Are you interested in entering a writing contest, but don’t know how to win? After reading these seven tips, you’ll become a surefire contender for winning the top prize.
1. Captivate from your first sentence
“The first sentence sets the tone for the entire piece.” You may have heard similar advice many times before, but it really does hold true of trying to produce a memorable piece of writing. Would you be inclined to continue reading a submission if the first line is dull, cliche, or doesn’t convey its intention effectively?
The harsh truth is that due to time constraints and the large volume of entries received, many writing contest judges simply flick through the submissions they receive. The golden handful that are read properly are the submissions that capture the reader from the very beginning. Of course, your writing should be captivating from the first word to the last, but especially in the case of a writing contest, it should be one of your top priorities to ensure that the judges give your piece the consideration it deserves.
2. Think outside the box
Think about this: Hundreds or thousands of other people are likely to apply for the same competition as you. This means your goal should be to make your submission stand out. How? Give the judges something to “chew on”. Whether it be a different perspective, an innovative idea or perhaps a controversial topic, your submission should be memorable.
Try to consider the given topic from a number of angles. Sure, it’s “safer” to take the usual angle to a topic if you’re confident you can do it well. But once you think about all the other people who took a similar one, it doesn’t seem like such a safe bet after all. Push yourself to take a different perspective. Another important tip is to stay away from cliched phrases or anything that sounds overused and stale. Remember, as long as you can back up what you say and convey your ideas effectively, adopting a unique approach is easy way to make your submission stand out.
3. Be consistent
Consistency is a fundamental tenet of solid writing. Without consistency, your piece will be challenging for the judges to read. In order to ensure your submission demonstrates consistency, consider the following areas:
Organize your ideas so that there is a clear flow and structure. This rule applies to any type of piece- from a nonfiction essay to a short story or poem. Structure is king.
If you’re writing an essay or analysis, assert your standpoint or message from the beginning and ensure it is evident right through to the end. If you are arguing in favor of something, for example, don’t backtrack on your words later on in the piece. This is a common error of inexperienced writers, who have a tendency to flip flop on their views throughout. Be sure to highlight your standpoint with supporting evidence at all times.
Your plot and characters
If you’re writing a story, you will need to develop the plot and characters skillfully. It is important that you do not have any plot holes, as this will throw out the whole balance of your story. Your characters should consistently reflect the personality and behavioral characteristics you attached to them in all their actions and dialogue.
Your submission should have a uniform style, from punctuation to stylistic features like the font and headings. See Tip 5 and 6 for more information.
4. Emotionally engage
One of the hard and fast rules about writing well is to write in a way that emotionally engages the reader. Whatever topic you write about, try to hone in on an aspect which has the potential to tap into the reader’s experiences or bring about meaningful reaction in them. A judge is far more likely to remember your piece of writing if it prompted them to feel, think, or even reflect or question their own views.
Unless the competition calls for it, try not to make your writing too specific to yourself. Try to write in a way which will allow anyone who reads your submission to find something they can identify with, or at least relate to. For instance, instead of writing about the impact a certain policy has on you, write about how it has affected your town, city, or the country as a whole. Everyone likes being able to see themselves in a piece of writing- make sure your piece speaks to everyone.
5. Edit, edit, edit
Any writer will tell you that writing is only half the battle- editing is where the real beast lies. A simple way to impress the judges of a writing contest is to make sure you have read and reread your article for errors. And no, a quick once-over won’t cut it. You’ll need to be vigilant in your search for typos, punctuation errors, structural weaknesses, cliches, overused words and any other problems. Once you learn how to edit effectively, and become more confident doing it, editing your piece won’t seem nearly as confronting.
Even when it’s not explicitly stated in the competition guidelines that editing will be considered, you can be certain that any judge will look more favorably on a well-edited piece than a poorly edited one. You never know, if your piece is running head-to-head with another contestant’s for the top prize, a “simple” mistake could cost you the whole contest. Ignore proofreading at your own peril.
6. Get a fresh set of eyes
It may be daunting to show your submission to someone you’re close to, but having another set of eyes to look over your writing is invaluable. As any writer who has spent hours mulling over their piece will know, it’s difficult to detect your own errors or weaknesses.
When you ask someone to edit your work, it’s best to provide them with the competition guidelines so they know exactly what to be on the lookout for. If there is a particular area you are worried about, such as your punctuation or structure, let them know so they can better advise you. Receiving constructive criticism about your writing, and acting on it, is one of the best ways to improve your writing and have a good chance at winning a competition.
