There are many different kinds of short story competitions out there. Most, if not all, have some kind of stipulation as regards eligibility, but everyone should be able to find something suitable for them and their work. The question is: are short story competitions worth it, particularly when an entry fee is involved?
Why Writing Competitions are Worthwhile
First, there is the winning. Most writers, going into this kind of thing, do so with the certainty that they won’t get anywhere. It’s not just about being good enough to win – in competitions where thousands apply there must be hundreds of entries good enough – it’s also about being a bit lucky. But the old adage that someone has to win is true. It really could be you. And even if you don’t win, there’s no shortage of reward in being shortlisted.
If your work is published as a result of and in conjunction with the competition, it is being publicized, and this is valuable. It has happened that a shortlisted writer has, from having her story published in an anthology, found an agent and, through that agent, found a publisher, and it has happened regularly enough for it to be a recommended step to try taking.
Of course whether your competition entry is chosen or not is beyond your control, but it’s a viable reason to keep your finger on the pulse of writing competitions – it’s a good enough reason to try.
The Benefits of Not Being Shortlisted for a Short Story Competition
For every winner, and every few shortlisted near-misses, there are hundreds or thousands whose entry gets them nowhere. And still, in spite of not being chosen, the very process of crafting a piece of work – or even simply redoing, and polishing, if the piece was already written – is of value. When you write for a competition as opposed to writing alone while you try to piece together something larger, like a novel, it becomes easier to envisage the potential readers your work will have, and this is an effective motivator. Working in a vacuum will eventually take its toll on anyone.
How Writing for Competition Can Help the Writer Focus
It is wise for the writer to make full use of the competition – the deadline and the promise of readers – to focus himself and, when rereading his work, to have those readers in mind and try to see it through their eyes. This might not happen, exactly, but it will become easier to distance the author from the work and see it more objectively. It often happens that writers end up too close to the words they’ve penned, and are utterly unable to see them clearly anymore, and this reading of work through other readers’ eyes may temporarily circumnavigate this blindness. In this case, even if the competition isn’t won, it will at least have provided a productive atmosphere conducive to writing.
For new writers, then, short story competitions can, at best, be the foot in the door they’ve been looking for; at worst, a motivating force for productivity and development, which is no small grace. And there are a lot of different writing competitions out there to be found. The Writer’s Handbook (Macmillan) is a reliable and popular source for details of competitions, as well as agents and publishers. Other lists can be easily found online.