Ten things to do to win a writing contest

10 Things to Win a  Writing Contest

With so many entries to judge, what is it about your book that will win you a prize? Cate Baum, co-founder of the SPR Awards spills the beans on the best tips to get that award.

1. Enter properly. This year, we had around 5% of entries that entered the wrong category, didn’t pay the entry fee or didn’t send in their book! This immediately disqualifies you from nearly all contests out there, and you won’t get a refund. (We’re nice, we tracked everyone down bar one who remains elusive…)

2. Edit your book. If your book has spelling mistakes and grammar errors, however good your story is, it won’t win a prize. No self-respecting contest wants to condone shoddy work, let alone put their name to it. An editor starts from around $300 per book – well worth it in terms of sales if you garner a prize and extra visibility as a result. We offer a service here.

3. Have a good cover. Most contests want to flaunt their winners around the internet. Would you pick a book cover that didn’t pop as your winner to send out to your business’ mailing list? There are many ways to get a great book cover. One of those is probably not getting your friend’s kid to do it for $10. Dark fonts, weird body parts and ugly, scary photos of close-up vegetables are out.

4. Don’t be inappropriately opinionated in your book. Books on white power, far-right opinion, gun lobbying, porn and converting readers to fundamentalist religion etc. – even if it’s in your character’s voice – aren’t going to run well for most competitions. Instead, most organizations like to read about variety, originality and multiculturalism.

5. Don’t enter a sequel or series book that runs on from others. If a book doesn’t stand alone, it’s very unlikely it will win a contest. Entering a middle series book is a bad move – imagine any Twilight, GOT or Harry Potter book without having read the first one. You’ll get the idea.

6. Have a good web presence. If you don’t sell your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your own shop, it could be the deciding factor against you when faced with a photo finish between books for the top prize. You may hate the “InterWeb” as the old folks call it, but it’s time you got a Twitter or Facebook. If you hate this idea, we offer a web page service for your book that you can link all your outlets to.

7. Make it easy for the judges. Send in your book swiftly and don’t think about leaving it until the last minute “so they remember you”. This year, some winners were taken from the first books we received, and the very last. Any good contest keeps notes and a database on each entry and you won’t be forgotten if you send in early. Hell, your book might seem even more great once the reading panel have gotten through ten million duffers, and remember yours with fondness…

8. Don’t be a high maintenance entry. Don’t send a whole load of stuff. Enter, and send your book. Judges appreciate not having to swim through bookmarks, press releases and mouse mats. And again, we’re only human, so an annoying candidate may be an annoying winner… See photo finish notes above.

9. Size matters. If your epic tale is 900 pages, it’s probably not a good candidate for a general fiction contest. Enter with a nice read size and it will stand you in good stead in terms of marketability for you and the competition. Unless of course you are entering an epic tale contest…

10. Genre Matters. Is your book about a caveman diet going to beat a literary fiction book? Or your children’s book in the same group as a serial killing? How about a non-fiction book of art prints of mice? Will that fare against a memoir of a vet in Vietnam? Maybe it will. But think about whether your genre may be too niche for the contest you are about to enter, and enter the correct category.

Good Luck!

A list of great writing contests to enter


  • I’ll go along with all of that, Cate, not least the advice to Read the Rules. I run a novel bursary contest at Writers’ Village. Winners get $800 plus possible representation by a literary agent. In our last round, I was startled to find that, while I’d laid out the rules for submission with pedantic clarity, as many as three in five contestants had totally ignored the rules 🙁