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Writing Competitions

writing competitions writing prizes Mar 20, 2022
Writing Competitions

From the desk of Tash Barsby.

Should I be entering my novel into writing competitions and prizes?

‘It’s not about winning, it’s the taking part that counts’ – how many times did you hear that growing up? And yet, it’s true – often the experience of entering a competition can reap greater rewards than securing a place on the podium.

Entering your work for a prize takes courage; you’re putting yourself, and the creation to which you have no doubt spent hours of time dedicating yourself, out into the world and you have no control over what happens once it’s out there. Is it me, or does that sound like… publishing a novel? 

I turned to the trusty team of author tutors at The Novelry for their thoughts on entering writing competitions, and was struck by the various reasons given for (but mainly, for not) submitting. A common thread was interrogating the motive for entering in the first place, and this is something I’d recommend any writer considering submitting to a competition should do.

Are you submitting because of the chance to get feedback? To make early industry connections? For potential prize money? Are you looking for validation?

All of these are completely legitimate reasons but being honest with yourself about why you’re putting yourself forward will help you deal with the (potential) rejection that might come.

How will you feel if you don’t win?

If you aren’t someone who deals well with rejection (*shy wave*) then maybe competitions aren’t the right avenue for you to be getting feedback on your work. Consider, too, what stage you’re at with your writing – there’s a reason why here at The Novelry we don’t recommend sharing your writing when you’re at first draft stage.

A competition is also an unknown scenario – you have no control over what happens once you’ve hit send. While this is true of any type of submission, whether for a prize, competition or to your dream literary agent, as one of our tutors pointed out, submitting to agents does come with a degree of control. You research and curate the agents you think will like your work, based on their stated interests or other authors on their lists, and so eliminate the potential bias that comes with submitting your romance novel to someone who lives for political thrillers.

Because remember: not winning a competition does not mean you're a bad writer. All it means is that on this one specific day, a specific person decided they preferred what someone else had written. That does not mean no one will ever prefer your work. Even the most beloved bestselling writers get 1* reviews.

There are some benefits.

A prize win can hook an agent’s interest. Being placed in a competition, particularly a well-regarded prize, can be a great way to ‘jazz up’ your writing CV, though it’s not a requirement – no agent or editor worth their salt is going to discard your novel because it hasn’t won, or been shortlisted, for a prize. The novel manuscript is always the most crucial part of any query package.

From a craft perspective, entering a competition can be a productive process, because it will make you review your work in a different light – you know your work is going to be read by strangers, which forces you to consider it with a third party in mind. As we often say – a first draft is for you, the second draft (and third, fourth etc) is for your reader. Polishing up a competition entry with a new reader in mind is no bad thing.

It’s also great for shifting your mindset. Getting your novel ready for a writing competition is a step towards seeing your novel as one among many. This is only ever a good thing! (Think about walking into a bookshop and being confronted with shelves upon shelves of beautiful books! Your novel will be one among many.) When drafting, the writer is often (and quite rightly) solipsistic; your novel is the only story in the world that matters, you think about it upon waking and dreaming... but putting it amid a competitive field reveals the unvarnished truth: you may love your story, but you might not have given readers a reason (yet) to love it, too.

There are hundreds of competitions and prizes out there – always read through the fine print carefully to confirm eligibility and to check the terms and conditions around copyright before applying.

Writing Competitions 2022

Bath Novel Award

An international prize for emerging novelists, open worldwide. £3000 prize money, with manuscript feedback and literary agent introductions for those on the shortlist. The entry fee is £29 per novel, with sponsored places available for writers on a low income.

The Bridport Prize

With prizes for novels, flash fiction, short stories and poetry, The Bridport is one of the most prestigious. For the Peggy Chapman-Andrew First Novel Award, they ask for 5,000-8,000 words plus a 300-word synopsis. The novel does not have to be finished, though if you’re shortlisted, you’ll need to submit 30,000 words. £1,500 prize money with mentoring and literary agent introductions. The entry fee is £20 per novel.

The Lucy Cavendish Prize

All shortlisted entrants receive a valuable half-hour one-to-one consultation with competition sponsors PFD (subject to not already having an agent) who will give editorial feedback and discuss the marketability of the work submitted. In addition, the 2022 winner will receive a cash prize of £1,500.

SI Leeds Prize

The SI Leeds Literary Prize is an award for unpublished fiction by UK-based Black and Asian women, aged 18 and above. There are cash prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, and the opportunity for a manuscript assessment through The Literary Consultancy. Shortlisted entrants are supported through the Prize Plus programme of writer development.

The Page Turner Awards

Consisting of five awards, including the Young Writers Award for writers aged between 18 and 25, the Writing Mentorship Award for an uncompleted manuscript, and the Writing Award for unpublished, completed manuscripts, a panel of literary agents and publishers will choose a winner in each category in September. Entry fee £30.

First Pages Prize

Open to un-agented writers worldwide, the FIRST PAGES PRIZE invites you to enter your first five pages (1250 words) of a longer work of fiction or creative nonfiction. The winners receive a cash award (1st – $2,000, 2nd – $1,500, 3rd – $1000, 4th – $750, 5th – $750 in US dollars), a tailored edit up to the first 100 pages to support the completion of their full manuscript (must be completed before end of prize year) and a consultation with an agent via Zoom.

CWA Debut Dagger

The Debut Dagger is a competition for the opening of a crime novel by a writer who isn’t represented by an agent by the time the competition closes, and who has never had a traditional contract for any novel of any length, or who has never self-published any novel of any length in the last 5 years. Entries from shortlisted writers are sent to UK literary agents and publishers. Every year, authors find representation this way.

Future Worlds Prize

Founded by Ben Aaronovitch in conjunction with publisher Gollancz, this prize aims to find the best new talent for writers of colour in the fantasy and science fiction genres. The winner receives a prize of £4,000, while a runner-up gets a prize of £2,000. All those shortlisted, as well as the runner-up and winner, will receive mentoring from the prize’s publishing partners.

Mslexia Writing Competitions

Two annual poetry competitions (for single poem and poetry pamphlet), two annual short fiction competitions (for short story and flash fiction), two biennial novel competitions (for adult novels and novels for children and young adults), and one biennial memoir competition. There is a sponsored entry scheme for low-income women. As well as generous cheques, the prizes include publication, career mentoring, manuscript feedback, pitching workshops, and personal introductions to agents and editors.

Costa Short Story Prize

The Short Story Award winner receives £3,500, with the authors in second and third place receiving £1,000 and £500 respectively.

Bristol Short Story Prize

An annual international writing competition open to all published and unpublished, UK and non-UK-based writers. 1st prize is £1000, 2nd prize is £500, 3rd prize is £250. Twenty stories will be shortlisted and published in the next volume of the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, which is circulated to agents. The remaining shortlistees receive £100. The entry fee is £9, though there are 250 free online entry places available.

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