How To Evaluate Writing Contests: Six Starter Questions


By Erika Dreifus

At some point in your writing career you will probably encounter the possibility of entering writing contests. As you peruse writing newsletters and magazines, you’ll almost inevitably find listings of competitions. You may very well begin to wonder how to decide whether a given contest is “right” for you and your poetry or prose. Here are six “starter” questions you can ask yourself to initiate that process of evaluation:

  1. Do you recognize the press, university, writing center, magazine, literary review, etc. that is sponsoring the contest? Do your writing friends and teachers know about it? (A number of Internet boards post warnings about “scam” contests—it can’t hurt to check those out.) Is the administering organization one you’d be happy to have publish your work?
  2. Does the competition post the names of past winners and the titles of their winning works? Can you locate the published stories, poems, essays, or books?
  3. Is an award guaranteed? Some contests stipulate that an award may not be given in a particular year; this may not be appreciated when fees have been collected; you may choose not to hand over a fee to such a contest.
  4. What does the rest of the fine print say? Have you given over rights to your work simply by submitting it? Such details are often included in that tiny type. Read it carefully.
  5. Is judging “blind”—are you asked to submit a manuscript without any identifying material on it?
  6. If a fee is charged, does it seem “worthwhile” considering the potential prize? For example, a $25 entry fee for a possible $100 prize might not seem as alluring as a $25 fee (or less) for a $500 (or more) prize.

Considering these questions should set you on the way to thinking more critically about the contest process, and they’ll assist you as you navigate the many listings and advertisements you’ll find the more time you spend investigating opportunities to develop your writing career.

–© Copyright 2004 Erika Dreifus. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Erika Dreifus (A.B., Ed.M., Ph.D., Harvard University; M.F.A., Queens University of Charlotte) edits the free monthly newsletter “The Practicing Writer” ( ). Read an online excerpt from her book, “Free Expression: 101 Fee-Free Contests, Competitions, and Other Opportunities for Resourceful Writers,” at


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