What Was The Best Writing Contest You Ever Saw?

Word Weaver logi FINAL - Twitter size
Official contest logo. Cool, huh?

As our happy little author train chugs along towards our first writing contest with real prizes, I thought I’d seek your input on

just what made a good writing contest a good writing contest?

Some of you have entered contests; what did you like about them?

Others of you have not entered, but might have seen something that caught your eye.

Give me your thoughts. 

What are some aspects that made for/make for a good writing contest?

Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

International bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 17 titles published in over a dozen languages. From Romance in Poggibonsi to action and adventure in the sci-fi thriller The Navigators, to comedies like Night Of The Colonoscopy: A Horror Story (Sort Of) and the heartwarming and humorous anecdotes about parenting in the popular Savvy Stories series, his knack for surprising audiences and making you laugh or cry - or hang onto the edge of your seat - has been enjoyed by audiences around the world. And you are guaranteed to get a page turner every time. “That’s my style,” Dan says. “Grab you on page one and then send you on a roller coaster ride, regardless of the story or genre.” Readers agree, making his string of #1 bestsellers popular across the globe. He will make you chuckle or shed tears, sometimes on the same page. His novels always contain twists and turns, and his nonfiction will stay in your heart forever. Dan resides in the Tampa area with his wife and daughter. You can find him blogging away almost every day on www.DanAlatorre or watch his hilarious YouTube show every week Writers Off Task With Friends. Dan’s marketing book 25 eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew has been a valuable tool for new authors (it’s free if you subscribe to his newsletter) and his dedication to helping other authors is evident in his helpful blog.

37 thoughts on “What Was The Best Writing Contest You Ever Saw?

  1. Your visual caught my eye. I’ve entered a few contests in the last year and what I found most helpful was 1) the beta reading between authors before submission 2) the feedback offered by contest officials even if a piece was not selected as a winner. I think many of us are seeking ways to practice not only our craft and how to improve it, but looking for opportunities to put our work out there and practice being brave and vulnerable at the same time.

        1. I entered a flash fiction contest in January, I think. I didn’t even make it to round 2. But I got an email back that was about three paragraphs outlining what was good and what I could work on – it was probably around 300 words.

  2. Prize money and publicity. 🙂 AND A TIARA

    I have an extremely short attention span…and while mine is epic, I’m not alone. I think it needs to have some element of clickbait/quick appeal. What’s the hook?

  3. I always look at the pize vs the fee to enter, and the odds. If they only publish 1% of the subs they get, winning one of their contests is a long shot haha

    1. Hmm.

      Well I was thinking we might get between 100 and several hundred entries on the first contest, but I was only going to publish either the winner or the top three. So that would be about 1%. And I was going to publish them here on the blog and announce the winners on the video show. I suppose we could post more submissions. Not sure how that would work though.

      Meanwhile… Why have you not appeared on our video show???

  4. Hi Dan
    I’ve been entering contests for several years and value most those that provide some form of constructive feedback. The majority of contests provide this only to winners or the top three. Of course, practically it’s not possible to do this for all entres, but surely contests should be willing to provide at least some feedback to the top 10 in each category.
    Similarly, contest prizes are attractive for the winners and mimiscule for the second and third places. Example: While a first prize may be $1,500, the second prize can be $250 and third $100. Why not make them $1000, $750 and $500? A few dollars more, but far more attractive for prospective entrants. I’m tending to avoid the former–I suspect for them it’s all about making as much money as possible and doing as little as possible for entrants. I also appreciate when categories and guidelines are clearly defined. Some are not… very surprising for writing contests!
    Good luck with your contest. I’ll stay in touch.
    BTW – I expect you are aware that a great place to get your contest listed is in the Poets & Writers contest database.

    1. I thought that if I was the only judge, that I could probably assess a fair number of submissions myself. Let’s say I looked at 10 day for 10 days, that would be 100. If I enlisted two friends who are equally motivated, we could handle about 300. If we got more stories than that, we would need to have a quick way to triage – to separate the well written ones that have good plots from ones that did not. I know that as a new author I would’ve been devastated to think somebody only read a paragraph or two of my work before discarding it, but the fact is, that’s what readers do. They glance around a little bit if they don’t see something that catches them they are putting your book down. So we would probably have some kind of boilerplate statement for those folks and then for the ones that were really grappling for the top spots, we would be more detailed. Obviously for the winner you might give a lot of reasons why they were good so that the people who didn’t win could learn what better writing look like and why, and maybe show some of the lesser works how to improve. So if there’s a way to do that without hurting anybody’s feelings, I’m all in. To spend two or three hours reading each submission and critiquing it times 100 submissions would suck up so much time I’m not sure how I would ever get it done. Never having done this before, that’s part of the stuff we have to figure out.

