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How Do You Judge A Writing Contest?

By Author: Thomas Ward

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Are writing contests worth your time and energy? If only there was a simple answer to this controversial question...
Although there are numerous legitimate contests for writers, unfortunately there also seems to be various questionable competitions developed to "scam" aspiring writers.
Many iniquitous individuals and/or crafty companies have capitalized on the naivete or desperation of beginning writers, who are so eager to get published that they are willing to pay outrageous fees to enter contests that "guarantee" they will get published or promise thousands of dollars in prizes...
The prize money pledged in some of these competitions may never actually exist. The so-called "contest sponsors" may never choose a winner and just continue to collect writing submissions and the cash of the unsuspecting "entrants."
So how can you tell a hoax from a true contest?
There are some simple tips that may seem time-consuming and trivial, but can be well-worth your effort.
Look for annual contests that have a history and a list of previous winners.
Search for contests that list the judges - and then pick the ones that boast published authors, editors and/or agents.
Look for a contact name, address, phone number for future reference. (Like to request a list of winners etc...)
Try to find a deadline date for the contest and a date when winners will be announced.
Look for contests with no or minimal entry fees.
If you find a contest that requires an entry fee of more than $5 or $10 - read the fine print - find out what you're getting for your money...
(For example, some legitimate contests may charge an entry fee and offer a critique of your work - whether you win or not - in return for your efforts and $$$.)
Carefully consider the value of the prizes. Are you willing to try to write 1,500 words about a topic you're not familiar with - in order to have a chance at winning a $20 gift certificate or perhaps publication in some unknown journal?
Choose competitions that inspire you.
Pick contests that provide you personally with something worthwhile.
(This can mean different things to each writer... For example, if you recently experienced the loss of a loved one and you come across a contest that asks participants to pen their personal thoughts on how to deal with grief; and offers a non-monetary prizes - it may be "worth" it for inner-satisfaction.)
Winning a contest sponsored by a reputable publication (like Writer's Digest for example...) can certainly provide the break you needed to become a respected published writer.
Carefully weigh the cost(s) - both monetary and creatively - to you with the potential results - whether winning money or recognition.
And last, but not least, try to make entering writing contests something that you do for fun - not perceived fame or instant riches!

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