Why you should enter writing competitions and submit your work to magazines

Yesterday, I linked to a piece in the Independent that asked whether authors need to win an award if they want to guarantee a long career.
I don’t have the answer to that question (apart from no, almost certainly not), but it did get me thinking about the importance of awards and competitions for unpublished writers. That’s right. We can be winners too.

Before I go on though, I must say that this article – and most of my others, actually – is something of a note to self for me – a slap on the wrist, even.

As you might guess, I’m about to recommend that you enter competitions and submit your work to magazines. But to tell you the truth, it’s a while since I did so myself, and more fool me. I aim to rectify this in the near future.

Okay, on with the show.

Above the parapet

The great thing about entering competitions and submitting to magazines (ECASM from now on) is that they typically ask for short pieces – stories or poems.

That means that you don’t have to worry about writing something more substantial before getting your work out there. In theory, a brand new writer can write on single story, start ECASM straight away and be successful.

However, if you do have a larger collection of work to choose from, ECASM can provide a useful distraction. It, as in the result, can be something to look forward to while you bat on with the rest of your collection, or something else entirely.

ECASM also makes you feel like you are part of something bigger – that you are contributing to the wider writing community.

Scribbling alone in your room is all good and well, but it’s important to pop your head round the door every now and again and say hello to the rest of the writing world. ECASM is great for doing just that.

Think critically

ECASM (which is getting more annoying to type than actually writing it in full) forces you to think about your work in a different way.

It’s no longer just a story in a drawer, it’s for public consumption. What’s more, you’re sending it to someone whose job it is to judge both yours and its literary merits.

So you need it to be good, right? You need to work on your submission to the point where it’s as brilliant as it can possibly be. And that’s a splendid thing. It’s great to think critically (and I mean really critically) about any piece of writing.

Think about it. Do you put all of your work through the same rigorous editorial process? Or do you put extra critical emphasis on the bits that you know someone else is going to see?

It’s the latter. Of course it is. And that’s fine. ECASM is an excellent way of forcing you to get down to the nitty gritty.

Good for the CV

Finally, there’s the winning. Everyone likes winning. You have to be in it to win it, as they say, and you won’t win if you don’t ECASM. With no agent or publisher to do it for you, the onus is on you to get your work out there.

If you’re successful, WCASM (w for winning) looks great on your covering letter and author biography. These things really do make a difference.

It means that when you submit to an agent or publisher, you can say, ‘Oh, and I won this competition and was published in this magazine.’ That says that not only are you a totally awesome writer, but that you have the motivation and commitment to ECASM in the first place.

You want to be read. You’re as keen as mustard.

Let it all hang out

There are many other good reasons for you to get your work out there as much as possible. ECASM is just one way (well, two) of reaching an audience and getting your name in lights.

The main thing is to not be afraid to try. If you’re serious about your writing and want to see your work in print (or e-ink or whatever), ECASM is a great way of dipping your toes in the water. Very little harm can come from it. No one gets hurt.

Sure, you might never win a competition or get a piece accepted to a magazine, but the process itself provides plenty of rewards. The very act of preparing a piece for submission makes you think carefully about what you’re creating, and about who you are as a writer.

ECASM helps you improve. That’s all any of us can ever ask for.

Share your thoughts

Do you see the value in writing competitions and submitting your work to literary magazines? Is it just another distraction from getting on with your masterpiece? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

  1. Couldn’t agree more Iain. I’m always ECASMing and yes, it makes you edit and hone more carefully, and it also acts as a great writing prompt (I tend to make almost all my work available online, so I have to write new stuff). We always think about things we’d like to experiment with, techniques we want to try, but it’s so easy to fall into the “never quite getting round to it” trap. ECASMing gives you a specific reason to make sure you do get round to it.

    1. Of course, you’re right, it is a fantastic writing prompt, I should have mentioned that in the post. And actually, that’s why this whole shebang is one big note to self – I’m often in need of a prompt too. 

