What Are the Best Tips for Entering Fiction Contests?

Entering fiction contests can be a thrilling step in a writer's journey. To stand out, meticulously edit your work, adhere to submission guidelines, and embrace your unique voice. Research past winners to understand what resonates with judges. Remember, each entry is a chance to refine your craft. What could your story reveal to the world if given the chance to shine? Continue reading for insider strategies.
Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

One of the best tips for entering fiction contests is to first do some research. Verifying that the contest is legitimate means that at least a writer won't be wasting his time and effort on something that isn't real. Following all contest rules and instructions is mandatory or the entrant may be disqualified without his entry being read. Reading the works of past winners can be helpful, as it may give a writer an idea of the type of piece the judges tend to choose. Remember to keep writing fresh and original, though, because the judges are seeking the piece that stands out from the rest.

If a writer hasn't heard of a particular writing contest before, he should do research to check on its legitimacy. It's always a good idea to search online for consumer complaints about any fiction contests before registering and sending in money for an entry fee. Check not only the name of the contest, but the company or individuals offering it with consumer protection organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB). In general, beware of a fiction contest that charges an entry fee that seems too high.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

When a writer locates a fiction contest that seems worthwhile to enter, he should make sure to read the rules and instructions carefully. Not all fiction contests are open to residents of different countries, writing levels or ages. It's best to look for writing contests in which an entrant feels he has a real chance of winning, if that is important. If, on the other hand, a writer just wants to take part in a prestigious contest, then it may be best to just look for ones that match these interests only.

Getting a list of past winners in a fiction contest and reading their entries may help a writer get a better understanding of what kind of piece to enter. At the same time though, a writer needs to add his own unique style and at least a creative twist on similar subject matter, since typically writing contest judges tend to pick very different winning entries each time. The main points to gain when reading the work of past winners in fiction contests is to note the depth of the pieces as well as the skill level.

If past winners seem to have a level of fiction writing beyond a writer's, he may be better off starting with contests aimed at beginning writers. Also remember that fiction contests can provide a writer with an excellent chance for learning and using new writing techniques. Reading the kind of fiction he hopes to write and making a note of passages he especially likes can provide a writer with many lessons to improve his own writing. He can simply break down these passages to figure out certain techniques the writer used, such as metaphor or foreshadowing, and apply the same techniques in his own unique fiction writing.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - I have to say that's one of my biggest tips for aspiring writers. Don't just stick to contests. Find other markets. Everyone and their uncle is entering those competitions and often you have to pay for the privilege of doing so.

And even if your work is of excellent, publishable quality, it's up against others of the same quality and only one can win.

It's not that journals and anthologies are not difficult, but if your work is of publishable quality it will eventually get published somewhere.

This is true for poetry as well. Many people enter poetry contests for the money and then get discouraged when they repeatedly don't win. The same poem that won't take the grand prize in a big contest might still be very welcome in a local journal. You might not get paid as much (if at all) but a byline is much, much better than nothing.


@KoiwiGal - I would just treat that as one more bit of information to consider when thinking about your entry though. Don't try to write something to impress a particular judge, as that approach will never work. If you are so wonderful at writing that you can successfully impress while aping someone else's style, you probably should be putting your work into journals rather than sticking to contests.

Most people will do their best work when they stay true to their own preferences and your chances of winning are going to be much higher if you are entering you absolute best work, rather than the piece that you think is most similar to someone else's work (unless, of course, the contest is for specific pastiches which is a whole other process).


As well as checking out previous winning entries, it can be very helpful to investigate the style of the judges themselves. Usually judges for fiction contests are fiction writers themselves and will show their preferences by what they write. I don't mean necessarily the genre so much as the style or deeper themes of a work.

If the topic is open-ended and you have several pieces that could be entered then you will definitely improve your chances by entering something in the kind of language the judge can understand.

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