• U.S. members: The Federal Government is offering each household in the United States four (4) free at-home Covid-19 test kits. https://www.covidtests.gov/

Contest Fees

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Paul Lamb

Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 12, 2019
Messages
340
Reaction score
122
Location
American Midwest
Website
www.paullamb.wordpress.com
(Let me know if this has been discussed to death on another thread. I looked but didn't find one.)

What are your thoughts on fees for submitting to writing contests? I just can't seem to find the will to pay a fee to enter a competition.

I've had a fair number of my short stories published, so I think I have some small measure of talent, but the ratio of acceptance to rejection for me is ~ 1:7. (Check my math: Duotrope records 287 rejections and 41 acceptances of my stuff. Add in a handful of submissions that I haven't recorded there.) Given that ratio, and assuming it's indicative of my prospects in general, it seems obvious to me that paying to submit a story is going to be mostly a way to lose money.

Does this thinking apply to story-writing contests as well? Given that my likely chance at publication for stories in journals is 1:7, would it be similar in contest submissions? And if so, why would I pay to enter a contest? Is the "competition" in a contest lower than in a normal journal submission? Are there some where the prestige of the prize is worth the cost of admission?

I target my fiction submissions based on themes the journals announce. I know that most competitions are also this way, so I could target a submission there to make my money be better spent. But if the ratio would be the same as my targeted journal submission, then this targeting doesn't seem sufficient enuf to justify the cost.

What am I missing?

I realize that fee charging is one way to filter the volume of submissions to make them more manageable for the editors. (I've seen it referenced as meaning only "serious" writers will then submit.) But I also know that I am not the only serious writer who refuses to "pay to play," so potentially good stuff never comes across the transom at some of these fee-charging outfits.

And I realize that charging a fee gives small publications much-needed funds to continue operations. (Though how do the non-fee outfits continue to operate?) Similarly with contest fees: they can fund the award (though that seems circular: pay to submit to our contest so we can have money to give an award for our contest). But the conventional wisdom for novel submissions is to never pay a publisher to make a submission. (Unless you intend to submit to a vanity press.)

So it seems to me I'd just be throwing my money away if I paid a submission fee for a fiction contest. (I've seen several No Fee contests, and a few that had fees around $2. But the average fee seems to be about $15, and I've seen it as high as $49. Again, given my ratio, I would pay about $100 in $15 fees for the chance at acceptance.)

What am I missing?
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,568
Reaction score
947
Location
New England
Before people jump in with “money should flow to the writer” — yes, it should, but things are rather different in the world of literary short fiction. Most journals are run by volunteers and operate on shoestring budgets. Most are associated with university MFA programs; they are budgeted like any other student organization. Only a select few pay for the work they publish. The contest fees, I imagine, fund the prizes, and also go toward the honorarium for the judges, who are often literary writers of some note. Paul, you ask how the non-fee journals operate: They are privately funded, like any other nonprofit organization. Many journals that are not affiliated with universities or publishing houses are labors of love funded by their founders. There just isn’t a ton of money to made publishing literary short fiction.

As to your question: I don’t foresee the structure of literary contests changing any time soon. You ask what you’re missing—I don’t think you’re missing anything. For some people, the resume chit of having won or placed in a contest of some note is worth the fee. With your publishing record, perhaps you don’t need it. If it doesn’t feel worth it to you to enter them, then don’t enter them. Or, research the ones that have the most prestige for the kind of markets you want to get noticed in, and focus your submissions on those. I’m not sure what else to tell you.

:e2coffee:
 

Maryn

Fully Autumnal
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
46,689
Reaction score
12,594
Location
Leather Chair
For the most part, I'm not a fan of fees. It does limit the entries, but it doesn't filter based on quality. Whether I have the entry fee available to spend should not be what limits my ability to enter a writing contest.

There are, however, legitimate fee-charging contests, mostly for publishers and local theatre companies operating on a shoestring (and the money its founders make at their day jobs). Yes, they make a profit, but it's often small and doesn't begin to cover the time their judges put in on selecting winning entries.

As usual, Lakey makes some excellent points, especially about a contest win being something the writer can put in their bio on a cover letter or query. I agree that you probably don't need that unless your publications are long ago.

