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Are writing contests a scam?

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

This new year 2022, is filled with another round of writing competitions. But are writing contests a scam or not?

Often you may see writing competitions looking for short stories, essays, and poems. If you are a winner, you will receive excellent recognition, representation or a publishing deal, and possibly a large money grand prize! This sounds great, but what is the catch? Oh, to enter, you need to pay an upfront fee of 20 to even 100 dollars or more. The rationale is that there are just soooo many entries, so you need to pay someone to take the time to read your work or edit it. But, if your writing is an undiscovered gem, you will be a winner, and your whole life will change!

For a struggling writer, often, these competitions sound very tempting. If only someone saw my work, they would recognize my genius, and my life will change, writers wonder.

It is my personal opinion (and you can take it with a grain of salt) is that most of these 'competitions,' even the legitimate ones--that ask you to pay, are not worth it, and here's why:

They already have a winner.

Yes, that is right. I have worked for quite a few companies, and every time they do a drawing or contest, they always make their decision based on an angle. If it is pulling a random name out of a hat, they make sure the name is someone who could be a very possible potential client or closing in on a sale. If it is put out an application for a qualified candidate, already internally they have a secret hire, but they have to put out the application to the public anyway. And if it is a writing contest (my opinion) the winner is someone who already has a connection to an agency that wants to promote their new author, so they have an award tied to their name and a fresh audience of readers to check out their work.

Most businesses are in the business to make money.

Think about it; if you are a writer, you can send a query letter to an agent, which tells them about your written piece. Do these agents ever charge you? No. In fact, unless you have a huge social media following, most of the time, they won't respond, or they will respond with an automated rejection letter after several weeks.

If writing competitions really want to find talent, they would not be charging you anything. And even when they don't charge, they may already have a secret winner as well.

I do believe there are some charities and organizations that are honest, but in truth, I mostly think there is a back pocket agreement.

Some may say, Oh, you are just being jaded, but I have talked to a lot of writers, published and not. I have never met a winner, and I bet if I did, they probably didn't know the company they were signed with was secretly trying to promote them.

So my honest opinion is, yes, most contests, even legitimate ones, are scams. And I would love to be proven wrong.



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