3 Secrets to Winning a Writing Contest

Table of Contents Types of Writing ContestsWhy Enter a Writing ContestWhere to Find Writing Contests3 Secrets to Win…
A writer writing happily to win contest

Writing contests are any writers’ test of excellence. Well, do you all agree with this statement? Is it only about your writings skills and talent or there’s more to winning a writing contest?

While many of my writer and blogger friends take part in many such competitions of writing, but not all know the secrets of winning them.

So, here comes to help a seasoned freelance writer and speaker, and an Aha!NOW blog community member for a long time. Please welcome Amandah Blackwell, who takes part in writing contests and understand them well. Here’s over to her guest post on the 101 of writing contests.


It’s a word you’d like to read when you open up your email after submitting your short story, blog, poem, novel or whatever writing you sent in for a writing contest.

But for many writers, they don’t see the word winner. They receive an email with, “Thanks for entering our contest. We regret to inform you that you are not the winner. Please try again.”

The rejection and agony become too much and before you know it, you’re drowning your sorrows in a pint of ice cream. And the heartbreak leaves you cold and empty inside; never wanting to write another word, again.

But remember what Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”


Before you say “Goodbye,” to writing contests know that you have a glimmer of hope. YOU CAN WIN a contest, if you know the secret. Your confidence will soar to new heights and you can take your writing to the next level. And remember what Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”


Types of Writing Contests

The most common type of writing contest is one that you pay for. For example, Writer’s Digest offers an annual “Show Us Your Shorts” short story contest. The early bird entry fee is $20 per manuscript. You may wonder, “Why should I pay to enter a contest?” Good question.

When a contest is from a reputable publisher such as Writer’s Digest, you can trust they won’t take your money and run. You’ll receive the prize (cash, trip to a writer’s conference and publication of your writing) for your entry. Read all guidelines before you submit your prose because one misstep could disqualify you if you don’t.

Genres for writing contests include:

● Blog
● Poetry
● Short Story

You can enter no fee writing contests, but you want to make sure they’re from reputable publishers (Writer’s Digest, Publishers Weekly and others) and companies. Read the guidelines, twice, before you submit your entry.

A writer happy after winning the writing contest

Why Enter a Writing Contest

Winning a contest adds credibility to your freelance writing career – you can soar to the next level.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a writing career for 2 years or 20 years, clients and readers, potential and current, will take a second when they visit your website.

They’ll fill out your contact form or pick up the phone and call you for writing services. They’ll also sign up for your newsletter (if you have one) and purchase your books.

You can also use winning to launch a speaking career, if you want one. You have the potential to speak in front of hundreds and thousands of people each year, teaching and encouraging them. Before you know it, well known authors and business professionals will ask you to appear with them at conferences and other events where you can reach even more people.

The marketing and PR opportunities are endless. For example, you can proudly display a badge on your website for everyone to see that you won a particular contest. Also, you can show off your entry that was published in a magazine and/or book. Sometimes, you receive a percentage from book sales.


Bloggers, if you have a book idea, blog it, transfer your material to a Word document, edit and submit your manuscript to writing contest. Even if you don’t win, the experience gives you the opportunity to hone your writing skills.

Remember, as a blogger or writer, you want to take advantage of every opportunity to grow and strengthen your writing skills. You’ll become better at your craft.

Where to Find Writing Contests

You can find writing contests online.

For example, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest opened on February 16th and ended on March 2nd. ThePensters Essay Writing Contest will award $1000 scholarship for Your Essay!

You needed to create a pitch of 300 words and an excerpt of 3,000 to 5,000 words. Manuscripts were between 50,000 to 125,000 words. “One Grand Prize winner will receive a publishing contract with a $50,000 advance, and four First Prize winners will each receive a publishing contract with an advance of $15,000.” If you entered, good luck! If not, don’t worry. Enter next year.

Romance writers can enter Harlequin’s 2014 So You Think You Can Write. The grand prize winner receives a publishing contract with Harlequin, which is associated with Mills & Boon. The second place winner receives an editorial consultation on their manuscript. The third place winner receives a year’s subscription to a Harlequin series.

