At the moment there are several short story competitions being promoted, with large prize money on offer. One of these is run by Australian Book Review - the Elizabeth Jolley Prize which is worth $5000. When you look at the shortlist from last year, you may well wonder if it was worth entering. After all you'd be up against the likes of Cate Kennedy! But the site gives you the opportunity to read last year's stories on the shortlist and there was a Readers' vote award, too. But the thing that will make many newer writers pause is the entry fee - $16. If you're up against such stiff competition, is it worth the money to enter?
It's a good question. In fact, it's a good question to ask about any competition that requires an entry fee. How big is the competition? Is the fee too much? $16 is a lot to many writers, especially students or those on low incomes. The long-running Alan Marshall Short Story Award (closed two weeks ago) had an entry fee of $15. However, many of the smaller competitions have smaller entry fees. Try this site to have a look at what is open at the moment. For example, the Katherine Susanna Pritchard which is for speculative fiction (short stories) has an entry fee of $7 and a first prize of $600. Is it starting to sound a bit like a lottery?
What are the advantages of entering a competition, whether it's fiction or poetry?
* It gives you a deadline to get something written, revised and sent off.
* If the competition has a specific theme, it can provide a good challenge.
* Hey, you might win or get a placing!
* Sometimes a number of the best entries are published in a book (but not often).
* Judges are subjective, even if they deny it. Your story may strike a chord with the judge (but it still needs to be well-written). To me, this is the lottery part of it. You just never know.
What are the downsides?
* It usually costs money to enter (The Age Short Story Award is one of the few that doesn't charge a fee - maybe that's why they get about 1400 entries!).
* The bigger competitions are the ones that the more experienced writers enter so you're up against them.
* Unlike magazines that send you a rejection or acceptance note, you rarely hear from competition organisers unless you have won. It can feel like sending your work off into the never-never.
How do you decide what to do?
If you are a newer writer, start with the smaller competitions. Check the entry conditions very carefully. Not obeying the rules, even if they seem silly or pedantic, can lead to your entry being discarded. Choose a competition that sounds good to you - one where the entry fee is smaller but the prizes are still worthwhile. (Avoid a competition with a $10 fee, for example, and a $200 first prize.) Write something for your entry, give yourself plenty of time to revise and polish it up, and send it off. Keep doing this. And when you don't win (which is likely - it is a lottery!) then polish it again and send it off to a magazine instead.
Or save it for the Age competition!