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Writing Competitions

This is our writing competitions hub that brings information about upcoming (mainly UK-based) writing competitions. If you want to get an overview of the writing contests that are out there at the moment, check out our list of writing competitions. We update the list regularly and ensure the information is as accurate as possible and we’ll include details of our latest competition too. Competitions

We run regular our own writing competitions with cash prizes for the winners (and for any with entry fees, we donate a proportion to charity).

To date we have donated over £1,000 from our writing competitions to First Story, England’s leading creative writing charity for young people.

Almost all the writing competitions we feature fall into the following categories, so if you are seeking a novel writing competition, a poetry contest, a flash fiction competition or a short story competition, click on the relevant link below:

How To Pick The Best Writing Competition For You

As you will see, there are hundreds of writing competitions that are available to enter each year in the United Kingdom. Cast the net further and you will discover countless more writing contests around the English-speaking world that are open to international entrants.

So how do you decide which competition(s) to enter?

You could just take a scattergun approach and enter as many as your time or budget will permit. But this is likely to cause your resources to dwindle rather rapidly. Given that writing comps often have particular requirements regarding file type, preferred fonts, whether to send the entry by email or through a dedicated website, themes, word lengths and so on, it can be a time-consuming process. And given that the new writer’s primary resource is often time (given that non-professional authors have to juggle their day job or other responsibilities with their writing), you ought to ask yourself, would it be time better spent actually writing?

Of course, you might win the competitions you enter (or some of them), which would be fantastic. But bear in mind that most competitions will require your work to be unpublished as they might well want to publish it in their own literary magazine or chapbook. As such, if you enter the same story, novel or poem into multiple competitions, there could be some conflict if you happen to win (or sometimes even make the shortlist) of more than one of them.

It generally makes sense not to enter the same work into more than two or three competitions, or better still you could stagger such entries so that you have already heard back from one competition before you enter the same work for a second.

Factors To Consider When Picking A Writing Competition

Here are some of the main factors to consider when deciding whether or not to enter a writing competition. There might be some others that are specific to your specialism or style of competition but these are the main thing to assess.

Prize Money

Okay, let’s not beat around the bush. You’re in it to win it, right? And although it’s nice to win anything, even just recognition, winning something with a top prize of thousands of pounds (like the Bridport Prize) is likely to be that much more satisfying than winning a £25 book token after landing top spot in the local church’s annual poetry comp.

It is often (although not always) the case that the competitions that offer the biggest prizes tend to be the most prestigious. This could be especially important for those writers who want to make a career out of their craft. When it comes to seeking representation from an agent and ultimately when approaching a publisher, having a few significant writing competition wins on your CV can make all the difference (in other words, it might prompt them to bother reading your submission instead of chucking it dismissively on the slush pile).

Note that sometimes “prizes” can simply be that the winning entries get published on a website. If the website is a showcase for new writers and there was no entry fee required, this might not be a bad thing per se. But if you have to pay a fee to enter the competition, there really should be a cash (or equivalent) prize available to winners.

Depending on the type of competition, some prizes include things like a free writers’ retreat (often with a cash prize as well). Others might include feedback on winning or shortlisted entries from the judges. Or it might include submission of the entry to a specific literary agent or agency, though this is usually just for novel competitions.

Entry Fees

In case you were under any illusions, we thought we ought to point out the plain fact that the vast majority of people who enter writing competitions do not win. They don’t make the shortlist either. Or even the longlist. The nature of competitions is that they seek to reward the entries that stand out from the crowd. Meaning that most people are in the crowd. Don’t be discouraged or downhearted by this prospect, it’s just how it is. And if your writing is good enough and you put the effort in and you are lucky enough, you will make at least one shortlist. Or you might even win a competition.

But whatever happens, you don’t get a refund on your entry fee. As such, taking the entry fee into account is wise, especially for your first few writing competition entries. There are quite a few free writing competitions in the UK, but note that most free competitions tend to have smaller prize funds.

It is not always the case that writing comps with the biggest entry fees have the biggest prize funds as there are many factors at play (for instance some prizes might be boosted by sponsorship deals). But often there is at least some correlation between the two.

The entry fees for writing competitions can vary from nothing at all for the free-to-enter variety, up to more than £20. It is often (though not always) the case that the fees for flash fiction and poetry competitions are a little lower than for short story competitions. And novel competitions or poetry competitions for full collections tend to command the highest fees (often because the judges and readers have more words to contend with, though most novel comps initially ask for only a few thousand words).

Note that some competitions will give you the option of paying more to receive feedback on your entry. This can be useful for those seeking to refine a novel or story or collection of poems before submitting to an agent or publisher. It’s always worth noting who will be giving the feedback though. It might mean more, for instance, if it comes from an established industry pro (such as a literary agent or publisher).

Word Limits

Most writing competitions stipulate a maximum word limit under which entries must fall. Some also specify a minimum word limit too, though this is rare. In the case of some micro fiction competitions, there might be an exact number of words an entry must be to be considered for the prize(s).