7. Mind your manners
Many contests require you to submit your entry by email, and this is where a lot of contestants fail to make a good impression. A surprising amount of participants simply attach the document without anything written in the body of the message. If a contest is by email submission, you need to follow proper etiquette. The following is a simple guide to writing an email to submit your piece to a writing competition:
- Subject line: First, title your email clearly. Something simple as “[Name of competition] Submission” and your own name is usually fine. Some competitions will request you title your email something specific- so read the guidelines carefully!
- Salutation: Open the body of your email with a salutation such as, “Dear [competition organization/person in charge]”.
- Self intro: Next, provide a very brief self-introduction which states who you are and what you do (e.g. student, freelance writer).
- Reason for emailing: Concisely explain that you are sending the email to enter their competition. Make sure to you specify the competition to which you submitting, as some organizations have a number of competitions running concurrently.
- Final thanks:Thank the organization/person for the opportunity to enter this competition. If you want you can express that you’re looking forward to hearing from them further.
- Sign off: End with a formal sign-off like “Yours sincerely/Kindest regards [your name]”
Here is a sample email:
[Email Subject: The Power of Science Competition Submission]
To whom it may concern at Sunflower Writing,
My name is James West, and I am completing my Bachelor of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
I am writing to submit my entry to your writing competition, “The Power of Science”. My submission answers the question, “Which Scientific Development has had the Greatest Impact on the 21st Century?”
Please find my entry attached to this email.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to enter this competition.
So writers, read over these tips (a few times if you need to!), be confident, and get to it! Writing competitions are a fantastic opportunity to polish your writing skills and get some feedback on your writing. The chance to win some prize money is just the *icing on the cake.
*Yep, that’s a cliche there. Good spotting! For those who missed it, it’s back to Tip Number 2 for you!
In a world where J.K. Rowling’s manuscript of “Harry Potter” was rejected 12 times and Kathryn Stockett’s manuscript of “The Help” was rejected 60 times, it can be easy to become despondent about publishing your fiction, even more so for teenage writers aching to voice their thoughts to the world.
However, there’s an abundance of writing competitions year round for teens and writing contests for high school students — you just need to know where to look.
Here, I compiled a list of 33 writing contests for teens. Genres include: fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screenplays, and plays.
Some of these contests may sound like the competition is too stiff, especially if the organization receives thousands of submissions every year. But speaking from personal experience, you never know unless you try. Rejections will pile up for young authors, but so will acceptances accompanied by whoops and fist pumps.
Additionally, the experiences offered by certain teen contests such as working with professionals, revisiting your work, and perhaps even seeing it come to life either in a publication or on stage is indescribably rewarding and gratifying.
So, young writers, submit on!
1. Ocean Awareness Student Contest
The theme is “Making Meaning out of Ocean Pollution,” and it challenges you to research, explore, interpret, and say something meaningful about the connections between human activities and the health of our oceans. Prizes range from $100-$1,500.
Grades: Middle school – High school
2. Rattle Young Poets Anthology
This is an anthology to look back on the past and view your younger work with pride. The author of the poem must have been age 15 or younger when the poem was written, and 18 or younger when submitted.
Ages: 18 or younger
Number of submissions: “Thousands” are submitted, 50 are chosen.
3. Inkitt Novel Contest
If you have a novel over 20,000 words, submit it to this contest where a community of readers will read your story. The more they love it, the better chance you have of winning a publishing deal.
Think of it as American Idol for your novel.
Plus, all published authors with Inkitt receive these great perks:
- $6,000+ invested into your book launch
- 25% royalties on every copy sold
- Cover design and professional editing
- Publicity on Amazon (over 90% of their books become bestsellers right after launching)
This is a fantastic contest that can get you a ton of exposure and even result in a book deal. Read the reviews on their website and submit today. It’s free and easy to upload your manuscript and have readers start reading your work immediately.
4. Hypernova Lit
Any and all types of writing are welcome. Long short stories, short short stories, prose poetry, traditional poetry, blackout poetry, creative accounts of your life and experiences, essays about yourself, essays about what you love, plays, scripts, letters, lists, rants, lyrics, journal writing.
Deadline: Open Year-round
5. Princeton University Poetry Contest for High School Students
The Princeton University Poetry Contest recognizes outstanding work by student writers in the 11th grade. Prizes: First Prize – $500, Second Prize – $250, Third Prize – $100.
