(My) Rules for Organisers of Writing Competitions

RulesHow is it suddenly June?! I’m all confused and discombobulated. 😦

The end of May (and all those competitions I was going to enter…!) seems to have passed me by.

And on the subject of writing competitions, you know how they always have loads of rules, (designed, I’m sure, to eliminate most of the entries before they even reach the judging stage! tee hee), well , I’ve put together my own list of Rules for Competition Organisers.

Please feel free to add some more in the comments box, if you feel I’ve forgotten any!

1.Tell us who the judges are and how you’re going to choose and notify the winners. (A recent Birmingham-based poetry competition was very vague on the subject of notification and allocation of the prize money. And they didn’t acknowledge my entry. It made me suspicious. To the extent that I actually contacted one of the named judges and asked her to confirm it was all ‘bona fide’!)

2. Keep it simple. One competition turned me (and probably lots of other would-be entrants) off with their unbelievably complicated entry system. You had to print off and post them your entry form, with a cheque for the £5 entry fee. On receipt, they would then send you a number to put on your story, which should also then be posted to them. Nooo, too complicated.

3. Remember it’s the 21st Century. Please allow entries by email and payment by Paypal/credit card! (it’s amazing how many comps still expect you to use snail mail. As I’m a seats–of-my-pantser I almost always avoid these comps).

4. Keep the entry fees reasonable. £10 for a £100 first prize (I’ve seen this recently – more than once), seems a little steep!

5. And in the same vein, while it’s great if you can offer critiques, please keep the costs reasonable. I’ve seen two short story competitions recently offering critiques for around £50 which seems excessive.

6. Be clear about who can and can’t enter. (eg: if you say ‘only open to ‘unpublished writers’ you need to explain what you mean by ‘unpublished’).

7. Publish a short list and, if you can, a long list. It’s encouraging to be on a list! Any list!

8. Put the results – and winners’ stories – on a website, so we can all see who we lost to.

9. Or, if you wish to raise money by producing an anthology containing all the winners’ stories, then at least have the decency to send everyone who has an entry in the anthology, a copy free of charge (I know some competition organisers who even make the winners buy their own copy)

10. Publish the winners when you say you will (and don’t get narky when, after the promised date, people contact you and ask, politely, about the winners’ list). That happened to me with a competition ‘up North’ which I now boycott (bet they’re losing sleep over that).

11. And finally, to paraphrase Yeats, oh competition organisers, tread softly, because you’re treading on our dreams.

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26 Responses to (My) Rules for Organisers of Writing Competitions

  1. Jenny Roman says:

    Can I add: if the rules say a story should not have been previously published, including on the web, take a couple of minutes to google your chosen winners to double check this is the case. It’s disheartening for those who are unplaced when a winning entry has apparently contravened the rules.

  2. Ah yes, good one, Jenny. I’ve also seen ‘winners’ who’ve also won or been placed in other competitions (I mean, the same story) and I’ve pointed this out to the organisers!

  3. Sandra says:

    If the organisers are not going to notify entrants of success or otherwise, at least give them a date by which the writer can assume they have not been successful so we know we can submit them elsewhere. For some, these stories are our livelihood – we can’t leave them hanging about in the ether. 😦 And if it’s a magazine competition, it’s unfair to expect the unsuccessful ones to buy another copy of the mag to see who won – we already bought one to get the details or entry coupon.

    • Julia says:

      Sandra, this is a really good point. I’ve several bits and pieces marked ‘pending’ that I’d like to transfer to my ‘available’ file.

    • Sandra, I agree about not knowing whether you are now ‘free’ to do anything else with a particular story. If I may ‘name names’ (ooh, controversial!), Writers Forum magazine are guilty of this. They have a ‘rolling’ short story competition, with 3 winners and shortlisted entries appearing each month in the magazine but you never know a) when your story will be in the judging process and b) when it can be considered ‘no longer in contention’. I did raise this with the editor once but got a pretty dismissive response!

      • Sandra says:

        That was one I had in mind, though I have in the past contacted them to enquire whether a story had been considered yet. I suppose if we all did that they might get fed up with us and consider doing something about it.

