Well, here we are again, looking at writing competitions.

If you go to Clueless, Ink on the navigation bar you’ll see I’ve added a new page: Competitions Calendar—a comprehensive year-round list of 212 competitions. This total will change as I add more competitions to the list.

I haven’t computed the precise total of prize money involved, but it cannot be far off a million dollars.

The list does not include poetry, playwriting and screenwriting competitions but does include some prose and creative non-fiction prizes.

Which prize would you prefer to win?

£30,000, and loads of UK kudos for a 5000 word short story, or $20,000 and international visibility for a 100 word piece of micro fiction? Or, maybe £2000 worth of Scottish single malt whisky?

As you will appreciate it’s taken many, many hours to research and compile this list.

When I started out I thought it would be a straightforward task—simply copy and paste a Numbers ’09 table into WordPress…but no…I had to go back and start again. (If you know how to paste a Numbers or csv. file into WordPress I’d appreciate a few tips.)

The exercise became a test of patience, diligence, organisation and capacity for work, driven by pride and a sense of obligation to you—the reader, seeker of reliable information or curious browser.

Every link on the list has been tested at least five times—and I’ve researched within the rules of every competition to check for scams. And, I’ve run wider checks on t’internet to see if there are  any histories of maladministration etc.

And, while you need to be vigilant and careful with a few of them (for example, by entering the Family Circle US only competition you give a range of sponsors unfettered access to your email inbox and are required to give a promise to not write anything, ever, that may upset said sponsors) I think you’ll find they are legit.

Having said that a few outfits seem to bend the meaning of the term ‘competition’ to mean something more akin to a regular slush pile except that you have to pay a premium to be considered, and the ‘prize’ is either an advance against future royalties or the equivalent of a fee for the right to publish your story.

To illustrate this I’ve put links to Glimmer Train’s various competitions and to their non-fee paying standard submissions. Admirably Glimmer Train make the distinction very clear—others, less openly, do not.

As ever, an interesting exercise. There are competitions here for genre fiction and literary fiction, for novels, novellas, long short stories, short stories, short short stories, flash fiction, micro fiction, prose, narrative and creative non-fiction and essays.

While most of the competitions listed here positively welcome entries from anyone anywhere writing in English (though one competition welcomes entries in Arabic, Hebrew, and Spanish as well as English) there are quite a few with stickly residency requirements—do your research before commiting yourself. And, as ever, those pesky, sensitive Canucks throw in a few barriers to international entry. And why is there only one listing from Down Under?

There are a couple of prizes I should like to claim if only for the kudos of attaching my name to a well-known writer such as H.E. Bates or Bill Naughton—but the monetary value of the prizes in both cases is relatively small. When a teenager I read everything by H.E. Bates, except the Larkin stories, and I thought his short stories were fantastic. Similarly I was once reprimanded by my mother who caught me reading Bill Naughton’s The Goalkeeper’s Revenge under the bed covers—she wasn’t so much upset that I was reading but that I was reading what she considered rubbish—her instant assessment based solely on  scanning the illustration on the paperback cover. I cannot understand why the organisers of these two competitions cannot use the reputations of these two well-loved writers to attract more support and offer larger prizes.

I’ve reconsidered my earlier views on writing competitions—I now think that they could be helpful, within an overall personal writing development strategy, in getting more of your work seen and read by more people in more places.

You need to be clear about your objectives before embarking on a competition campaign—do you crave prestige? peer approval? increased visibility? introductions to traditional publishing nabobs? enhanced international presence? Or, more money?

It could be possible—with research, planning, craft, graft, organisation and a bit of stake money—to earn an annual income of, say, £15,000 by applying yourself to the competition treadmill. Must surely beat hanging out on the Authonomy message boards? Hard work and a lot of luck involved—but it must be possible.

It’s as well to be aware that most competitions have an agenda—and that agenda doesn’t always coincide with recognising or discovering, celebrating and promoting good writing.

It could be that a competition is concerned solely with sustaining the memory of a loved one; or a supposedly talented yet overlooked deceased writer; or rehabilitating a formerly celebrated popular writer now overlooked by contemporary writers and critics.

Or, the competition’s agenda may be concerned to promote a way of thinking or a way of being. Thus we have august institutions such as the Royal Society of Literature promoting an idea of English literary virtues (and, by ‘English’ read metropolitan/Home Counties and Quisling provincials and colonials), and The Cesar Egido Serrano Foundation wanting to “unite peoples by using words in the languages in which the three monotheistic religions of the world express their religious feelings.”

Having said that I have been surprised by how few competitions there are which are pushing a multi-cultural agenda.

Often a competion’s agenda is formed by commercial imperatives, i.e. to gain more visibility and status for the hosting organisation’s sponsor(s). And a good few competitions are organised by writers’ groups, non-profits, NGOs and charities by way of raising cash and potentially increasing their membership or donor lists.

So, if you’re not happy with helping to promote causes outwith your moral or ethical world view, then ask of every competition “who ultimately benefits from my participation?”

You’ll notice when you visit the Competitions Calendar page that I’ve added a Donations button. If you find the information useful then please make a donation—it will incentivise me to spend more time keeping all the Clueless, ink pages up to date. I’m not out to make money—only looking to raise a contribution towards hosting fees and subscriptions to journals and organisations from where I extract the information which I then pass on to you. I’m sure you understand my need to do this.

If you intend to enter any of these competitions then best of luck—and if you have any success then please report back. And, as ever, if you know of any competitions not listed, then do please let me know. Thanks.


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