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Creative Writing Contests: Know Your Rights
Austin Public Library
Austin, TX
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Creative Writing Contests: Know Your Rights
As an emerging creative writer, one of the best ways to get your name noticed or build self-esteem is to enter your work into contests. The prizes offered from these competitions can dazzle a young writer with promises of money or publication. Many of these opportunities are legitimate, and placing in a contest can bolster the confidence of the writer. But unfortunately, there are people and companies who will eagerly take advantage of someone willing to give up their work and pay for essay papers, without reading the fine print. If you are unsure about entering a contest, taking a look at the following things will help to weed out many of the offending presses.


Entry fees do not automatically spell fraud. Many very respectable presses will host contests that require an entry fee. Sometimes these fees feed directly into the pool of prize money for the winners. Other times the fee may offer you a subscription to the literary journal to which you are submitting, regardless of whether you win.

But the fee should be proportionate to the prize. Are you required to spend $25 to enter a short story into a contest that offers $100 for first place? It may be time to skip over that opportunity and find another.


Detailed guidelines including fees, submission dates, copyright information, prize listings, manuscript formats, categories and eligibility should be very easy to find. In the case that it isnt or that something is unclear, you should be able to find accurate contact information for someone in charge of these things.

I once sent an email to the editor of a literary magazine who was in charge of the contest the magazine was hosting. Copyright information was unclear in the guidelines, so I requested to know if I would be giving away first-publication rights only or if I would lose my publication rights should I win. I received a very touchy email in reply that informed me they did not have to prove or promise anything to me. I quickly dismissed any thought of sending them my work. On the flip side I have emailed many other editors and contest promoters to clarify formatting guidelines and have received quick, courteous and extremely helpful replies to any and every question I had.

Be careful with your copyright. Always make sure that you are not giving away full rights. Know when and where you are allowing your work to appear by submitting it.


Before entering a contest, take a moment to review the prizes offered, and not just in reference to any entry fee you may be paying. There are several things you should evaluate before you allow yourself to be wooed by the first place gold.

First, do you have the opportunity to refuse the prize if you should so choose? This is especially important if you are entering a novel or anthology of work in which the prize is publication of your book. Whether you book gets published traditionally through an agent and publishing house or as a first place prize in a contest, there will be a contract involved. Read the fine print to make sure you are not bound to a contract you have not yet read if you win.

Second, beware of pro-rations or substitutions. This type of language can mean that the sponsor of a contest may, at their discretion, revoke a prize in lieu of another or perhaps give a lesser prize if the total number of entrants is fewer than expected. The prizes awarded at the end should always be precisely what they were promised to be in the beginning.


This may be one of the most important things to evaluate before you enter a writing contest. Do you know the history of the contest sponsor? Is it someone like Writers Digest magazine or Amazon? Not all contest sponsors will be this high-profile, but if they do not have a long and positive track record for the award or sponsoring press, think twice.

There are many small presses, ones that are quite legitimate, who are still in the early stages of creating themselves. This doesnt mean they are a scam, but it does require you to pay a bit more attention to the details. Are there agents or authors giving them good feedback? Thats great, but research those people and find out who they are. Are they part of an organization or maybe a college press? Fantastic, research that too. Never be afraid to email and ask any questions you may have.

Beware of vanity presses or publishers who seem to publish a large number of entrants in a journal that may not even be available for sale to the public. Any potential publication should always be in a form that is available for the public to obtain, otherwise what was the point of publication?


No matter how diligent you are in screening a contest for red flags, there is always the chance you may miss one. If you have a gut feeling telling you not to enter, my advice is to trust it. Its better to miss out on an opportunity you arent quite comfortable with in favor of putting your efforts into something with a great reputation.

Winning a contest may not always bring you popularity or agents knocking on your door. Its a personal choice that each writer must make on each opportunity. In the end you have to ask yourself, is it worth it to you? If it is, then using these tips as a starting point next time you send off a manuscript will help protect you from a potential pitfall. Youve put your soul into your writing. Dont give it to someone who will misuse it just to make a buck.


Austin Public Library (View)
5500 Manchaca Rd
Austin, TX 78701
United States




Owner: Steven Walker
On BPT Since: Mar 11, 2019
Steven Walker

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