Tuesday 6 September 2011

Which competitions are worth entering nowadays?

I don't think that the UK has quite the same competition culture as the USA, but we're catching up. Here's how I decide which competitions to enter

I look at the fee/prize ratio when I enter competitions, and try to see where the money's going. I take into account the prestige of the competition, the judge, and the judging process. I only bother with poem competitions where the 1st prize is more than 100 times the fee. I'm more lenient with story competitions.

We're beginning to have magazines that charge reading fees, which is essentially a competition. I think that's fair enough for prose, especially if the fee includes a copy of the magazine.

We have a few (far fewer than the USA) competitions where the winner's book is published. I'm sympathetic to the established ones - they offer one of the few routes to publication; faster and much less hassle than submitting to publishers.

For the bigger UK competitions (Bridport, National Poetry Competition) not only is the fee/prize ratio good (Bridport's poetry/story 1st prize is 5000 pounds for a 6 or 7 pound fee; the Flash prize is 1000 pounds for a 5 pound fee), but the lesser prizes are worthwhile too. Getting on the short-list is noteworthy, and there's a good chance of anthology/newspaper publication later.

After a bit of naming-and-shaming a few years ago in the UK there's been a trend towards transparency of the judging process. For example, the Bridport rules say "Experienced readers assist the named judges in selecting the shortlists, headed by Jon Wyatt for short stories and Candy Neubert for poems". In the National Poetry Competition's FAQ they say "Unlike many poetry competitions, we do not implement a sifting / elimination round. Each entry is seen by at least two of the judges."

So I end up entering a big competition every year or 2. I enter a publication-prize competition every 2 or 3 years. I enter about 8 small competitions a year - more prose than poetry. I guess I've come out about even overall, and I feel I've helped out some worthwhile magazines and organisations.


  1. Very interesting post, Tim. I'm beginning much more to look at prize/fee ratio. I must admit to being quite shocked by the Fish prize fees - 20 euros for the short story! Bridport is £5000/£7 = prize roughly 700 x fee and Fish is €3,000 - (of which €1,000 is for travel expenses to the launch of the Anthology./ €20 where prize = roughly 150 x fee (or 100 x fee if you knock of travel expenses). Surely if they lowered the fee they'd get more entries? I don't quite understand the logic, with the strength of the euro this fee puts me off completely... Any thoughts?

  2. Like financial investments, I think a writer's investments can be a mix of the safe and the speculative. A solid-sounding course or residential workshop can be a waste of time as well as money. For the price of a pint a competition win might change your life. True, the Fish competition costs a bottle of wine rather than pint - I've never entered it. Submitting to mags isn't always free though: Missouri Review charges $3 for submissions; Narrative's reading fee is $20 for stories; Glimmer Train and (in the UK) short Fiction are rather competition oriented. Writing's still a relatively cheap activity all the same.

  3. This is a really interesting and helpful post. I worry and wonder about competitions all the time and find myself entering fewer every year. It does get expensive, and the odds are not great. But it is true, if you can hit one, it can make a big difference. But that worries me as well, I think. I just don't like competition when it comes to art.

  4. The odds might not be so bad for decent writers - many of the entries (for poetry anyway) are likely to be junk. Isobel Thrilling for example often gets into poetry short-lists. It might be easier to win a competition than get into certain magazines - the odds of getting printed in Poetry Review are about 1 in 500.