Note that for poetry competitions, there is often a line limit (e.g. maximum of 40 lines) rather than a word limit.

Whether you are entering a story, novel or poetry competition, the quickest way to ensure you don’t have a chance of winning is to go over the word or line limit. And you won’t get a refund if you do. So always double check your work and note that some word processors differ slightly in how they count words, so it’s best not to take it right to the limit, just in case.

Note that usually the word limits will not include the title of the story or poem.

Other T&Cs & Entry Process

Some writing competitions are easier to enter than others. Some will simply allow you to attach a Word document or PDF, enter your details, pay the fee and cross your fingers. Others can be a little more convoluted, to say the least. It’s worth checking out the entry process to ensure you can adhere to the various conditions.

Sometimes competition rules will specify that you must use a specific font or perhaps they don’t accept postal entries (most don’t these days). The point is, it’s worth having a read through the terms and conditions of any competition you are considering entering before you spend a long time on the entry itself. This will ensure you don’t discover something at the last minute that makes it difficult or even impossible for you to enter.

Past Winners

It is also a good idea to have a read of the past winners of the competition you are thinking about entering. This will give you a good idea of the standard of story or poem, but it might also give some indication of the kind of style that might make the shortlist. Note that even when there is a big-name judge, they will usually only get to read the shortlisted or perhaps the longlisted entries. For competitions that attract many thousands of entries, there is likely to be a team of initial readers who will pick entries to go through to the next stage of judging. These readers might well be the same from year to year and so there could be certain genres or styles that they particularly like or dislike. Of course, you’ll never know for sure so it’s just to give a vague indication. If nothing else, reading past winners tends to be interesting and sometimes enlightening or inspiring.

Top Tips For Winning Writing Competitions

Here are our top tips for maximising your chances of winning (or making the shortlist) a writing competition.

  1. Enter early – The judges and readers of most writing competitions have a lot of entries to read. Often entries are read and given an initial judgement soon after they have been received. Clearly a lot of people enter close to the deadline, meaning the readers and judges might be under quite a bit of pressure and might not give such entries the same time and attention as they might have for the early entries. Enter early to give your work the best chance of being read in a calm and measured fashion.
  2. Be original – Originality is a rare commodity and there is always the temptation among writers (new and old) to attempt to rehash something that has worked in the past. The glut of wizard and witchcraft-related children’s books that appeared (as if by magic) after the Harry Potter phenomenon is a case in point. It’s easier said than done to create something unique, but if you read your writing back and it seems a little too similar to something, it’s probably worth rethinking things. It is fine to write in a particular genre or style, of course, but try to add your particular twist to keep the reader (and hopefully the competition judges) interested, entertained, scared, titillated… whatever it is you are trying to achieve.
  3. Choose smaller or newer competitions – Some of the biggest, most established competitions attract thousands or even tens of thousands of entries and thus these can be extremely difficult to win. Of course, they often come with the biggest prizes. But winning a £500 prize from a new or small competition (that has maybe 500 entries) is far better than winning nothing and not making the longlist in a competition that has 8,000 writers bidding for glory.
  4. Edit, refine, edit, refine… – It is amazing how many people enter writing competitions without having properly checked, refined, edited, refined and then checked again their work. Grammatical or spelling mistakes are a surefire way to irritate the reader or judge of a writing competition. You might get away with a couple but really it’s not too difficult to ensure your writing is free of mistakes. If it means getting someone you trust to read your entry before you submit it, then great – they might well spot something you missed. Also, DO NOT rely on the spellcheck on MS Word as it can miss all kinds of things.
  5. Stick to the rules – It should go without saying that you need to adhere to the word (or line) limit and all the other rules of any given writing competition. It should go without saying, but we are all only human after all, so we’ve said it. No excuses now!

Final Thoughts On Writing Competitions

Ultimately whether or not you are successful in a writing competition will come down to numerous factors. Some of these are within your control, such as sticking within word limits and submitting in the correct file format and font. However, other factors are not within your control, most notably the subjective tastes of the person or people judging your work. You might have written the best poem that has ever been written, but if it doesn’t tickle the fancy of the judge of a particular competition, it won’t win. That does not mean your poem isn’t brilliant. It just means that this particular person didn’t warm to it for whatever reason (perhaps they hadn’t slept well the night before and were just in a bad mood).

The same goes for stories, novels… anything creative in fact. It’s subjective. So if you don’t win a competition you enter or you don’t even make the longlist, don’t give up and don’t feel downhearted. Ask yourself how you could improve your work and indeed whether it can be improved (if not, enter it elsewhere and move on to the next story/poem/novel). The point is, if you write, you are a writer. You don’t need to win a competition to validate that fact.

And if you are a writer, you write. You write and get better at writing and learn more about your craft and perhaps you enter another competition in a few weeks or months and perhaps you don’t make that shortlist either. So you write some more and hone your skills and write something new, something better and – guess what – you only go and bloody win something! Or perhaps not, but for most writers, that’s not really the point. Of course, you can’t win without entering and it can’t hurt to try to win a writing competition, and luckily there are plenty to choose from.