For those who do choose to enter contests, there are ways to look into their legitimacy.
  • Are they up-front about what it takes to submit and who may submit? What proof do they require that you are a suitable contestant (such as a high school student or a senior citizen never before published)? If the answer is ‘none’ or ‘my word,’ that’s a sign the contest may be run by amateurs.
  • Is the entry fee reasonable, something writers can afford? If the contest is limited to teens, is the entry fee very low or zero?
  • Is the prize money at least 100 times greater than the entry fee? If not, don't consider it.
  • If the prize is not cash, is the prize really worth what they claim? Find it for sale.
  • Does the contest promise what no contest can deliver: guaranteed sales, connections, internships, literary agent representation, etc.?
  • Does the contest identify the judges? Are the judges people who are employed in the publishing industry and well qualified to judge the writing of others? What are their credentials? A good contest will brag about its judges, a bad one fail to tell you who they are.
  • Is the contest operated by a known business entity, such as a magazine or clothing line? A contest that exists without any business connection is suspect.
  • Does the contest have a street address? Beware any contest which does not have a street address (not just a post office box) and a listed telephone number.
  • Does the contest exist only online? It doesn't take much know-how to make a website, collect entry fees, throw away the stories, and write up a fictitious winner.
  • Did the contest exist last year? Five years ago? Legitimate contests tend to repeat annually.
  • Does the contest share the names of past winners and offer proof they received their prizes?
Remember, too, that a story good enough to win contests could just as easily be entered in the ‘contests’ that never close and have no entry fee: submission to paying publishers.

Maryn, who saw acquaintances at a screenwriting board scammed in so-called contests
 

zmethos

from words to worlds
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 22, 2016
Messages
628
Reaction score
117
Location
California (Bay Area)
Website
mpepperlanglinais.com
Another thing: Is the contest all about whether the writer can get enough votes to win? Then you're not being judged based on your merit but on your ability to hound people into action. (I realize to some publishers it's one and the same--the ability to mobilize people to vote = the ability to mobilize them into buying your book, or whatever journal your story appears in. But I'd rather have genuine judges with experience look at my work rather than enter a popularity contest.)
 
  • Like
Reactions: Elenitsa and Maryn

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,568
Reaction score
947
Location
New England
For those who do choose to enter contests, there are ways to look into their legitimacy.

[great stuff about evaluating the legitimacy of contests redacted; see above]

These are fantastic guidelines, Maryn. Thanks for laying them out. I wouldn’t have thought of these things because the only contests I have entered are associated with established university lit mags. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that there are scam contests out there but in my naïveté I did not think of it!

:e2coffee:
 
  • Like
Reactions: Elenitsa

CMBright

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
1,082
Reaction score
962
Reedsy went from free submissions to a small fee for submissions. There was a modest cash prize either way. The rational was to weed out the less serious writers by needing to be willing to take a small risk, I think $5, to enter for the cash prize. I don't remember if it was read by judges or if Reedsy decided on votes from readers.

Other than a short story I wrote for a college class and entered in the pool for the college anthology, I have not submitted. The short story was accepted, the anthology published and sold to generate funds for the college.

My 2 cents on needing to hound family, friends and social media into reading and voting or at least just voting?

Even if I had a ton in my circle, I don't, my personality is such I just couldn't do that, even if my ethical system allowed it. If I did, I would just suggest going, reading and only voting if the words spoke for themselves. Not voting simply because I was the one who wrote it. I want to be published because I am good. Not because I know people I can manipulate into getting my published even if I am not.

Thank you, Maryn, for my first bookmarked post. Those looked to be good guidelines for selecting a contest to enter. That is, assuming I had money to enter contests. Which I don't for the foreseeable future. </sigh>
 

Maryn

Fully Autumnal
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
46,689
Reaction score
12,594
Location
Leather Chair
Thank you, Maryn, for my first bookmarked post. Those looked to be good guidelines for selecting a contest to enter. That is, assuming I had money to enter contests. Which I don't for the foreseeable future. </sigh>

Moi? I'm honored.

That's money I contend no writer should have to have. The number of contests with an entry fee that are prestigious enough to be worthwhile--meaning they can positively influence your career as a writer--can be counted on the fingers of my right hand (figuratively).

Maryn, all thumbs
 

CMBright

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
1,082
Reaction score
962
Moi? I'm honored.

That's money I contend no writer should have to have. The number of contests with an entry fee that are prestigious enough to be worthwhile--meaning they can positively influence your career as a writer--can be counted on the fingers of my right hand (figuratively).

Maryn, all thumbs

I was reading advice, get published in contests to get published. I wasn't confident enough to submit to contests to make a reputation for my name as a writer, so I looked but have yet to submit with a contest. Or a market. It will happen. Just not today.
 

Unimportant

but appreciated anyway...
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 8, 2005
Messages
8,167
Reaction score
4,181
Location
Aotearoa
Remember, too, that a story good enough to win contests could just as easily be entered in the ‘contests’ that never close and have no entry fee: submission to paying publishers.
QFT.
 

Unimportant

but appreciated anyway...
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 8, 2005
Messages
8,167
Reaction score
4,181
Location
Aotearoa
I was reading advice, get published in contests to get published. I wasn't confident enough to submit to contests to make a reputation for my name as a writer, so I looked but have yet to submit with a contest. Or a market. It will happen. Just not today.
Setting aside contests, markets that pay more tend to be more prestigious. But there are many non paying markets that are perfectly respectable, and publications with these markets do count towards establishing the author's reputation.

Brightly, if you've got a completed story that is suitable, hie thee over to the submission grinder and tick off which genre(s) it fits, the appropriate length (flash, short, whatever), the submission type (electronic, I presume), and then scroll down a bit and hit 'search'. You'll be amazed at how many markets are out there.