  2. Yeah, agree with both of you.  It’s a great excuse to write, try new things and the more short stories you complete the better you get at not only short stories but stories and writing in general.  I’ve had a couple of shorts published in relatively small places but the buzz from finally getting a YES pushes all the rejections to one side…for just a brief, beautiful moment.

  3. “ECASM (which is getting more annoying to type than actually writing it in full)” Great article, but I have to say that bit really was the best!

  4. At the moment I have a target of 1-2 competitions a month, mostly poetry. Generally I think it is easy to procrastinate unless someone else is asking us for something. Writing for competitions is a bit like having your boss setting you a deadline, only much more fun!

  5. Thought I should add this: I have been approached by no less than three literary agents who ‘found’ me by reading short stories of mine in literary magazines. Actually, one of them heard me read the story – an online magazine that has digital recordings of stories. Now I haven’t signed with anyone yet, as I haven’t finished my novel, but I’d say there is a huge advantage in getting work published in literary magazines. Also: I’ve had over 20 stories published in literary magazines, but my rejection pile is positively enormous. Keep at it. One story won an award in a fairly prestigous magazine, but was turned down by several ‘lesser’ magazines. As I said, keep at it!

    1. Great comment Sandra and absolutely right, you can only get noticed by putting your name out there as much as possible. Being in a respected literary magazine counts for a lot, certainly more than how high your name ranks in Google searches, or something. 
      And good luck, by the way. Sounds like you’re in a great position to go on and do really well. 

  6. I think the idea is sound and great, not to mention sadly overlooked these days. With all the blogging, microblogging and self publishing going on these days, it seems like the straight forward and fairly easy approach of entering competitions and submitting to magazines have gotten somewhat lost. As much as we all would like to think and believe the world is moving in a new direction and we no longer have to stand on the shoulders of giants, the publishers if you will, that is still not completely the case.
    At the very least it sure doesn’t hurt to try. I look at it as an interesting challenge, and more so if I have a given topic or other limit to work with. Sometimes infinite freedom to create what you want is almost the heaviest burden of all.

    The wake-up bell has been rung! I shall enter competitions and try to submit my works to magazines, maybe even newspapers.

    1. Hi Robert!
      You’re totally correcto, it doesn’t hurt to try and as long as you don’t expect to win every time you enter or submit, you’ll get plenty out of it. Many coms/mags will indeed ask for submissions around a specific theme, so if you’re looking for a way to focus your work, it might be worth looking for something that sets the parameters for you a little.

      Good luck!

  7. you know i’ve been trying to find somewhere i could go and get my stuff read by someone who would discover i was a good writer i think i’m pretty good but me some critizim might do some good

  8. Excellent post. Shaping up a story for a competition is exciting and you can visualise winning, which is good for the self-esteem. Even if you don’t win – there is a story in the world that needs to be dusted off and sent off again. It also makes writers less precious about their work….slowly, you become a professional.

    1. ‘The great thing about entering competitions and submitting to magazines (ECASM from now on) is that they typically ask for short pieces – stories or poems.’
      I just couldn’t face typing it out or thinking of an alternative way of saying it each time!

  9. Hadn’t thought about it that way before but you’re quite right. I joined a splinter of my critique group last year, specifically focused on submitting work.Since then I’ve been shortlisted once, longlisted once and had several letters printed as well as two articles in magazines. The level of validation and pride that gives me seeps into everything else I do (including self publishing).

    I’ve been a bit lax myself this month, but reading this (and knowing I have a meeting with that splinter group this afternoon!) has encouraged me to go back to what I was doing before; submitting something somewhere every month. Even if just one thing.

    …it’s better than nothing. 🙂

  10. I had rarely entered contests in the past. Then my editor submitted my e-novel to the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition’s EPIC Award competetion, and I took first place in the Children’s category. Then I watched a video by Jacob Apel, an accomplished writer with numerous publications to his credit. Mr. Apel went into detail about the importance of entering contests. Since then, I’ve entered 8 short fiction contests. I don’t know if I’ll even place in any of them, but the process has inspired me to write and revise nearly every day, and my output is at a new high. Whatever happens, I’m enjoying this new-found energy for writing, and I think I’m getting better.

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