Posts Tagged ‘competitions’

Having got the marathon of anthology typesetting and three sets of coursework out of the way, I need something to do to keep me off the streets. University term starts this week, but as I only have two classes (that’s 6.5 teaching hours a week, with 5 Saturday day schools) I have plenty of time for various projects:

  • Catching up with Eireann’s poetry exercises which I fell woefully behind on due to aforementioned marathon.
  • Getting all the printed anthology loose ends tied up so I can forget about it for a while.
  • Having said that… exploring some ideas I have for marketing the anthology (postcards and bookmarks, anyone?).
  • Working on the anthology website (yes, I know I said I’d forget about it, but…)
  • Getting some of my work published. It’s about time.

I Am Not A Published Author

One member of our writing group keeps posting Facebook statuses boasting (quite rightly) that “IAmAPublishedAuthor” (he is, not I am). Every time he does this I feel a flash of envy. Then I feel a flash of irritation. With myself.

How am I supposed to ever get published if I never send anything off?

well, duh.

So I have had stern words with myself, and I spent much of yesterday researching competitions and magazines that are worth my while submitting to. There are an awful lot of them… which is a Good Thing.

Then I went through all my short stories and poems and listed them, along with brief notes on what needs doing to them (most of them need significant revision, but that’s ok).

And today I’m printing everything off and working on an entry to the Templar Poetry Collection competition. I am deliberately not thinking about my chances – if I do I’ll realise they’re slim and I won’t bother entering. Which is the attitude that’s got me to where I am today. i.e. IAmNotAPublishedAuthor.

I shall keep you updated on how things go.


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There are hundreds of UK competitions for writers, and thousands if you include the rest of the world. They’re mostly for single poems (usually 40 lines) or short stories (upper limit typically varies between 2000-5000 words). However, there are also competitions for flash fiction (very short stories), poetry collections, novellas, haikus… something to suit every taste.

Why enter competitions?

I guess the obvious reason would be to win glittering prizes, gain instant renown, and get snapped up for a publishing contract with a six-figure advance. Ha! No chance. First of all, most competitions have relatively small prizes (typically a few hundred quid, sometimes less, rarely more). Secondly, entries for competitions that offer substantial prizes and kudos are overwhelming (e.g. the Bridport Prize – first prizes of £5000 each for short stories and poetry – attracted over 10,000 entries altogether last year). Thirdly, I suspect you’d have to win at least one big comp or several little ones to get noticed by publishers or agents, and even if you do you have no hope whatsoever of a huge advance.

So why do it? I can only tell you why I do it…

  • To encourage me to write. I work best with a deadline looming over my head, so aiming for competitions means I have to get the blasted things written. Basically, I’m inherently lazy so I use the entry dates as sticks to beat myself with.
  • To ensure I produce the best work possible. Even though the people who’ll read my entries are unknown to me, I hate to think of someone sitting in judgement over my writing and muttering, ‘oh god, another load of rubbish.’ So I edit and polish far more than I would if I were writing for my own benefit.
  • On the off-chance I might get placed. I know I’m not a brilliant writer (yet?). But I think I’m not too bad, so if I come up with something rather good there is a remote possibility of getting placed (better than the chance of me winning the lottery, for sure). And if that happens, I’ll be the happiest person alive.

The downside

I’ve been entering competitions for six months or so now – nine short story comps and six poetry comps. So far I haven’t had any success, but I haven’t lost anything, right?


  • There’s the entry fees. I guess I’ve paid out nearly £90, which isn’t that much, and ‘all’ I have to do is win one competition to recoup my losses. But for the moment, they are losses.
  • I tend to get obsessive about this sort of thing – I have a long perfectly-formatted list of upcoming comps pinned up where I write, and I find it very hard to say, ‘yes, I know the deadline’s approaching, but I’m not going to enter that one,’ and get on with something more constructive – like my novel, which is currently stalled at the end of the second chapter.
  • As rational and well-adjusted as I am (haha!), I still feel a fundamental ache of uselessness when the results of a comp come out and yet again I haven’t been placed. I know it doesn’t reflect badly on my ability, but I do have a tendency towards a negative self-image…


On balance, I think I’ll carry on entering comps for now. I still have a reasonable hope that one day I’ll get placed, which would make it all worth while.

I was going to write a section about ‘how to enter competitions’ but I think I’ll save that one for when I’ve had some success!

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