When Winning Isn’t Winning…. (Updated!)

I received my book tokens from Stratford Literary Festival yesterday – my prize for being runner-up in their poetry competition.

I doesn’t even specify how much the tokens are for. It could just be £10, I suppose it might be as much as £20. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter. The main thing is, I was a winner and they’ve sent me my prize. (And I’ve sent them a thank you, to acknowledge I’ve received it).

I entered a free-to-enter short story competition on a writer’s website last spring.

The first prize (the one I had my eye on), was lunch with an editor, £100 of book tokens and some mentoring, by email, from the published author herself. Great prize, you have to agree. What I hadn’t banked on, was that my story would come third. I was still thrilled, at the time – especially as there were some really nice comments from the judging panel which gave me a boost – but since then it’s all gone a bit sour.

Firstly, almost a year after being placed in the competition, I’ve never received the £25 of book tokens which was the main part of the prize (the other part was a signed paperback). That’s despite sending 3 polite emails and a blog comment (which, unsurprisingly, didn’t appear) to the writer.

I’ve also sent a plea to her publisher. Yesterday I contacted two of the other judges of her competition, to try to shame them into doing something but to be honest, I feel like I’m begging now. I’m not that desperate for £25 of book tokens, of course, but it’s the principle of the thing.

I did get the signed book, I should add – months after the competition ended and only after a prompt.

But my main gripe is that my story is now on the web – you can read it here if you like – and therefore counts as published and I can do nothing else with it. So I gave away a good story for nothing (except a book I’ll never read and lots of hassle!).

Do you see why I’m miffed?

So, before you rush to enter a writing competition – particularly if it’s free to enter – check the rules and prizes carefully. Ask yourself what’s the motive of the person or organisation running the competition? Usually it’s publicity and there’s nothing wrong with that but have they ever run a competition before and are they likely to deliver on the prizes? Will you be happy to win if you’re just a runner-up? Do they reserve the right to print your story on the website (even, perhaps if you’re not a winner?).

Unless you change the story drastically you’d be hard pressed to send it to a magazine or another competition which asks for ‘unpublished’ stories so your ‘free entry’ could mean giving away a story that could have earned you some money.

If you’re in any doubt – save your work for somewhere more deserving!

Update: Today (19th May) I’ve had an apologetic email from the writer, explaining that she thought the book tokens had been sent and that it was not her responsibility (but that of her publishers) to despatch them.

She’s promised to sort it out and also offered to take my story off her site. I feel bad about that now, as, in fairness, it was part of the competition conditions/prize, so I’ve said that the story can stay (yes, I am a wimp).

Hurrah – I got there in the end (I would like to think it’s the influence of this blog but I know it’s much more likely to have been the emails I sent to other judges of the competition, asking them to give her a proverbial kick up the behind! Oh and also the request, in that email, that she take my story off her site! Mardy – moi?).

But I have still learned a salutary lesson and will be more careful in future about where I send my precious work!

PS: Have also now had an email from the publishers inviting me to choose books up to the value of £25. I will be donating one of them as a prize on this blog – coming very soon! (And if you win, I promise I won’t make you chase me, or wait 10 months for your prize!)

This entry was posted in Competitions, Poetry, Short Stories, West Midlands. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to When Winning Isn’t Winning…. (Updated!)

  1. Heather says:

    I guess we all learn from these things. The only advice I was given by a tutor was don’t enter a competition if the entry fee is high and the prize low, but in your case this was a free entry. Life is certainly not easy for writers but you would think other writers would be kind to ‘their own kind’. I’ve read your story which I enjoyed and loved the ending!

  2. Is there anyway of tracking down the first & second prize winners to find out if they received all of their promised prize?

    • Sally, I had thought of that, yes, but hadn’t managed to find them by Googling them. According to the writer, she hadn’t had any complaints from them, so assumed they’d been sent their prizes. Strange that it was just lickle old me who got left out then, wasn’t it?!

  3. Susan Jones says:

    Hi Helen,
    Things aren’t always what they seem are they?

  4. Mel H says:

    I’ve just looked and I couldn’t see your story – have they now added insult to injury and taken it down?? Hope you get your tokens in the end – it is the principle and you shouldn’t give up – they may be banking on just that.

    • Mel! Yes.. you’re right! All of the stories and the results have been taken off the blog! If you read the ‘updated’ version of my Post (which I will now have to update again!), I had finally had an answer from the author in question and her ‘publicity manager’, and she’d offered to take the story off but I said she could leave it on. But I’m not unhappy that it’s off the site now – at least I might be able to rework it and use it somewhere else! Thanks for letting me know.

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