Taking stock... I’ve just been going through my Submissions File. I’ve submitted my novel to 13 (unlucky for some) agents. Responses so far: one no-reply, eight standard rejections, three personal rejections (one of which asked to see my next novel) and one request for a full (based only on a synopsis and covering letter) which was quickly rejected when they encountered the actual writing…

In the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve also entered quite a few writing competitions. The first one was Vanda Inman’s regular short story competition – well worth checking out. To my amazement I won third prize - £50 – which they agreed to convert into a critique of the opening pages of my novel. The boost it gave me was huge and very much needed. Since then, I’ve entered the following novel competitions:

- The Harry Bowling Prize
- The Yeovil Literary Prize
- The Daily Mail/Transworld competition
- Cornerstones Literary Consultancy’s ‘Are You Ready To Submit?’ competition
- A competition to win a writer’s retreat at West Dean college
- The Dundee Prize
- The Brit Writers’ Award

Most have come to nothing. But I ‘came close’ for being longlisted in the Harry Bowling; I've got through the first stage of judging in The Brit Writers, and I was shortlisted in the Cornerstones competition. This resulted in my work being showcased to several agents, a request for a full (unfortunately not taken on, but another short-listee was signed by the agent and has since been published) and a very incisive free one-page editorial report on the novel.

Entering competitions can be very, very helpful to an aspiring writer, for the following reasons:

- Competitions are not make-or-break, like submitting to agents or publishers.
- They provide hope and a sense of opportunity/potential during what can be a long-drawn-out process of submitting – or writing your next WIP. The feeling that ‘something’s out there’ is psychologically very helpful to the process of writing.
- Competitions force you to go through yet another round of editing/synopsis writing which can only benefit your eventual novel/story.
- Competitions are often judged by agents or publishers and can be a back-door way to making contacts with them
- You can add a win or shortlisting to your writing CV/covering letter.
- You may win actual money (remember money?)
- You may receive that so-vital and rare commodity – A Confidence Boost.

Some pointers:
Take a look at past entries to get a sense of the kind of work that wins in any individual competition. Find out how many entries the competition usually gets (obviously your chances are higher in a competition like the well-respected Yeovil Prize, which gets just over 1,000 entries, than in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition.)

Beware of novel competitions which offer publication as a prize. Read the small print carefully. Far better, I think, to win a sum of money and the kudos associated than hand over your rights to what may, in essence, turn out to be a print-on-demand outfit.

Look at the list of judges. They will give you an idea of the kind of thing they’re after and also of the standard of the competition.

There are lots of websites and magazines listing current writing competitions. Literature Training is free, current and excellent (click on Jobs and Opportunities) and shows competitions for poetry, short stories, novels, screenwriting and playwrighting.

Make sure you give them exactly what they ask for in terms of wordage, layout, submission by email or hard copy, pagination, and whether they want your name to be attached to the entry. Keep a file of the competitions you’ve entered, and the dates.

Let's face it, writing for publication is essentially one long competition with many, many entries, so why not try as many ways as possible to break through the glass ceiling? There’s nothing to lose except the entry fee and a certain amount of pride. And what is gained can be extremely precious.

Oh, and er… do enter the Strictly Writing Award. Free to enter, and a £300 prize. What’s not to love?


Caroline Green said...

Very useful stuff, Susie. I've only entered a small number of competitions, mainly because they tend to revolve around short fiction [which I can't write!]but I should check out more that relate to full length novels. Sounds like you have had a very respectable strike rate.

But can I just say: 13 rejections is really nothing you know...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Caroline - it's actually 17-ish after the agents who rejected the novel via Cornerstones.
It's definitely worth entering the novel comps - there are quite a few of them lurking out there. What's to lose?

fidelity said...

As an outsider it's good to get a glimpse of the nuts and bolts of getting oneself to the reader. I've hitherto been a competitions-hater but after putting in an effort for SW comp my mind has really changed about it. It was very good for me to get me out of the endless scribbling habit and kick-ass me into producing something that resembled a short. I don't think I'll ever become an addict but I felt very good about getting a piece of writing 'tied-up'. You seem very determined and more than half-way there so good luck and keep trying, and reporting back to us!

Emma Darwin said...

Good piece, Susie. I'd also say, even if you're really a novelist, do give short fiction competitions a go: there are many more, there's less riding on them both in terms of how long it takes to write something for them and how much you care when you get nowhere, and if you do get somewhere it's still a boost to your novel-writing self...

If you're wanting to get stuck into some competitions, the heroic Sally Quilford has a terrific online calendar with all the details, sorted out by deadline.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Fidelity, I'm so glad to hear that the Strictly comp has been helpful for your writing - well done you!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Crossed with you Emma - great advice re. short fiction, and thanks for the Sally Quillford tip - will take a look. :)

Essie Fox said...

What a good and positive post. Some really useful information there, Susie.

Old Kitty said...


Well done you for winning that £50and getting long and short listed in all those prestigious comps ! Those are really fantastic achievents and a great boost for you!


For me I will be printing this out to re-read for later! :-)

Having just learned that my story didn't win a competition that I sent off to waaaaaaaaaaay back in January, I am trying to look on the bright side of things as in: well my class liked my story so it can't be all bad! LOL!

Off I go to lick my wounded pride!

Take care

Roderic Vincent said...

Great post Susie. How brave you are to list all that in public. I tend to hide my submissions log in shame. But looking at your successes and comparing with my own, we're not doing so badly, really.

Karen said...

It was being placed in a couple of small writing competetions that gave me the confidence to carry on writing - not to mention a massive boost :o)

Great post.

Karen said...

Tut. 'CompetItions.' Must spell-check before posting!

DT said...

An uplifting post, Susie, as it shows that writers can filter the past according to their mood at any given time. I doubt that there is an agreed success percentage, in order to know one is still in with a chance, but it sounds like your keeping your head above the water line. As the poster rads: Stay Calm and Carry On.

Helen Black said...

Good post, Susie.
I think taking stock like this is massively important. A friend of mine was about to give up writing as he 'was getting nowhere', so we went through his submissions files. Actually, it transpired that he too had had quite a bit of positive feedback along the way.
It buoyed him to keep going which is essential.
HB x

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks everyone for your comments and encouragement!