10 Warning Signs that a Writing Contest Is A Loser

By Diane Thomas

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Most writers consider entering writing contests at some point in their career. Writing contests can provide many perks: Having your work published, receiving monetary rewards, getting those all important credits for your writing resume, the thrill of winning and more can be at hand...

And there are hundreds of literary contests online and off. Most are real, some are prestigious, and many are fake. So how do you decide which contests to enter and which to avoid?

Following are some warning signs to assist you in evaluating the legitimacy of contests you may be thinking of entering.

1. Exorbitant entry fee. A contest entry fee is not an automatic sign of a questionable contest. Many legitimate contests require an entry fee to cover expenses and fund the prizes, but the fee should be appropriate. Typically, $5 to $15 is average for poetry and short stories, while fees for novels and screenplays may range from $20 to $50. Anything over $25 should prompt you to do some careful checking into the contest. Also be wary of the ratio of the fee to the prize. An entry fee of $20 for a potential prize of $50 to $100 is not reasonable, so don’t waste your time.

2. No entry fee. This sounds great but make sure you check out the organization that is running the contest. Some of the largest fake contests begin with no entry fees, and then require contestants to purchase the publications that their winning entry is published in. This can run $40 or $50 for an anthology and anywhere from $20 to several hundred dollars for extras. These publications are sold by order only - and usually are only purchased by the contestants themselves.

3. The contest claims your rights to the entry. Any contest that claims rights to your work when you submit it for entry should be avoided. This is simply a way for publishers to gain free content, not a legitimate practice - and not something that any writer should submit to. Even contests that claim all rights to the winning entry should be avoided unless the publication is highly reputable. Be sure to read the fine print.

4. Guidelines are not clearly stated. Any legitimate contest will provide clear guidelines for entry, including eligibility, contest categories, deadlines, format, fees, prizes, judging, and rights you may be surrendering. If questions regarding any of the above are not clearly answered, do not enter.

5. All entries are considered for publication. Contests that claim that all entries are considered for publication are not contests at all. This is simply a way for publications to get content without paying for it, and your entry fee is actually a reading fee. Be sure that you will receive some form of payment if your entry is accepted for publication, even if you are not actually a winner.

6. The contest prize is publication in a low-quality periodical. Contests that offer publication as a prize is very appealing, however, if the publication has low readership, or is not a respected publication in the literary field, there is no value to being published here. Research the publisher thoroughly before entering, and never enter a contest where the rules do not allow you to refuse the publishing contract if you win.

7. The competition is run by an individual. Be especially wary of contests that are conducted by individuals. Most reputable competitions are run by organizations such as literary groups, publishers and magazines. While such a contest is not necessarily illegitimate it is probably not likely to be a worthwhile writing credit and it may be more difficult to claim your prize.

8. A fee is required for publication. There should never be any cost associated with a publication prize. If there is, the contest is most certainly a fake.

9. Payment is required for a copy of the publication. Legitimate competitions will send you a copy of the publication in which your winning entry appears. If payment is required you are probably dealing with a vanity publisher. Make sure you do your research before entering any contest.

10. The prize depends on the number of entries. These contests usually require high entry fees and are offered as a profit making enterprise for the organization promoting the contest. This is one to avoid.

On the upside, the majority of competitions listed online are legitimate, and some can provide a real advantage to your career if you win. With a common sense approach you should easily be able to assess contests for what they are - good or bad.

Copyright © 2005 Diane Thomas

Diane Thomas is the editor of eBook Crossroads.com specializing in resources for writers, publishers and promoters of eBooks and Audio Books. She publishes a monthly ezine, the eBook Crossroads Insider, offering articles, tips, contests, free downloads and much more!

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