The Pocatello Writers had a good meeting last week on the topic of Literary Contests. We discussed the two kinds of contests: those for unpublished manuscripts and those for recently published books. We also reviewed the three types of scams to watch out for when entering contests: vanity publishers, reading fees, and selling a service. I have copied one of the handouts below if you are interested.
WHEN A CONTEST ISN’T A CONTEST
The fundamental purpose of a contest should be to recognize and reward literary merit. Detecting the difference between a legitimate contest and a shady operation isn’t always easy. The good news is that the vast majority of the hundreds of writing competitions found online are legitimate, and some can be an important boost to your career if you win.
Many literary organizations support themselves in part through contest entries, and others use entry fees to fund their prize purses. Reputable competitions are run by writers’ organizations, literary groups, scholarly or nonprofit institutions, universities, or small academic presses who use entry fees to publish the winning manuscript. Other valid contests are hosted by writers magazines, regional writers conferences, residencies, grants, fellowships or retreats.
Is the Entry Fee Exorbitant?
Fees for poetry, short fiction and nonfiction contests typically range from $5 to $15, while fees for novels and screenplays run $25 to $50. Be wary of contests that charge significantly higher fees.
What Do the Winners Get?
Check the ratio of the entry fee to the prize. If people pay to enter, some of that money should go to the winner in the form of an advance or a decent monetary prize. If you pay $25 to enter and the grand prize is only $50, that seems a little chintzy. If entry was free, then a little publicity is ample award, but it may not be worth your time just to get published on some obscure web site or in a low quality periodical that has no respect in the literary community.
Anthologies – Vanity Scams
This misleading type of contest makes people feel they are being honored so that they will buy a high-priced anthology. Their sole purpose is to persuade entrants to buy the anthology in which their “winning entry” appears. If you have to pay to get a copy, you’re dealing with a vanity publisher. A contest isn’t really a contest if every entry wins regardless of quality. If no one loses, winning means nothing. Legitimate competitions will send you a free copy of the publication in which your winning entry appears.
Agents & Publishers – Reading Fees
Make sure that a contest’s “entry fee” isn’t actually a “reading fee”. Never pay a literary agent to read your work, through a contest or otherwise. Also some publishers host contests for which the prize is an advance and a publication contract. This is just a thinly veiled means of getting writers to pay a reading fee to have their manuscript considered for publication, which you could have submitted to them in the normal way for free.
Marketing Experts, Book Doctors – Selling a Service
Be wary of contests that are offered and judged by a single individual. Some personal editors, writing coaches and marketing specialists use contests as a means of attracting clients and promoting their services. The writer is offered free glowing criticism for their “placing” entry, and then pitched opportunities to receive more help for a price. Usually they retain their right to not award a prize at all if no entry rises to the level of a winner. Or maybe some group is trying to attract new dues-paying members by requiring you to join the organization to enter their contest. Some offer extravagant prizes then explain in the fine print that the award really depends on the number of entries.