But you could receive a bonus.

Entrants for the 2013 So You Think You Can Write contest received phone calls from editors to either revise or submit their full manuscript. See that. Even if you don’t win, you may receive valuable feedback from an editor.

Here’s a list of sites that publish information on various writing contests:

● The Writer
● Funds for Writers
● Poets and Writers
● Gotham Writers
● Writers Weekly
● Winning Writers

Again, read the guidelines before you enter. Follow the instructions, even if they don’t make sense to you. If you have questions, contact the organizer. It’s better to err on the side of caution versus entering a contest only to find out you didn’t follow the rules aren’t eligible.

Finally, don’t assume all writing contests are legit. Some are scams, which is why you should only enter ones from reputable organizations. When in doubt, perform a Google search and reviews, reach out on social media and listen to your intuition. If something sounds too good to be true it usually is.

3 Secrets to Win a Writing Contest

How do I know the secrets to winning a writing contest?

I know the secrets because I’ve entered poem and short story contests since 2006. One of those contests was a poetry contest from the Ohio Writer Newsletter. I had to write a poem based on the cover/theme of their newsletter: war.

My poem “Welcome to Hell,” was selected as one of the poems to be featured in an issue of the Ohio Writer Newsletter. I was excited! Whenever I need inspiration, I look at the newsletter from time-to-time to remind me that I can win writing contests. And so can you!

A group of happy judges at a writing contest

Give the Judges What They Want

The November/December 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest the article “Inside the Creative Processes of Real Writers” featured five writers who shared their tips and tricks. Joanne Castle Miller was one of those authors. She wrote about how failure is a writer’s best friend.

Ms. Miller also wrote about how she won a national writing contest when she was 10 years old. Would you like to know how Joanne won?

She “wrote a tug-at-your-heartstrings story about a homeless man living in family’s attic. She knew the judges would eat that crap up.”

Research writing contests and judges and review previous winning entries. Give the judges what they want and you’ll win!

There is a catch.

You may not like the writing style that judges seem to favor. But if you want to win a writing contest, gain exposure and boost or jump start your writing career, give them what they want.

Go Against the Conventional

Write a blog, short story or poem with a theme that goes against conventional wisdom. For example, if a blog contest’s topic is “inspiring posts about people who quit their jobs to become entrepreneurs,” write about how your boss and co-workers begged you to stay. Go beyond yourself and write the post from their perspective instead of yours.

Don’t enter the same piece of writing as everyone as one else because some judges get tired of reading the same posts, stories and poems over and over again. Open with a BANG and hook them immediately. Make them stick to your entry like glue.

Write an Eye-Catching, Error Free Piece

Have someone read your entry before you submit it. Why? Because you want to make sure you’ve written a piece that grabs the judges’ attention and that’s it free of errors.

Start with a strong title and use strong verbs and delete fluffy adjectives, adverbs and filler words. Format your writing according to the rules. For example, you may have to use 12 point Times New Roman instead of 11 Point Arial.

Your entry should be clean. Don’t add a note to the judges thanking them for reading your entry. Treat a writing contest as if you’re submitting your writing to a publisher.

Go Ahead and Enter Writing Contests!

Don’t hesitate to enter writing contests. Even if you don’t win, you can still use your entry as a portfolio piece. It’s another way to show potential and current freelance writing clients your depth of writing.

If you win a contest, mention it in your query letter or proposal to a literary agent or publisher. They’re interested in your writing credentials and winning a writing competition can move you to the top of the pile, if your book idea is marketable and sellable.

Here’s a bit of advice: don’t tell anyone you’ve entered contests. Why? Because they could say something like, “Do you know what you’re odds are for winning?” You don’t want any ‘stinking thinking’ around your submissions. If you must share your news, tell only the people who support you. And when you win, tell everyone!

Over to You

Do you enter writing contests? Would you pay to enter them? Have you won any writing contest? What advice can you offer writers who want to win writing contests? Share your tips in the comments.