And join the "W1S1" subforum/thread :)
 
  • Like
Reactions: Elenitsa

CMBright

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
1,082
Reaction score
962
A LOT of it is my (lack of) confidence level.

Would there be a market for a pandemic living history piece? ~1700 words long. Non-fiction, I had to write after to deal with the emotions of a non-covid ER visit back in April of last year.
 

AW Admin

Herder of Hamsters
Staff member
Administrator
Super Moderator
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 19, 2008
Messages
18,432
Reaction score
5,574
Location
On the Server
There are absolutely legitimate contests. I want to direct your attention to a series of Writer Beware helpful posts about what is and isn't reasonable in terms of contest fees, and what to watch for.

My personal concern with contests is less about the fees (though yes, you should be cautious about fees) and more about rights grabs. Often, especially in contests run by volunteers without legal advice, the contest winner loses rights that really they shouldn't.

Often the rights given the contest runner(s) are far in excess of what is reasonable, particularly in terms of permanent and world-wide rights—even major "respectable" contests are guilty of this.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Elenitsa

CMBright

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
1,082
Reaction score
962
Regardless of the contest, gotta read those rules and the fine print.

In writing, I am guessing one print time rights would be reasonable, but owning any and every story submitted in perpetuity would not. Or even just all rights forever for every story published as part of the contest.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Elenitsa

Unimportant

but appreciated anyway...
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 8, 2005
Messages
8,167
Reaction score
4,181
Location
Aotearoa
Last edited:

AW Admin

Herder of Hamsters
Staff member
Administrator
Super Moderator
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 19, 2008
Messages
18,432
Reaction score
5,574
Location
On the Server
Regardless of the contest, gotta read those rules and the fine print.

In writing, I am guessing one print time rights would be reasonable, but owning any and every story submitted in perpetuity would not. Or even just all rights forever for every story published as part of the contest.
In general, watch for contracts or rules that want world wide rights, rights in perpetuity, all media, all language. Be careful about subsidiary rights or editorial rights (they shouldn't be able to re-write YOUR story. Changes related to grammar or usage or publication style sheets are different from changing the ending, or killing a character.

One time print rights are reasonable, but even those need to have a termination date (i.e. the rights expire if not used by X date), because you want to be able to sell that story to other markets.

It is not rare for a single story to sell thirty or forty times, and no, you don't have to be a Big Name for that to happen.
 

Unimportant

but appreciated anyway...
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 8, 2005
Messages
8,167
Reaction score
4,181
Location
Aotearoa
Regardless of the contest, gotta read those rules and the fine print.

In writing, I am guessing one print time rights would be reasonable, but owning any and every story submitted in perpetuity would not. Or even just all rights forever for every story published as part of the contest.
And when/if in doubt, ask an AW-er to look over the contract/info.
 

AW Admin

Herder of Hamsters
Staff member
Administrator
Super Moderator
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 19, 2008
Messages
18,432
Reaction score
5,574
Location
On the Server
In general, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware is willing to look at contracts, and she does keep confidential requests confidential.

She's not an attorney, just a writer and the person behind SFWA's Writer Beware, but had serious contracts and research chops, and has looked at hundreds, possibly, thousands.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Paul Lamb

Unimportant

but appreciated anyway...
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 8, 2005
Messages
8,167
Reaction score
4,181
Location
Aotearoa
In general, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware is willing to look at contracts, and she does keep confidential requests confidential.

She's not an attorney, just a writer and the person behind SFWA's Writer Beware, but had serious contracts and research chops, and has looked at hundreds, possibly, thousands.
Yep, she's amazing, and amazingly kind.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Paul Lamb

ap123

Twitching
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 4, 2007
Messages
5,412
Reaction score
1,222
Location
In the 212
On occasion I sub to fee-charging contests. The guidelines offered by Lakey and Maryn are good ones. I have a cut-off price for what I'll pay, regardless of prize offered.

I'm fine with fees being used to support a good mag, pay a prize, and paying writers. But a $20 entry fee with a 1st prize of $200? Nope.

One other thing, and this may just be me, but I'm wary of lit mags that run many contests each year. I subbed to one a while back where I got an email about their next contest before they'd even decided their longlist for the one I'd subbed to, and since then have seen several other (fee-based) contests they've run. There's something about it that doesn't feel ok to me.
 

Nether

is not a Supervillain
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
917
Reaction score
755
Location
New England
I don't think I'd ever submit to a contest with a fee, just because there are so many free-submission alternatives out there (even before getting into the whole financial aspect).

That other discussion about contracts just sounds straight-up scary, and makes me feel a little leery about contests in general. Not that I'm doing a ton of short fiction right now, and the stuff I'm doing isn't likely to win much of anything. However, it's definitely something I'll have to look at if I either win something or a submission gets accepted.
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away