I thought a post about writing competitions could fit well with my recent mini-series about scams. Much of what follows will apply to non-writing competitions too.
Every industry/profession has its charlatans. Sadly even the Church hasn’t been exempt. Neither is publishing/creative writing. And while we remain fallible human beings, this will remain the case. There will always be the artist. There will always be the con artist too.
I thought some tips on what to look out for, to make it easier to tell what is a genuine competition and what is best avoided would be useful.
I write short stories and regularly enter writing competitions. A shortlisting (or better still a win!) on a reputable writing competition or magazine looks great on a writing CV.
If, as I am, you are also trying to approach agents/publishers with full length fiction, the more you can have on such a CV the better. It shows them others, in the profession, thought you were worth publishing. And that can give you and your work an “edge”, a reason for them to read you with perhaps more seriousness than someone sending work in without a track record.
But the success behind every “good” con is to take advantage and exploit people’s dreams. And being published and anything that might help towards that goal is a very rich gold mine to pick.
The Golden Rule
If I was allowed to nominate the 11th Commandment it would be this:-
If it seems too good to be true, it is! Walk away!
The competitions I enter have been around for a long time, they are well known and it is easy to check them out via the Internet. A good competition website will make its rules and entry fees clear and say what you will get for the money.
For example a recent competition I entered has given me the choice to pay a flat entry fee or to pay that with a supplement of £5 for a written adjudication. I have chosen the latter. This is partly because I have gone for this option before, know the written comments are through and have found these have helped me reshape my work before submitting it elsewhere.
I know because I have had useful feedback, when I do resend that work out, it is in with a much better chance of acceptance than it would otherwise have been. So I consider the £5 supplement good value.
Feedback is useful for any writer. There are competitions out there that charge more for this service in addition to their flat entry fee, quite legitimately I should add, and it is down to you whether you consider it worth it. But the important thing is that fees should be set out clearly and you should know what you are getting for the money.
Sources of Information
I subscribe to Writing Magazine which gives details of markets and competitions. They also issue an annual guide to competitions. These are obviously useful sources of information but are also reassuring. A quality magazine is not going to want to put into its guide any competitions that might be in any way “iffy”.
New competitions (and there is always a new one being set up by someone somewhere) of course need time to get established but look at what the competition is offering. They should be keen to spell out what the prizes are (sometimes it can be a subscription to a magazine for a year and things like that, it’s not always a cash prize).
Stay well away from any competition that promises publication to anyone who enters. The standards will be lousy and you won’t want your work associated with that.
Look at who is judging the competition. They should be writers with a good track record and again this is easy enough to check up via the web.
I would also recommend getting in contact with the Society of Authors to check a competition out if you are concerned.
Years ago, I was offered a publishing contract which I needed checking. At that time I was not a member of the Society which I made clear. Nevertheless they were glad to help me and warned me the contract I’d been offered was a vanity one, they also pointed out what clauses were particularly disadvantageous. (Some of this I worked out by research, some I did not know until the Society told me).
I was glad of their assistance and am now very pleased to be a Member. They are more than happy to give guidance.
Word of mouth from other authors can be invaluable. I’ve entered competitions writing friends have told me about because they know of the competition and give me the links so I can check out rules, who is running the competition and so on.
Using Social Media to check things out
Check out Facebook and Twitter pages for writing competitions too. This can be another good way of checking the history of the competition. The longer established ones will have links to previous competitions they’ve run. Some will produce anthologies and it may be worth purchasing one or two of these so you can check out the quality of what they do before entering the competition for the current year yourself.
A Fair Fee?
Bear in mind also entry fees should reflect the prize being offered. For example a competition with a prize of say £100 I would expect to have a relatively low entry fee. One with a prize of over £1,000 (and there are some in this category and higher), I would expect a higher fee.
The fees of course make up the prize that goes to the winner, runner up, usually third place and pays for the administration of the competition. So there should be a link between what you pay and what is on offer.
Then there are the novel competitions. You send in usually the first three chapters, occasionally the whole manuscript. Here the fee is a lot higher (I’ve seen legitimate competitions here with a fee of £25.00). This is quite right.
It should be made clear (and it has been in the ones I’ve seen) that the judge(s), with proven track records, will read everything sent in. Your higher entry fee is paying for their time. Here it is a question of deciding whether such a high fee is worth it for you.
I’ve included links to various articles on this topic, including international competitions. One great joy about the internet, from a writer’s viewpoint, is it makes it so much easier to enter more competitions as you are no longer worrying about postage costs given you are sending material in by email (or by downloading your manuscript).
Of course the downside is the con artist has a wider reach too now. As ever vigilance (and knowing where to look to check things out) is vital.
A good competition should not try to sell you products either. If there is an anthology, you should choose whether to buy it, not be pushed into it.
It should be easy to contact the competition organizers with questions. If they appear in any way evasive, don’t enter that competition! A good competition will have FAQs on their website (the same questions do come up time and again).
Also check out spelling, grammar etc of the competition on offer. It is a classic sign that if these things are not all they should be, the competition is almost certainly a con. Well you would expect good standards from someone running a writing competition, wouldn’t you?
Oh and just to show scams of all kinds are definitely nothing new, I thought I would leave you with a classic link to a great story. Hans Christen Andersen knew what he was talking about when he came up with The Emperor’s New Clothes! Unlike the Emperor, don’t get taken in!
Good luck to all entering competitions. Hope you do well.
And remember you know where you can share the news of competition success!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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