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Monday, 2 December 2013

Entering Competitions

I spent the last summer being rejected/ignored by every job I applied for (about 40 jobs or so?). It got pretty demoralizing so I decided to not bother any more.

I tidied up my desk, stuck up inspiring pictures, articles, people and some of my art to make it as creatively energizing as possible. After I hid the chocolate from myself (sadly, it did not make the world better), I became a full-time writer, if only for a month and a half before going to uni.

(I like bright colours, guys)

I've been entering writing competitions since I was 9, but took a break for A-Levels. This was the first time I wasn't entering competitions with the school, so I wasn't sure what was out there. Solution? I typed "writing competitions UK 2013" into Google and got pages and pages of good competitions. There were a few regularly updated websites that just kept a big list/database of competitions, so here're my favourites:

Christopher Fielden

In hindsight, picking up magazines and newspapers are great ways to find opportunities as well - not just literary papers, but just the random free stuff by supermarket doors, small-time papers in shops, and so on.

Being a broke teen with no job, I went through the list and noted down the ones that were free to enter. Generally, the entry fees aren't too high, ranging from about £5-£7, but I wanted to get back into the swing of competitions before committing any money to them. Also, I wasn't very well experienced with which sites were legitimate and which were going to steal my bank details and run away to Darkest Peru. Big brands (such as local arts councils, national newspapers, the BBC, magazines or big franchises) are a good bet, and seeing that past winners are publicised on the competition site (and they're real people) is reassuring.

There were a huge range of genres and styles available, and I couldn't enter ALL the competitions I wanted, so I had to prioritise and narrow down the list. You just have to accept there'll ALWAYS be more competitions (seriously, there're so many). Selecting and keeping track of details takes ages, and I usually try to list it all. Our co-writer Ollie makes an Excel doc, sorting competitions by their word counts, entry fees, deadlines and so on, which is an idea I might steal and claim as mine adopt.

Having studied Law at A-Level, I feel compelled to read ALL the terms & conditions. Turns out it's not just a pedantic thing to do, but it makes a massive difference, and stops you wasting time by writing over/under the word count, or for something that isn't open to your country etc. Once you've made sure you can actually enter it, the only real things to keep in mind are the word count, the brief and the deadline.

I don't like to pay too much attention to the prize. If I'm trying to write and all I can think of is the big money prize (which adds to the pressure) or how the prize is smaller in comparison to other competitions (you might not try so hard - always do your best or don't bother), it compromises your work. Whilst I'm on the topic - if you do win, and it goes into an anthology etc, THEY WILL GIVE YOU A COPY FOR FREE. If you have to pay, I'm 99.9% sure it's a scam, working the same way as vanity publishing. Even if they're an underfunded organization, it's the thing to give your winners a free copy. When I was 14, I was involved in something like that, entering an international flash fiction competition. As I was already quite experienced by then, I refused to pay for an anthology. Not long after, there was some media coverage on this, with lots of angry parents were interviewed after they found out that their child was not a winner, as nearly everyone who entered "won" and had to pay for a copy, despite no entry costs. I'll link to the press releases when I can find them.

Moving on; you need to get your entry in quick - most competitions are judged from the word go (very few start going through after all entries have been submitted), so if your work is at the bottom of the pile, by the time the bleary-eyed caffeine-saturated judges get to your work, it probably won't be well considered.

Final point - as a result of competition entering, I'm generally unwilling to post my work online, even on my own blog (shameless self-plug alert), as most competitions are unwilling to take work that's been previously published anywhere.

I managed to enter 3 competitions that summer. I'm still waiting for results from 2 of them, but I got a commendation for the Lady in the Loft, so happy days!

Best of luck to everyone and happy writing!

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