Writing is a long game. You have to be pro-active, seek advice, read as much as you can, learn about the elements of the craft, practise, practise, practise… Being aware of when to do what is an important part of this process: when to keep editing, and when to stop tinkering; when to take a new chapter to a writing group or online writing/reading community for peer feedback; when to submit your first 50 pages for a professional assessment to see if you’re on the right track, or your first draft for a full critique, and when to be brave, take the plunge, and submit to an agent, or kick-start the self-publishing process. Somewhere in this process, a writer is likely to consider entering a prize. So, should you take a chance? Here are a few things to consider if you’re sitting on the fence:
Where to submit?
Do your research and enter the right sorts of competitions at the right stage. Do ensure you have as close to a final edit of whatever is required for the competition as you can be happy with (writers are notoriously self-critical so part of this balance is knowing when to ‘let it go’). Go for prizes that represent the sort of work you are writing. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to read past anthologies or publications for a better feel of previous shortlists and winners. Look up the judges. And of course, look up the establishment, organisation or magazine hosting the prize. Do they have a good reputation within the industry? Do they have a track record of success?
What about entry fees?
Many prizes for new and emerging writers incur entry fees which some people question. For most of the bigger prizes open only to published writers, the publishers, agents, librarians and booksellers nominate authors, and publishers often have to pay large associated fees with their entries. The money for pre-publication prizes such as the Bridport goes into administration, including fees for readers, and into the prizes themselves. For the Bridport, we are delighted to have been involved in discussions around this and are glad to see cash prizes added to the valuable TLC Chapter and Verse mentoring placement (worth £2,640 inc. VAT) for the winner, a TLC manuscript assessment for the runner-up, as well as the chance to have your work looked at by leading literary agency AM Heath. If entry fees are a worry, then set yourself a financial limit to work within for the year; be selective, and supplement paid entries with unpaid submissions to smaller prizes and literary magazines.
What do you get out of it?
In a time when more books than ever are being made available to readers, even published writers are struggling for attention. As an ‘emerging’ writer, you want to build your profile in a way that makes that pitch letter to a prospective agent even more enticing. Being able to list yourself as a prizewinner, runner-up or on the shortlist/longlist for a well-known prize, really does make a difference. Agents receive thousands of submissions a year, and you want your submission to stand out. It also means you are producing lots of work (practise makes perfect!), and getting it out into the world. Which is brave and laudable in any case.
So yes, it’s a long game. But you can choose to train hard. Keep writing, and good luck!