  4. Julia says:

    I also find it annoying when the first prize is massive, but there’s nothing for the second or third. Instead of giving £1,000 to the winner – and this example is from a real competition – why not split it £500, £300, £200?

    • Julia, I agree! (This happened to me! I came second – got nothing – not even any reward for my story being published in the magazine – and the winner got £1000! grr, it still grates…!)

      • Julia says:

        You’ve really touched a nerve with this post. This one could run and run! Wonder if any of the writing mags would (dare to) publish an article on this.

  5. This is a fab post and I agree with you about all of it. I’ve given up on short story comps and I’m focusing on writing my second novel which I hope to self-publish later this year. It’s not easy going though. 🙂

  6. Karen OConnor says:

    So true, all of it! I got stung by a fraudulant competition once. Only lost £3 entry but so must lots of other people. The fake ‘judge’ said she cancelled the comp because of the poor quality of entries! Charming.

  7. Catherine Robinson says:

    well said Helen!! I think if there are too many complicated boxes or forms to fill out that can be very off-putting too as it reminds me of filling out a tax return – and that then makes the whole process stressful rather than vaguely fun!

  8. rosgemmell says:

    Excellent list, especially about allowing email entries now!

  9. I agree with everything said here. I always avoid comps where the entrance fee is high for small reward (if you are that lucky). I also prefer online entries because I also often leave things to the last moment. However, I get very nervous about it, reading the rules constantly to make sure I’ve done it right and one time my lost the internet right in the middle of a submission! Took me ages to find where I was. Lots of interesting points made here.

  10. Tracy Fells says:

    A great list, Helen. I also agree with Julia about massive first prizes and nothing for runners-up, a bit of balance would be good in some competitions. And be wary of any competition which takes your copyright!

  11. Wendy Clarke says:

    I agree with No. 9. I was runner up in a competition and my ‘prize’ was being able to see my story in the anthology… if I bought it! Also, don’t just write the names of the story in the short or long list – put the names too.

  12. cathaber1 says:

    All very well said!

  13. Keith Havers says:

    This is an excellent post. Some of the organisers don’t seem to have a clue.
    We’ve just run our first national competition at Nottingham Writers’ Club and I’m pretty sure we ticked all the boxes on your list.

  14. olivespastavino says:

    All very interesting. I recently entered a competition for non published writers, I didn’t get anywhere but then when the winner was announced and put up on the web on Wattpad, in the comments section, she (the winner) wrote that she hoped everyone enjoyed reading it and they could download her novel (then she named it) from Amazon! I was a little upset but didn’t say/do anything because I was afraid it would look like sour grapes. Maybe self-published doesn’t count? (But I’m not even sure it was self-published).

  15. philippabowe says:

    I would add: don’t exclude writers (writing in English) who live outside the UK. I’m never really sure why some comps do. Surely the more entries you have the better…I’d also like to “name and praise” Mslexia: as a non-wining entrant, you get a very nice email telling you and encouraging you not to give up.
    Great post Helen, great list. And the last one is just beautiful.

    • olivespastavino says:

      I like your first point Pilipabowe…as I live in Italy. The BBC often exclude anyone outside the UK as do other comps. I think it’s sometimes because they want the winners/participants to come to events etc., and think that if you are abroad you won’t come.

      • philippabowe says:

        Hi olivespastavino (what a delicious name!), could well be the reason, but if so, why not specify “if you won’t be able to attend x event, you can’t enter” in the rules – or allow you to send someone else to represent you? Ho hum…. 🙂

  16. Ninette, Philippa, I can understand your frustration, as Brits, being excluded from most UK-based comps, as you live in Italy/France respectively (not that we’re at all jealous, of course..!). I think Ninette is right, that it’s party because they assume you wouldn’t be able to come to the award ceremony but I suppose it’s also about making it a ‘UK’ competition and limiting entries (yes, they want a reasonable number of entries but not so many as to make the whole thing unmanageable). Some of the bigger competitions (eg: Bridport and the Commonwealth Writing competition) do allow entries from anywhere in the world and/or from British nationals and I suppose that’s because they can ‘cope’! To be honest, it would put me off entering a competition if all the winners came from overseas, just because I’d think it was too ‘big’ and my little entry wouldn’t stand a chance! Has that helped.. at all?!

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