This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, May 21, 2012

Guestpost: "Should You Enter Writing Contests?" by Naomi Musch

While popping around the web and perusing writers' magazines, it doesn't take long to discover a myriad of writing contests out there. If you're like most authors, you may have mulled these contests over and wondered if they're worth your while to enter. Winning would be fantastic! But what do you have to gain for all your effort if you lose?  

Contests are a great way to stretch your writing wings. Of course, not every contest is for every author. To randomly select contests to enter would be as bad as submitting an article to just any-old-market without first studying its style and content requirements. If you haven't studied the writing craft for long, or if you haven't been through the experience of having your work critiqued, then entering a national contest would probably not be the best use of your time.

However, if you're looking at a smaller contest with a topic or style that really suits you, then entering a writing contest can have value in a several ways.  

First, you just might win. You might not, of course. Your odds are always 1 in however-many-entrants-you're-up-against. And you may be competing against some real whizz-bang writers. But even if you don't win or don't make an honorable mention, you will doubtless learn something through trial and error that will improve your skill. If the contest is small enough, you may get individual feedback from the judges. This is a HUGE deal. As long as you can handle helpful criticism, you stand to gain insight that most unpublished authors have to pay for. 

But even if you don't get feedback, you may learn to streamline a story, set parameters, follow guidelines, train your mind around a theme, work on a deadline, and so on. And then there is always the possibility of residual rewards.

Case in point: A couple years ago I entered a large contest with a national publisher for a contemporary romance novella. In this case, the contest word limit was 25,000 words. My story came in just under that. 

I'd never written a novella before. I'd also only written in the historical genre, never contemporary. But as I was working on a separate, much longer project involving tons of research, stepping back to enter the contest gave me a refreshing break. It taught me a different style. In writing a novella that didn't really require research, I knew I'd see closure on a story much sooner than in my long fiction. The contest also gave me very clear guidelines for writing this contemporary story. You could say those guidelines walked me through the process. I really didn't know how it would go, but when I finished, I felt I'd written a very sound piece. I also discovered that I actually enjoyed writing contemporary stuff -- much more than I ever thought I would.

So did I win? No. I don't even know if I came close. But...

I was so pleased with that story that I decided to modify it for a different publisher (so it wouldn't be seen as the same storyline as for that contest) and I submitted it elsewhere. Within weeks, I had a contract for publication of my novella, Heart Not Taken.

I am really glad I entered that contest!

Not every story you write might come to such a fine conclusion. But you will never know unless you try.

Naomi and husband Jeff enjoy the splendor of Wisconsin's northwoods along with their five young adults who live nearby or at home. She writes both historical and contemporary fiction in which her aim is to surprise and entertain readers by telling stories of imperfect people who are finding faith and hope to overcome their struggles. The Red Fury is book two in her Empire in Pine historical series from Desert Breeze Publishing. Book three, The Black Rose will release in July 2012. Naomi is also a staff writer for the Christian e-newspaper and has published numerous magazine articles for the encouragement of the homeschool community. She invites you to connect with her and investigate her series and other works at:  on Facebook: or follow her on Twitter:!/NMusch


There’s no harm in joining contests, only lessons to be learned. Yes, probably, experience is the best teacher. We will never know how far can we go, not until we try and take chances. By the way, I know it’s a bit late, but still, I would like to send my warmest congratulations for your success! Keep it up!

-Felix Stendahl