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Simple Tips for Entering and Winning Essay Contests and Other Writing Contests

Updated on May 6, 2018
Cyndi10 profile image

The former executive director of a successful nonprofit agency now content specialist, Cynthia writes about a variety of researched topics.

Why Enter Essay and Other Writing Contests

Entering essay contests is one of the many ways a freelance writer can add a substantial amount of money to your coffers or provide other interesting prizes and there are plenty of writing contests spread among the genres to share among the writers. For those writers who are also photographers, there are also writing contests with a photography component to to them. There are tips for entering and winning the essay, poetry, fiction, or other writing contest.

Some writing contests are absolutely free and require nothing more from you than your entry. Others require you to pay a fee to enter or you sign on as a member or subscriber to their product, usually an email subscription. Of course, free should always be considered because it is easy on the bank account. Fee based contests can become expensive, defeating your purpose for entering in the first place. They should be considered carefully for their legitimacy and for the benefits of the return.

Knowing which contest to enter is just the beginning. There are also the sweepstakes writing contests. These contests are usually not judging the writing itself, but instead draw a winner at random from a pool of entrants. That does not mean your writing should not be good, however, because the winning entries may be published in some way. One of the great things about entering a writing contest that has a sweepstakes component is that many times there are fewer entrants because so many individuals are intimidated by the word "writing."

Elements of Writing a Good Essay

Tips for Entering Essay and Other Writing Contests

The following are a few things to keep in mind as you submit to essay contests or other types of writing contests:

  1. Read the rules carefully and follow them. It is a good idea to print or bookmark the rules so that you can refer to them often, especially before submitting your entry. Some contests are looking for unpublished writers and others accept both. Additionally, some contests, especially essay contests, are for asking from entries from specific types of writers, such as high school students, graduate students, or transgender writers. The rules will tell you this. You wouldn't want to be disqualified because you overlooked a requirement or stipulation.
  2. Establish who owns the rights to your work once you submit and/or once you win. If it's not mentioned in the rules, ask. This may determine whether you enter a particular contest or move on to another.
  3. Know the prize. Money is not aways the the prize. There may be some other reward you are interested in and prizes can run the gamut from free subscriptions for popular writing magazines to free critiques of your work. One of the more novel rewards I've run across was in a haiku contest which gave a Tiffany diamond ring as the top prize. In addition, the winning haiku was to be tattooed on the arm of one of the contest judges. Interesting.
  4. Pay attention to the word count. This is a part of the rules that may be easy to overlook, but rest assured the judges will not. If your word count does not fit the requirements, you will be automatically eliminated from the contest.
  5. Some writing contests require you to become members or subscribers before you can even enter the contest. Determine whether this is a service, subscription or membership that is of value to you. Providing your information when you enter the essay contest or writing contest may mean you will begin to receive regular (maybe, too regular) emails and offers for their products and services. Hubpages offers wonderful contests with great prizes. It is an example of becoming a member of the writing community before you are able to enter.
  6. Ask for the winners list if it's not automatically accessible on the contest site. This may give you an opportunity to review the writing of the previous winners. This won't necessarily mean the type of writing chosen is what the judges are looking for this go round, but it does show the quality of work that has won in the past.
  7. Never pay for lists of essay contests or any other writing contests. There are many sources online available for ferreting out good writing contests. When googling free writing contests, the list is long. Some of the sites will list free sites others, give free information, but require you to pay to enter the contest.
  8. Review the judges. They are almost always writers. If you are familiar with their work, it may give you an indication of what they will look for in writing style. If you are not familiar, it is worthwhile for you to review their work.
  9. If you enter, take the writing contest seriously. Edit and rewrite as you would for any other submission. After all, if you win, you want this to be a representation of your craft and your abilities.
  10. Maintain a list of all the contests that you enter and track their results. This will help with entering future contests. It may also be helpful when preparing your taxes.

Track the results of the writing contests you enter.
Track the results of the writing contests you enter. | Source

While free is almost always the most desirable, if you have discovered a writing contest that requires a small fee, if it interests you and you have determined that it is a legitimate contest, by all means don't ignore it. This is especially true if 1) you like the prize offers, 2) the fee is small enough, and 3) the writing contest is in one of your strengths. Poets and Writers has an excellent list of writing contests in nearly all genres. They can be found here.

There are various ways to make money as a writer and one of the ways can be entering essay contests and other types of writing contests. While it's true there is no guarantee that your entry will win, not entering is a sure way not to win. Who knows? Your essay, short story, poem, or novel synopsis may be just what the judges are looking for.

© 2012 Cynthia B Turner


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