Who’s conducting the contest? Whether it’s an organization journal, or publisher you do not recognize, be sure to confirm its legitimacy. If you cannot verify this to your satisfaction–or if the contest doesn’t name its personnel or sponsors–don’t enter. You may have to do some digging–for instance, this competition, which on the top looked like a cooperation between a writers’ magazine and a publisher, turned out on closer inspection to be one article writer wanting to promote his self-publishing endeavor.
Or this one, which seemed to have several sponsors but was actually yet (less than reputable) company. Is the competition free? If so, you probably have nothing to lose by be sure to read the fine print entering–though. If you are a poet, remember that a “free” contest is one of the major indicators of the vanity anthology scheme.
Is there an admittance fee? Contrary to public opinion, an entry fee does not show a questionable competition. Many reputable contests charge a charge to cover processing expenditures (which sometimes include an honorarium to readers) and to fund the award. However, entry fees should be appropriate. Excessive entrance fees can be considered a sign of the profit-making system.
40 should fast you to do some careful checking, particularly if you aren’t familiar with the competition organizer. By getting into, do you get the “opportunity” to invest more money? If you’re encouraged to buy additional services when you enter–critiques, marketability analyses, seat tickets for an honors banquet–it may be an indication that the contest is a moneymaking enterprise, rather than real competition. Some contests are more than fronts for selling services or products no. For instance, this one, which requires contestants to buy a coaching package. Or that one, which peddles paid critique services to entrants.
Or this one, where winners must buy their own trophies. How does the organization conduct contests often? Excessive frequency–running a contest on a monthly basis (as this writers’ magazine does), or bunches of contests every quarter–can be a sign of the moneymaking structure also. Just how many categories there are? Reputable contests have a particular focus typically and limit the true variety of categories under which you can send.
For instance, a competition may be for screenplays only or for reserve manuscripts only. A contest for fiction may have separate categories for books, poetry, and short fiction, or be divided by genre. The main point is a reputable competition shouldn’t feel like the kitchen sink. Be careful of contests that call for any and all talent, particularly if everything is lumped together under a single prize (how can a novel manuscript compete with a short tale or a screenplay?). Watch out for contests that have dozens of individual categories (such as this one, which has more than 100). Again, the competition sponsor may be trying to produce a profit from entry fees.
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Are the contest guidelines clearly stated? The best contest shall provide clear guidelines, including information about competition categories, deadlines, eligibility, format, fees, prizes, and the circumstances where they shall or will never be honored, judging, and any rights you might be surrendering. If you cannot find these, don’t enter. Who’ll be doing the judging? It’s in a contest’s interest to mention its judges, since the caliber of the judges talks right to the contest’s prestige (or insufficient it).
This is important info for you as well, since a competition with a judging panel of successful authors and/or industry professionals is much much more likely to be always a good addition to your writing job application if you win. Some contests prefer to safeguard judges’ personal privacy, so a competition it doesn’t name its judges isn’t just illegitimate–as long as you’re self-confident of the reputability of the contest sponsor.
If you are not, be wary. No-name judges may be under-qualified, or the contest’s own personnel may be doing the judging–or, regarding a contest that is clearly a moneymaking scheme, the judges may merely be a fiction. Is there fringe benefits? Critiques, general feedback on your admittance, or meetings with industry specialists are often an advisable feature of the greater high-profile contests. However, you should never be asked to pay extra because of this perk. Also, make sure that the experts are specialists really.
A legitimate contest should clearly state their names and credentials. There are many possibilities–money, goods, services, publication even. Prizes should be clearly described in the contest guidelines (watch out for contests that allow the contest sponsors to substitute prizes–you may not get what you expect), plus they should be appropriate to the contest sponsor.