6. The Bennington Young Writers Awards
Students in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades enter in one of the following categories: poetry (a group of three poems), fiction (a short story or one-act play), or nonfiction (a personal or academic essay). First-place winners in each category are awarded a prize of $500; second-place winners receive $250.
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7. Canvas Literary Journal
Teen literary magazine published quarterly.
Seeking writers ages 13-18 to submit fiction, novel excerpts, poetry, plays, nonfiction, new media, and cross-genre.
8. The New Voices One-Act Competition for Young Playwrights
Submit your best one-act play (one per playwright!) to the New Voices competition and you can potentially win cash, software from fabulous sponsors Final Draft and Great Dialogue, and even publication!
Ages: 19 or younger
Submission period: Fall
9. Princeton University 10 Minute Play Contest
Eligibility for this annual playwriting contest is limited to students in the eleventh grade. Prizes: First Prize – $500, Second Prize – $250, Third Prize – $100. The jury consists of members of the Princeton University Program in Theater faculty.
10. Jet Fuel Review
Through Lewis University, Jet Fuel Review is run entirely by students under the supervision of faculty advisers Dr. Simone Muench and Dr. Jackie White.
Jet Fuel Review is looking for quality in writing, whether it be in poetry, prose, non-fiction, or artwork.
Submission periods: August to October; January to March
11. Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
Since 1923, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have recognized the vision, ingenuity, and talent of our nation’s youth. Through the Awards, students receive opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships.
Students across America submitted nearly 320,000 original works during our 2016 program year across 29 different categories of art and writing.
Submissions period: September to December
In this handbook for young writers, “Spilling Ink,” professional authors give advice to teens who want to become authors.
By mixing personal anecdotes with practical advice, this book offers everything a young author will need to create incredible stories.
12. One Teen Story
One Teen Story is an award-winning literary magazine for readers and writers of young adult literature. Subscribers receive one curated and edited work of short fiction each month in the mail or on their digital devices.
Submission period: September to May
13. The Claremont Review
The editors of the Claremont Review publish the best poetry, short stories, short plays, visual art, and photography by young adults. We publish work in many styles that range from traditional to modern.
We prefer pieces that explore real characters and reveal authentic emotion.
Submission period: September to April
14. Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest
Sponsored by Hollins University, the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest is in its fifty-second year. The contest awards prizes for the best poems submitted by young women who are sophomores or juniors in high school or preparatory school. Prizes up to $5,000 are awarded to winners. Winners are chosen by students and faculty members in the creative writing program at Hollins.
15.VSA Playwright Discovery Competition
Each year, young writers with and without disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, are asked to explore the disability experience through the art of script writing for stage or screen.
Writers may craft scripts from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience. Winners in these divisions will receive $500 for arts programs at their schools.
Grades: 6-12 OR Ages: 11-18
The National YoungArts Foundation identifies and nurtures the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts and assists them at critical junctures in their educational and professional development.
Additionally, YoungArts Winners are eligible for nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students who exemplify academic and artistic excellence.
Ages: 15-18 OR Grades: 10-12
17. The Critical Junior Poet’s Award Contest
The Critical Pass Review is now accepting submissions online for its Critical Junior Poet’s Award Contest, an editor’s choice award for exceptional promise in the art of poetry. Applicants between the ages of 13 and 18 can enter for free. The winner will receive a $100 cash prize, a $20 iTunes card, a CD of master poets reading their poetry, publication of his/her winning work in The Critical Pass Review‘s Summer 2016 issue, and more.
Submissions period:November to March
“Leap Write In!” is from acclaimed author Karen Benke, who does a fantastic job helping teen writers to generate ideas for their next story.
This book has an amazing spread of writing prompts, all designed to get your heart on the page and the reader’s heart in their throat.
18. The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers
The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers recognizes outstanding young poets and is open to high school sophomores and juniors throughout the world. The contest winner receives a full scholarship to the Kenyon Review Young Writers workshop.
19. Santa Fe University of Arts & Design High School Creative Writing Competition
The Glazner Creative Writing Contest is an opportunity for high school juniors and seniors to compete for a chance at publication in Santa Fe University of Art and Design’s online journal, Jackalope Magazine. To enter, students must submit up to 10 pages of work in any genre to our contest email address (ude.y1520727996tisre1520727996vinue1520727996fatna1520727996s@tse1520727996tnoc1520727996).
