful way to spend the day but should not be considered time spent querying.” After all it is impossible to sum up a 90k word manuscript in 140 characters.

False sense of rejection
Not being selected as a semi-finalist or even a finalist in a contest may cause a writer to experience a false sense of rejection. Since writing contests rarely offer feedback, it is difficult to discern how close you came to being short-listed. Writing contests are subjective but being rejected causes some writers, like myself, to shelve projects for years. One of my projects was accepted for publication five years after being rejected and even went on to sell more copies than I expected.

Exclusive Submissions

Some contests require exclusive submissions, meaning that you’re not allowed to submit your work elsewhere during the contest. This means that you will not be allowed to submit your manuscript elsewhere until the contest is over instead of sending out queries to prospective literary agents and publishers.

A Few Tips

The above list of cons doesn’t mean that all writing contests are disadvantageous. Author and blogger, Suzannah Freeman suggests that writers follow a few tips before entering a contest:

1. Read Previous Winning Entries
This allows you to get an idea of what the contests hosts are looking for. Compare the previous entries to your own writing to determine if your writing is what the contest hosts are looking for.

2. Read the Rules
Read the rules carefully for guidelines such as word count, formatting or, genre. Check if you need to pay an entry fee and what the cash prize is. Lesser known contests offer small cash prizes that does little to further your writing career. Also check if you are eligible to enter a contest before paying any entry fees. Some contests are only open to residents of certain countries.

In Conclusion

Some writers love contests while others consider it a waste of time. It’s always wise to be aware of both the pros and cons of entering a writing contests so that you can make the best decision when the right opportunity presents itself.


Sheritha Singh writes erotic fiction under the pseudonym Lace Higgins. She was previously published by Breathless Press but now publishes her own work online here. Sheritha writes between studying, working as a lecturer at a community college, dreaming, eating and pretty much indulging in anything creative. Sheritha loves hearing from fans. Please tweet @Shersinghzn.