This is usually where I’d post a roundup of the best (FREE to enter) writing contests. But I’ve decided not to, because even though they’re great for traffic, there are several sites that have already put lists like that together – I’ll link to those at the end of this post.
- OK fine, I caved and made a huge list of 70 outstanding writing contests and book awards … but “outstanding” is definitely overselling. More on that below…
So, why write anything at all? Because, I’ve decided most writing contests – including those “book awards” that charge fees and give out prizes, aren’t all that valuable for new writers. What they really need is hard, critical feedback and developmental editing, to help them make sure their book is amazing and ready to launch.
Maybe you’ve been searching for free editing or high quality expert feedback also, to gain confidence in your writing abilities, improve your craft quickly, and avoid amateur or weak writing mistakes?
The problem is, it’s really hard to get objective, critical feedback on your writing, for a variety of reasons:
- your friends and family aren’t qualified to judge, and you won’t listen to them anyway
- other writers trading feedback with you can get messy fast, and you’re always worried about being very helpful vs being very hurtful
- lots of books are just bad.
That last one isn’t your fault; this week I saw someone trying to make the claim that “no, your first novel isn’t shit, it’s amazing!” – they were trying to be positive, and very loosely interpreting a “good book” as anything you finished, because you learned and stuff.
That’s kind of true, every book is valuable, because it taught you something, and every book is an achievement, because it took a lot of time and effort. But you’re starting to develop a new skill or hobby, and your enthusiasm will probably be bold and contagious, but your skills and ability will be lacking.
This isn’t a you problem.
This is an everyone problem!
But it can take years (in my case, decades) to write a few million words, publish a few dozen books, and finally feel like you’re getting the hang of it. You can get there much faster with feedback – but great feedback will just tell you you’re doing all the normal boring crappy writing stuff every amateur does – that’s good news, because you don’t really need feedback at all…
You can just learn from all my free resources, avoid the common writing mistakes, and learn to self-edit your book. It’s still a ton of work, but it’s not really something you can skip by having someone else point out issues – even if you’re paying a LOT – it’s likely you’ll take everything with a grain of salt and fight against good advice for awhile (because you want to be a creative, literary, genius artist and not write templated commercial crappy for the lowest common denominator… is something I’ve heard many authors proclaim).
Similarly, I saw someone claim recently, something like “isn’t anyone making value/quality instead of just trying to make money?” That feels like the right question, but it’s not – I was a starving artist for a decade before I figured out, if you make something that matters and has value, if it has ENOUGH value or impact, people will be happy to pay for it, and only by charging what you’re worth can you actually invest in this career of yours and reach more readers.
Writing to market, writing books that sell, isn’t about making money or being successful commercially. It’s about satisfying more readers with BETTER writing, though that can be a tough pill to swallow, a lot of authors secretly say things like ‘I don’t care if nobody likes it’ – using art and passion as a defense mechanism, or replacement, for developing intentional skill
Writing contests for book marketing
So if you’re thinking of joining a contests, for validation, feedback or proof that your skill is high enough… I don’t think that’s a good idea. Most readers don’t care about writing contests, and almost all the ones set up for self-publishers are pay to play.
You pay a fee to submit, they choose some winners… not everyone wins, but there are lots of categories. Besides the prize money, these companies are run for profit. Nothing wrong with that: they provide a service authors want enough to pay for, they are filling a need. But winning awards won’t actually mean much in terms of exposure or book sales, in most cases. It probably can’t hurt, but there are smarter places to spend money if you’re on a budget.
Unless, maybe, the writing website gives backlinks to your author blog and it’s a high authority domain…. in that case *maybe* the entrance price would be worth it for those valuable backlinks, but I’m not sure they do. If you enter, and you win, you should definitely celebrate, it’s not nothing.
And there are some pretty prestigious ones, that DO really mean something… but I feel like even these will start fading out quickly, since it’s becoming so difficult to judge now that anyone could be using AI to write stories.
Best writing contests
- The Ultimate List of Writing Contests • Win Cash Prizes! – Reedsy
- The Ultimate List of FREE Writing Contests – Jerry Jenkins
- Top 10 writing contests: Prestige and prizes – Now Novel
- The Best Free Literary Contests – Winning Writers
- A list of the best Novel Writing Competitions
- 40 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash – Write Life
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.