How To Pick Short Story And Poetry Writing Contests You Might Actually Win | Writer’s Relief

You’ve written short stories or poetry, and you may have taken the next brave step and submitted your work to literary journals. Maybe you’ve even had some of your writing published—congratulations! But when it comes to entering writing contests, many writers don’t bother. At Writer’s Relief, we know some writers think the odds are stacked against them in short story or poetry contests. But we have some tips that can help boost your chances of actually winning a writing contest!

Choosing The Right Short Story Or Poetry Writing Contest

Determine if your writing is a good fit for the contest. If you’re already a pro at submitting your writing and understand certain editors’ preferences, your instincts might tell you that a specific piece will resonate with a particular literary journal or small press. If that’s the case, go with your gut and enter to win!

And don’t make the mistake of submitting your science-fiction work to a contest with an open call for love stories! Be sure your writing is in the correct genre for the contest, or you’ll be wasting the money you might spend on the entry fee.

Consider whether your work has limited market availability with literary journals. Sometimes the best reason to enter a poem, story, or essay in a writing contest is simply that the piece or manuscript will only appeal to a limited number of literary journals. Writing contests often court longer works of prose (long short stories and essays), longer poems, rhyming poems, mixed media submissions, and chapbooks. If your writing is outside the norm for what’s considered a standard submission, a contest could be the perfect place for your work.

Check out the level of competition. Is the contest for beginners or unpublished authors? Conversely, is having a published book a prerequisite for entry? Make sure you’re competing on a level playing field. An easy way to confirm this is to look at the past winners. If you feel that your own writing is up to par—or even better than their works—then you can enter the contest with a level of confidence! Go for it!

Choose a contest with an entry fee that suits your budget. If it’s going to break the bank to enter the contest—or if you’re counting on any potential cash prize to recoup the loss—then it may be best to pass on that contest. Remember: No matter how good your writing is or how well you select your contests, there’s never any guarantee you’ll win.

Where To Find Poetry And Short Story Contests

Now that you’ve determined your short story or poetry is contest-ready, you need to find the right contests to enter! You can search the Internet for contests, or start with these two great resources:

Submit Write Now! Along with submission tips and publishing leads, our free weekly online newsletter features a listing of great up-to-date, vetted contests. Click here to subscribe to Submit Write Now!

Poets & Writers Writing Contests, Grants, and Awards. Poets & Writers Magazine offers a wonderful search engine for finding contests using criteria such as entry fee, genre, or deadline.

When In Doubt—Give It A Go!

If you’re not sure if a piece has contest-winning potential, remember this: You won’t know unless you try. Here are six questions to help you decide. A story or poem that strikes you as “not your best work” might be the best thing a contest editor has read all year. Plus, even if you don’t win the writing contest, you might learn something about yourself or your creative process. Good luck!


Question: Which writing contests have you entered?