Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 7, 2009

Writing Contests

There are hundreds of literary contests, online and off. Most are real; some are even prestigious, but many are fake. And of the legitimate ones, few are important enough to provide a meaningful addition to your writing resume.

Contest Fakes


Some are outright scams. A few examples, drawn from Writer Beware’s files:

  • One fee-charging literary agency advertises a contest where the prize is agency representation. Representation is indeed offered (to everyone who enters), but the catch is that it comes with a hefty editing fee attached.Another agency uses a false name to run its contest–entrants are told that even though they didn’t win their work is “exceptional”, and referred to the agency, which charges an up-front fee.
  •  An editing service uses a contest as a way to acquire pool of potential customers. The contest is genuine in that there are winners who get prizes, but everyone else is told that their work needs help, and offered the chance to buy it at a “discount” from the service.
  •  A similar contest scheme is run by a company that provides coverage for screenplay authors. In addition, guaranteed agency representation is promised for “exceptional” scripts. What’s not revealed: the agency is run under a different name by the same people who run the coverage service, and its track record is slim to none.
  •  A charity runs a contest in conjunction with a book publisher, with the prize being a publication contract. Entry fees go to support the charity’s endeavors. What’s not disclosed: the charity and the publisher are run by the same person, and the charity has no verifiable activities.


Then there are the “contest mills”, which make money on the front end via entry fees. Some advertise enormous prizes–$15,000 for the winner, $10,000 for second place, and so on–with correspondingly high entry fees–$25 or $30. But if you read the fine print, you’ll discover that the contest owner reserves the right to award prizes on a pro rata basis–i.e., the prize amounts are determined by the number of entrants, thus guaranteeing a profit no matter what. Other contest mills are run by writers’ magazines, which conduct a dozen or more contests a year, or by Internet-based groups that offer monthly contests, and advertise under several different names and URLs to draw more entrants.

Contest mills aren’t really scams, since there usually are winners, and they really do receive prizes. Even so, contests of this kind can be considered fake, since they exist for no other reason than to make a profit for the organizations conducting them. Also, because of the lack of rigorous judging standards, they’re unlikely to carry any professional prestige.

By far the most common of the fake contests are the ones conducted by the vanity anthology companies. These companies publish collections of poems, short stories, or essays, which are sold not to the public, but to the contributors. Sometimes publication is contingent on purchase of the anthology and sometimes it isn’t, but either way the anthology can’t be obtained except by paying for it. Because inclusion in these anthologies is offered to everyone who enters the contests, an anthology-published poem isn’t considered a legitimate literary credit.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has more of this topic and they discuss assessing and contest and how to decide on whether it is worth entering.  click here to get to their article.

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