2016 Writing Contests

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Following last week’s blog about editing, I was reminded that entering writing contests is another low-cost way to receive professional feedback on your manuscript. The season for this year’s writing contests is upon us, and an update of a blog I posted a while back could be helpful as you consider the pros and cons.Writing Contest_Attention All Writers

Many new writers find it hard to put themselves and their work “out there” for professional scrutiny, but it gets easier after you do it the first time. Look at your entry as practice for submitting your proposal to an agent and as birth of the thick skin you need to grow in order to survive and thrive in this industry.

You might have heard writer friends complain about a poor score they received from one of the judges. It’s true that entering a contest can have a risky downside. Occasionally, there’s a shortage of judges in a particular genre. The organizers may have to ask another volunteer, who didn’t originally choose to judge this genre, to step in. Maybe this genre doesn’t interest that volunteer, or maybe he or she doesn’t have vast experience with this genre. You can see where this is going. This judge’s score of your submission could be far different from the other judges’ scores, and your total score will be affected accordingly. It’s also possible that a judge will allow personal preference to affect scores he or she gives. We’re human; this happens. Agents see this, too, in editors’ varied reactions to proposals we send them. It’s a reality that requires all of us to grow that thick skin I mentioned.

And yet, the pluses outnumber the negatives by far. Helpful feedback from professionals on craft issues, the practice of following specific guidelines, the experience of meeting a deadline, and the personal motivation to sharpen your craft as you prepare your entry are just a few. Published authors have different motivations for entering contests. They are putting their book in competition with those of other accomplished authors. Becoming a finalist or better yet the winner lets them know where they stand among their peers, if only in the view of judges in one contest. But more importantly, it could provide them leverage toward getting the next book contract.

A word to the wise:

Before you return your entry form and pay your fee, make a commitment to yourself that you will do what it takes to make your submission an accurate representation of your finest writing.

The following is a sampling of upcoming 2016 writing contests and their entry deadlines. Click on the links for more details and guidelines.



Carol Awards Contest – published authors; entries due by March 15

Genesis Awards Contest – unpublished authors; entries due by March 15.

First Impressions Contest – unpublished authors, first 5 pp.; entries open September 2


Oregon Christian Writers (OCW)

Cascade Contest – published and unpublished authors; opens for entries February 14, and due by March 31

Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers (BRMCWC)

Selah Awards Contest – published authors; entries due by April 1

Director’s Choice Awards Contest – previous or current conferees; entries due by April 1

Foundation Awards Contest – unpublished authors; entries due by April 10

Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition

Unpublished book entry; articles may be previously published; entries due May 6

The Romance Writers of America (RWA) RITA Awards Contest for published authors and Golden Heart Contest for unpublished authors are already closed for 2016. Check their website in the fall for details about the 2017 contests.

You don’t have to commit to attend these conferences in order to enter their contests. But if you become a finalist, try to make it to the awards banquet because finalists and then the winner are introduced on the stage. Your face and name recognition will be duly remembered by agents and editors who are present. It’s always nice to meet them on a high note when your confidence is boosted. I’ve known winners to get offers of representation before they leave the conference.

Are you motivated to enter a contest or two this year? What was your experience entering a writing contest in the past? What would you do differently this time?


Authors, are you considering a writing contest this year? Insights and information are here. Click to Tweet.