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos


Disclaimer: Though the views expressed are of the author’s own, this article has been checked for its authenticity of information and resource links provided for a better and deeper understanding of the subject matter. However, you're suggested to make your diligent research and consult subject experts to decide what is best for you. If you spot any factual errors, spelling, or grammatical mistakes in the article, please report at [email protected]. Thanks.

  1. Hey Amandah, and welcome to Harleena’s great blog – it sure its nice to see you here. 🙂

    So you shared the secret to winning contest. What a nice post for me to have stumbled on in my twitter analytic page.You shared all the things we needed to succeed as guest contest writer kudos ma’am

    Now, I have joined a guest blog contest in the past and this post was then unknowing to me but I’d came second and got a prize.

    Now that I have this killer tips at my disposal, I will be joining a contest before tomorrow and I’m sure this post will pretty be handy for me.

    thanks so much for the share, it’s really appreciated.

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Sam,

      Congrats on coming in second! What was the topic? Do you have a link to your entry?

      I hope my post brings you luck for when you enter other writing contests. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post. I had never thought about entering contests before. You give a lot of good reasons to do it, and great advice on how to win. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your comment!

      Entering a contest is a good experience. 🙂 I hope you enter one because it could enhance your writing career, i.e., you could receive a publishing or blogging deal.

    2. Welcome to the blog Michael!

      Glad you liked Amandah’s post, and I think she’s explained everything pretty well – so nothing to stop you from winning a writing contest now 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  3. Hi Amandah and Harleena,

    I’m finally back on a “normal” track of blog reading and blog post writing and I started with yours this Monday morning, as I think I really own you this as you’ve done all the job for me all throughout last week.

    This is an excellent reminder for me Amandah, and I should look for writing contests around more. I’m also very interested in speaking engagements as I have huge goals on that one too!

    I agree with you that when it comes to writing contest the writer needs to be as original as possible, as we can only imagine how many written pieces the judges have to read and what they want to see is something that sounds different, eye catching and appealing.

    Thanks for all such great writing tips and for the encouragement to enter writing contests.

    1. Hi Sylviane,

      I’m glad you liked the post!

      Writing contests can lead to other opportunities. If the prize is a publishing deal, you could travel around the world and speak to people about your book. 🙂 Of course, you could always hold teleseminars and webinars. They’re a bit eco-friendly.

      I hope you enter writing contests. 🙂

  4. Hi thanks for this this will help me very much, i don’t really enter many contests but i think that is because of lack of confidence, but if one comes up will defo give it a go.

    Thanks Again !!!

    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks for your comment!

      I know it can be scary because I too was afraid to enter a writing contest. Once I got over my fear, I looked for more contests to enter. Once you enter your first writing contest, you’ll become a pro. 🙂

  5. Hi Amandah and Harleena,

    This was an excellent post. I can’t think of anything you didn’t cover. I agree with what you said about not telling people you enter contests. And I love what you said about after you win telling everyone. when i am trying to sell a piece of equipment that one of the more established companies is also working on. I keep it quiet until the sale is made. but afterwards I tell everyone and ask all of my friends to share the news as well.

    Thanks for sharing the information. I may decide to enter a few contests myself. Take care, Max

    1. Hi Maxwell,

      I’m glad you liked the post!

      I learned the hard way not to tell certain people what I’m doing because their negativity does more harm than good. I now only share news, if I want to do so, with people who are like-minded, i.e., they’re risk takers and are supportive.

      Have a great week!

  6. Very interesting. But I do not think I would pay to enter a contest. But then I have not taken part in any contest and its most likely that I won’t take part. I am not doing any creative writing or writing poetry or prose so I’m out of the race. The prize you mentioned is quite hight and its tempting but again chances are going to be very slim.

    1. Hi Shalu,

      I didn’t pay to enter writing contests until I became comfortable with my writing and calling myself a writer. It’s important to be careful and research fee based contests because they could be scams. Make sure you enter your best blog or manuscript.

  7. I am not ready for a writing contest. Writing my blog has been a contest enough for me. My forte is sales but I know the importance of social media and blogging being very important. I have been blogging for almost a year now and I think I have improved. Time will only tell. I admire those that have great writing skills. As they say, One Day at A Time.