      1. That sounds like a reasonable — and welcome — approach, Dan. As a former J School prof I experienced that range of quality you mentioned. You can’t give feedback to everyone individually. Contests are not writing schools. It’s encouraging to see you’re willing to provide critiques (even briefly) to a sizeable group (?) at the top end. This would distinguish your contest from the pack.

        1. Only just come across this thread. There were 75 entries to the competition I ran and in the end I gave some feedback to all. Sometimes it was just a few lines, and as the problems were often the same in the stories, the feedback tended to be similar. About half of the entrants responded to say they appreciated it, so I’ll try to do it again next time. But it did take me the best part of a week, so if there are many more entrants, it becomes impractical.

    1. I think if I entered a contest like that I would love to have a lot of detailed information about why I did well or why I did not do well.

      I think I could probably do that, too.

      It just becomes a matter of how to do it so it doesn’t take 60 hours a week for 10 weeks…

      If you entered a contest, how much feedback did you get if you did not win?

      1. I think how much feedback you give will depend steeply on your system of evaluation. Will you be making all the choices? Multiple readers? Will you have a checklist criteria? Or will it be more gut level? Even two or three sentences, for example what you might say to the other evaluators…like “this one’s out because I don’t feel the character motivation.”

        1. I think I would lead to a three paragraph to see if they started strong with the hook or anything interesting and then maybe skim the rest to see if there was anything that grabbed me.

          I’m thinking three people and we would all give our top choices to each other to decide the winner

          But none of that is in concrete right now

          1. so you have the feedback right there. Your opener was weak. Bam. done. And if in your skimming something got your attention you could add but I liked your dialogue later on, or whatever is appropriate. Efficient. I would add the cost to enter often sets a level of feedback people expect.

  5. Your contest logo is elegant, well done! The contests I’ve entered have had to do with who’s sponsoring them. I look for a compatible fit as to what I have and what they’re looking for. An example is to say that not all have a category for narrative nonfiction, yet a few years ago, The San Francisco Writers Conference did, so I entered a first person story because I had one to tell. When it won the runner-up position, I was encouraged, and it occurred to me to turn the 3,000 word piece into a full-length novel, which is to say that I fictionalized the story and produced a full-length manuscript. It is a Southern story, and now that I am shopping the manuscript, I am entering contests sponsored by Southern themed periodicals. I think the effort should be aimed at being seen by those literary outfits that are interested in your genre. It’s an opportunity to get closer to the flame, so to speak.

    1. Brilliant. I like how the encouragement really put some wind under your wings and turned your submission into a full-fledged manuscript. I would love to be part of the reason why people became inspired to turn ideas into great stories.

      As far as who’s sponsoring it, of course in the beginning it’s kinda just gonna be me. Hmm.

  6. I’ve a current 5000 word entry in a major competition…2 book deal and £20,000 advance for the winner…not holding my breath on that one but it’s damn exciting waiting! I do a weekly writing challenge for fun, 3 choice thing, limerick, poem or 20 word story using 6 given words, just drop it in ‘comments’ and the fantastic woman who runs it pulls them all together with a comment or two each week. The common theme, no up front entry fee, I really can’t be bothered to prat around figuring out how to pay, sterling, dollars, whatever. The thing that matters has already been mentioned, being seen, being read and getting at least a little feedback…you’ll need a panel of enthusiastic reviewer/judges methinks?

    1. Yes. We would definitely feature the winning submission here on the blog, and maybe the second and third place winners. We would announce the winners on the video show. I would have no problem letting the author of the winning submission be interviewed here on the blog and on the video show, and then of course the small but significant cash prize and bragging rights.

      For a start up contest, the idea would be to give people some feedback and give the winners some publicity. If we end up getting a sponsor then that could change because then there would be more money so that might attract more people. But in the beginning, feedback and exposure are probably as important as cash.

      I’ll be honest, I have read hundreds if not thousands of pieces by new authors and it is sad to say that some of them have really been brilliant works but they are too busy with regular lives or to unorganized to finish it as a manuscript. I would personally have no problem guiding one of those amazing manuscripts through to publication; i’ve done it several times anyway. I just wouldn’t want that to be some kind of guarantee that I put in the contest ,but let’s face it; I’m human. If I see something that’s really amazing, I’m gonna want to do everything I can to get that thing published.

  7. As it happens I was the judge in Curtis Bausse’s short story competition a few months ago. He wasn’t expecting more than a handful of entrants, but there ended up being 75. There was a 2000 words limit, but still, that was a lot of reading. In a weak moment, I volunteered to offer my two cents worth of critical feedback to anyone who requested it. Only eight people did, but they all seemed very appreciative. So it all worked out, but if 40 or 50 people had requested a personal reply, that would’ve been a lot of work!


  8. The things that draw me to a writing contest include entry fee, recognition, feedback, and clear guidelines. I prefer themed or genre specific contest, at least occasionally. The reason – in an open contest (any genre) you may have a judge that writes, edits or publishes a specific genre and tend to lean toward a story within their preferred genre. Just my two cents.

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