Deadline: November to December
20. Young Authors Writing Competition (Columbia College Chicago)
The Young Authors Writing Competition is a national competition for high school writers of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. It began as a local contest in 1995, and since then has expanded into a national competition that has received tens of thousands of submissions from students across the country. 1st Place: $300, 2nd Place: $150, and 3rd Place: $50.
Submission period: November to January
21. Odyssey Con
The OddContest is an annual competition for speculative (science fiction, fantasy, or horror) stories or prose poems no longer than 500 words. Prizes: $50 to first place; Odyssey Con membership and free books to top 3.
Ages: 18 or younger
22. Young Playwrights INC.
Selected writers will be invited to New York, expenses paid, for our Young Playwrights Conference to work with some of this country’s most exciting professional theater artists, and to hear their plays read in our Off-Broadway Readings Series.
Ages: 18 or younger
23. University of Iowa – Hemingway Festival High School Writing Contest
Accepting Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Essays.
Winners and Finalists will be recognized at the 7th Annual University of Idaho Hemingway Festival, and cash prizes will be awarded in each category. Winners will also be considered for publication in an online University of Idaho publication. There will be one winner and one Finalist in each category with one Overall Grand Prize Winner. Cash prizes up to $500.
24. Interlochen Review
Interlochen Arts Academy is a high school boarding school and summer camp. It online literary journal accepts submissions from high school students in five categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Screen/Stageplay and Hybrid form. Up to 6 pieces total.
Submissions Period: February to March
25. Aerie International Journal
Aerie International was born of a desire to offer outstanding young writers and artists an opportunity to share, edit, and publish their work internationally. What makes this journal unique is that it is designed, edited and published entirely by high school students. Students whose work is selected received $100 in addition to a copy of the magazine.
26. Chapman Art and Writing Holocaust Contest
Focusing on themes central both to the Holocaust and to ethical decision making in our world today, the contest gives students from public, private and parochial schools the opportunity to share their creative works in response to survivors’ oral testimonies.
Participating schools may submit a total of three entries from three individual students in the following categories: art, film, prose, and/or poetry.
“Writing Magic” is for every young author who wants to create a world that magically transports the reader.
She focuses on the core advice every writer needs: how to write beginnings and endings, how to create unforgettable characters, and how to write snappy dialogue that keeps readers laughing and crying.
27. Writopia Lab Worldwide Plays Festival
The festival includes plays written in workshops at Writopia’s labs across the country and plays submitted to our competition from playwrights around the world from playwrights in 1st through 12th grade (ages 6 to 18). Plays are professionally produced in New York.
Grades: 1-12 OR Ages: 6-18
28. The Blank Theater’s Young Playwrights’ Festival
Since 1993, 12 plays are chosen by a panel of theatre professionals from submissions across America. Winning playwrights are provided careful mentoring and direction from industry professionals to help prepare their work for public performance and hone their skills, talent and confidence. Nowhere else in the nation can young playwrights receive the prize of seeing their vision come to life on stage in a professional production featuring known actors from film, television and theatre. The plays are crafted by seasoned professional directors and each is given several public performances in a month-long Festival.
29. Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF)
Each year the Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF) recognizes youth poets by publishing their work together in a truly diverse anthology. We welcome international poets from kindergarten through high school grade level or age to submit up to three poems.
30. Winter Tangerine
Winter Tangerine is a literary journal dedicated to the electric. To the salt. The sugar. We want bitter honey, expired sweets. We want catalysts. Accepting submissions of poetry, prose, drama, visual art, and short film.
Submission period: April to October
31. The Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose
The Adroit Journal, published at the University of Pennsylvania is open to all writers. The Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose are awarded annually to two students of secondary or undergraduate status whose written work “inspires the masses to believe beyond feeling the work.” In other words, we strive to receive the absolute best work from emerging young writers in high school and college, and the best of the best will receive these two lovely awards.
Submission Period: To be announced
32. Hanging LooseMagazine
Hanging Loose Magazine is a professional magazine that welcomes high school submissions. Payment plus 2 copies. Send 3 to 6 poems, or 1 to 3 short stories, or an equivalent combination of poetry and prose to High School Editor, Hanging Loose, 231 Wyckoff Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Identify yourself as a high school age writer.
Deadline: Open Year-round
An online publishing opportunity for young writers.
The New Pages Young Author’s Guide
A resource for young authors to find places to submit their work!
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