    1. Hi Arleen,

      That’s okay if you’re not ready for a writing contest. Perhaps, one day you’ll find a contest that you’d like to enter. I never thought about entering contests until I read how they can hone your writing skills and lead to other writing opportunities.

      Write on!

  8. Hesitation puts most of us back in our seats even though our heart desires to get into such contests. I think motivation and self-driven initiation is required regardless of how long you have been writing.

    Last year I participated in the Copy Blogger contest and wrote an entry on the title “Why is online authority essential?” I didn’t win but I did learn a lot. When the results were announced, I examined the winning entries and found that they had good stories in it. Who doesn’t love stories? Mine was a little steered towards “physics” a dry subject 😉

    Will definitely keep your point in mind and watch out for the next contest. Thanks for sharing Amandah, have a wonderful day.

    1. Hi Sri,

      I’m glad that you entered Copy Blogger’s contest. I thought about entering it, but I knew my time constraints wouldn’t allow it. 😉 I too read the winning entries and all of the writers told good stories.

      I agree that hesitation and perhaps, a fear of rejection, keeps us from following our hearts desire. I know that it’s scary to put you and your writing before judges, but once you take the first step, it becomes easier and easier.

      Make it a great weekend!

  9. Great post!

    Your words have determined me to get the ideas flowing out of my pen. Now I feel I should not think about quitting anytime. Thanks for such great article!

    1. Hi Yashraj,

      You’re welcome!

      Write down all of your ideas and look for writing contests to enter. Don’t quit! Even if you don’t win, keep entering contests. All it takes is one idea and you can win a handsome cash prize and perhaps, a publishing contract. 🙂

  10. Although I have never participated in any contest in past but after reading this article I am feeling the I can win any contest, Feeling motivated
    Thanks for such good stuff, Keep it up…

    1. Hi Mayank,

      I know you can WIN a writing contest! Please make sure to follow the guidelines. 🙂 The judges and contest organizers stress the importance of following the rules. You don’t want your wonderful writing to be disqualified.

      Thanks for your comment!

    2. Welcome to the blog Mayank!

      Like they say, there’s always a start to something new and good in life, so perhaps after reading Amandah’s post, you’d love to take part in writing contests too. Yes, motivation is all you need and this is the right place for it!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views with us 🙂

  11. Hello Amandah and Welcome to Harleena’s blog.
    This is indeed a nice and lovely post every freelance writers and great writers should read.

    I have been in the blogging business for quite a while now. And in all my years, i have never for once participated in any competition online. Maybe because i don’t have the time or i am just not interested 🙂

    I truly love your tips and to be honest with you, They are spot on…
    Thanks for taking your time and sharing your points with us. Do have a beautiful week ahead…

    1. Thank you Babanature!

      I encourage you to participate in an online contest or competition. As a blogger/freelance writer, I know they can help take your blogging/writing to the next level because it adds to your credibility in the “eyes” of your readers.

      Have a terrific weekend!

  12. I haven’t ever thought of submitting my work into a contest. I am getting better and my writing has improved greatly but I would be afraid that the judge would toss out my work. But I guess there is only one way to find out, by actually trying this. 😉

    1. Hi Christy,

      Enter a writing contest. 🙂

      You may want to enter a free contest, first, before you spend $25 or $40 on an entry fee. This is what I did. As I entered more contests, I noticed how my writing changed, for the better. The contests also helped me to evaluate the genres I really wanted to write.

      Thanks for your comment!

  13. Hello,

    I have never entered in a writing contest because I am not good writer (may be I am wrong)..Frankly saying I have never enter in a writing contest in my school…

    But still, your secrets were really awesome.. To win this contest, you should write about the topic from your heart… Well, Thanks for giving me the links,, I will share these my friends..

    1. Hi Himanshu,

      You’re welcome for the links!

      I encourage you to enter a writing a contest. 🙂 They’re fun and you never know, you could WIN!

  14. Hi Amandah,

    Great to meet you here on Harleena’s place.

    I’ve not joined writing contests, but this seems like a great idea to get more eyeballs on your writing.

    I do run contests on my Facebook Page to get more likes and engagement. I’ve studied a lot about contests. And this one can be used in the future for me to run.

