The Pros and Cons of Online Writing Contests

These days, writers can participate in a bevy of contests, pitch fests, and mentorships with a single click. They’re popular for a host of reasons—but they also have their drawbacks. If your social media presence is already helping (and not hurting!) your career, a contest could give you the push you need…or it could stop you in your tracks. Consider some of these upsides and downsides before entering.

Pro: online contests are—generally—free.
Unlike conferences, with their registration fees, travel costs, and time required to get there, an online contest has way fewer barriers to entry. If you’re on a budget or far away from local in-person events, they can be a wonderful option.

Con: the expertise of the judges can vary.
However, unlike a professional conference, where faculty are often paid (and therefore vetted to make sure the organizers get their money’s worth!), online contests can deem more or less anyone a judge—and publishing and writing expertise runs the gamut. Before you enter, consider whether the judges are truly people whose feedback you’d value and trust.

Pro: contests help you find fellow writers.
Even if you don’t get selected as a participant, the hashtag will point you to a host of other folks doing just what you’re doing—writing books. As long as you’ve got a professional, engaging Twitter presence, you’re bound to make friends.

Con: it’s time spent NOT writing.
Prepping for and entering online contests can be a real time suck…time you’d otherwise spend drafting or revising. Be judicious and decide whether all that prep work will detract from the heart of your writing career: writing.

Pro: it’s a kick in the butt to get revising.
If you’ve been sitting on a manuscript for months—or years!—without sending it out, a contest can be a great motivator. It’s a great excuse to iron out all the weak parts of your query letter and give your pages a final polish. Nothing fuels inspiration like a deadline, after all.

Con: ten-pages syndrome.
On the other hand, because contest entries are usually just a query or short excerpt, it’s easy to get sucked into revising the first pages—and only the first pages—over and over again. If you’re seeking traditional publication, make sure that the rest of your manuscript lives up to your shiny first 10.

Pro: you have a chance to get valuable critique.
Especially if you don’t work regularly with a crit partner or beta reader, contests can give you that invaluable early read, along with feedback that could transform your book. Good critique can be a huge motivator to keep going.

Con: you have a chance to get critique that dings your self-esteem
Contest critique, like all critique, is subjective. If you have thin skin, getting a harsh critique can be discouraging and maybe even make you give up entirely. If you’re not sure you’re ready, find a trusty (and kind!) critique partner, beta reader, or professional editor to work with first.


Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.