Photo from 2008 Faith & Family Writing Contest
(I think "write, pray" covers more than just religious contests!)
How do you decide when to pay a fee to enter a legitimate writing contest? And, how do you decide which contest(s) to enter? (Please note that I am only talking about legit contests here -- I recognize that there are many scams out there, but let's all assume we've done our basic homework.)
I've been mulling this over for a while, as I am very risk-adverse (lawyers often are), and I tend think of paying to enter a contest as throwing money away. Take, for example, the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition. This is clearly a legitimate enterprise, and the entry cost is not prohibitive ($20 for the first short story manuscript, $15 for all additional). But nearly 14,000 people entered last year. Let's do some math. Even if you're in the top 1% of all writers, that still leaves 140 people in that top 1% competing against you. The top 10 entries in each category get a minimum of $25 in prize money (grand prize is $3,000 plus other perks). There are 10 categories. So, only 100 people will make back their money from a single entry fee. How many top-one-percent entries were there again? Yup, 140. You like those odds? I don't.
Now, I like some competition quite a bit. I have recently discovered the joys of submitting short stories to certain very exclusive fiction markets -- one magazine recently wrote back to say "this one's not for us, but please send more", and the research I've done tells me that only 2% of all submissions are accepted, and only 10% get a request to resubmit, so I am thrilled to have found out that this magazine thinks I'm top 12%. But I didn't have to pay any money to find that out.
I can understand paying to enter a contest that guarantees some professional editorial feedback, because you'd usually have to pay for that anyway. But what else makes you decide to pay to enter a contest? Which contests, if any, have you entered, how did you choose, and what did you learn?
Don't forget to enter my contest!