    Thanks so much for explaining all the how-to’s!


    1. Hi Donna,

      It’s great to meet you too!

      How wonderful that you run contests on your Facebook Page! It’s a fantastic way to drive engagement and traffic to your website.

      I also participate in writing prompts, mostly from the Writer’s Digest. But I’m always looking for new opportunities. I’ll check out your FB page. 🙂

  15. Hi Amandah,
    It’s really great to see your post on Harleena mam’s blog. Specially the topic you have selected about writing contest.
    “If you don’t play, you will end up with twice as much money as people who do play.”

    It’s quite real & organic reason belongs to any good contest.
    Anyways, thanks for sharing this beautiful post about secrets of winning writing contest.

    Always love to check Aha-Now updates, whenever feel out of sorts and unsecure. It gives me internal power with good mental abilities.

    Happy Holi to all blog readers of Aha-Now! 🙂

    1. Hi Vivek,

      Thanks you!

      Entering a writing contest can boost your blogging and writing career. I’ve had clients ask me about winning poem, which leads to conversations about creative writing projects.

      I believe in doing anything your can to enhance your writing career. A writing contest is a great tool to have in your writer’s arsenal.

  16. Hi Amandah,

    This is too good and inspiring! Thanks for giving out the secrets…I have been a judge of contests at Inter school level, so I can totally relate to this article. I like that ‘10,000’ ways quote and feel inspired to enter a contest.

    I know I have never entered any online contests but I had written one small article for Reader’s Digest and was paid handsomely for submitting it. It was due to lack of awareness that I have never participated in contests…also you can never be sure of it being genuine. Thanks for providing the links! I have something to look forward to and I have always liked challenges.

    Thanks Harleena, for another informative post at you blog. Have a nice weekend!

    1. Hi Balroop,

      I’m glad you found my post inspiring! That was my intention. 🙂

      How wonderful that you were a judge. What did you look for? What grabbed your attention? I bet you have wonderful tips to share!

      The Reader’s Digest! How exciting. I thought about submitting a piece to them, but I never got around to it.

      You need to be careful because some writing contests are scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I enter contests that have been around a long time such as “Show Us Your Shorts” from Writer’s Digest. Plus, they’re a reputable publisher.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

  17. I can’t give suggestions because I never joined any writing contest.
    I don’t find writing contests a good source of income, just an opportunity.
    Because recently I published something related to writing I can recommend
    to anyone interested in freelance writing perhaps the best freelancer boards:
    Guru, Elance, Freelancer, oDesk, iFreelance Okay is enough. Best regards!

    1. Hi I.C.,

      Most people enter writing contests because they want to win the cash prize, publishing deal, and whatever else is being offered for first place.

      Winning a contest, especially from a reputable writer’s magazine, can boost a blogger or writer’s credibility. It could help them to gain clients and/or web traffic.

  18. This is awesome advice! I’ve never entered a contest but I have submitted pieces for magazines but they have not been chosen…but it really doesn’t bum me out. Writing for different venues forces you to change your writing style up and like you say, hone your craft. I had never thought of contests in the way you have presented here and they seem definitely worth a try! Thanks for this, Amandah and Harleena!

    1. Hi Lisa,

      I’m glad you found value in my post!

      I agree that writing for different venues forces you to change and stretch your writing style. And who knows? You may discover that you enjoy writing for a genre you may not have considered before entering a contest. 🙂

  19. Hi Amandah,

    It is great to see your post in Harleena Mam’s blog with a writing contest. Sorry to say that, i am not a freelancer before. As said by Harleena mam,me too never took part in any writing competition except during school days.

    Anyway thanks for sharing this secrets of winning writing contest. I will try my best Amandah.

    Have a happy weekend.

    1. Hi Nirmal,

      Thank you!

      Another point about writing contests: have fun with them!

      When I entered my first poetry contest, I was nervous. I did’t win but entering the contest gave me the courage to enter the next one and the next one.

      Entering writing contests is a good way to get out of your comfort zone. 🙂

      Have a great weekend!

  20. Amandah, that was a great post. I have not been involve in Writing Contest just because I can’t afford to lose, but with these points you have given out,I guess I should be involve in one.

    Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend.

    1. Hi Miracle,

      I’m glad you liked the post!

      Some writing contests are free. For example, Writer’s Digest offers contests every month in their magazine and online. You write 25 words or less based on a picture or a 750 word or less short story based on a few lines of text. You can find the contests on line. Your entry could be published in an issue of Writer’s Digest.

  21. Hi Amandah,

    You’ve been a regular visitor to Aha!NOW for a long time and I feel extremely happy to thank and honor you by welcoming you as a guest blogger this month. Not only are you an important Aha!NOW blog community member, you’re a great human being and we can see that through your comments in which you go to lengths to help people by expressing your views and sharing your words of wisdom.

    I’m so glad you chose this topic for your post as it’s a value addition to my new writing category and its timely because another blog community member Joseph recently started a writing contest at his blog and I wish him all the best too.

    I must confess that I never took part in any writing competition except during school days. For me, every post I write is like a writing contest and the judges are all my blog readers! 🙂 I get their love and praise through the social media promotion and candid comments. That to me is my best prize!

    Coming back to this post, I totally agree with your suggestions and there’s nothing wrong if you write for the judges as that too will be a test of your writing skills, and as in blogging, it’s all about others and not yourself.

    Thank you Amandah for enriching us all with this useful information. It is indeed a mini-guide for writing contests that will help many people. Now, its over to you as I’m sure my dear readers would like to share their mind and ask you questions. I’ll only be here to welcome the new guests, so enjoy your spotlight on Aha!NOW and wish you all readers a great weekend ahead! 🙂

    1. Hi Harleena,

      Thank you for accepting a guest post from me. 🙂

      I enjoy entering writing contests, even if I don’t win. It’s a great way to stretch yourself as a writer and hone your writing skills. And you never know. You could win a writing contest and become a published author in no time.


      I want to enter more writing contests. I’ve been researching screenwriting contests as I wrote several screenplays and have a dream of seeing them on the small and big screens. 🙂

    2. Hi Harleena!

      Thanks for giving my writing contest a mention here. Coincidentally, this guest post is coming at such crucial time when I have decided to do something to encourage fellow bloggers in the area of writing. One reason why I decided to organize the ongoing contest is because of the grammatical blunders/errors I see on a lot of blogs I visit.

      I organized several giveaways on my blog last year as a way of motivating my readers, but this time around I felt I should do something to encourage my fellow bloggers to write better. Joining writing contests should not be because of just the prize money involved. But like Amamdah rightly said, it should be done for the numerous advantages that come with it – gaining exposure, getting new clients, getting more traffic, honing your writing/blogging, getting a chance to have your book published, and for fun too.

      I am actually looking forward to seeing a lot of bloggers and freelance writers participate in the ongoing contest on my blog. It would be fun to see everyone showcase his/her talent. Yes, a few persons would win the cash prize, but your work would always be seen by those who visit the blog for a long time to come. I am hereby offering all who would submit entries (whether you win or not), free 2000 Tweetlow credits to help promote their personal blog tweets on Twitter. All you need do is open your Tweetlow account for free after submitting your entry and shoot me a mail. I will add the 2000 credits to your account in addition to the 800 credits you get for verifying your email address on Tweetlow.

      Like Harleena, I have not been involved in writing contests online. I have only enjoyed representing my former schools and church in debates, drama, etc. I have on several occasions had the desire to participate in a few contests online, but my numerous engagements would’t allow me. I guess I am carrying too many loads at a time. Nevertheless, I still have the intention of taking part in writing contests online; if not for anything, at least for the fun of it.

      Thank you Harleena for featuring such a highly experienced writer in the person of Amandah. Thanks Amandah, for your wonderful tips. Do have a lovely weekend both of you.

      1. Hi Efoghor,

        I’m glad you organized several giveaways on your blog last year. Writing contests and competitions are great ways to push yourself as a writer. Also, when I read another writer’s writing, I’m inspired to push my writing to the next level. I enjoy learning from others.

        Thanks for your comment!

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