Short story competitions fees and prizes

I suppose it sounds mercernary, but I’ve started keeping track of just how much return on investment I can expect for short story competitions. There are a lot of comps and I have finite financial resources and so I want to get the most bang for my buck.

Obviously, I use other criteria as well. The really excellent well established competitions, the prestigious ones, and comps run by people or journals I like – they’re all no-brainers. Unless they’re ludicrously expensive, and as long as I have a story ready, I’ll enter.

For the rest, I realised I needed some sort of criteria.

I’m not alone here. Clifford Garstang has been ranking literary journals for years (check out his site, the dedication is incredible). Another writer, Nelson Kingfisher, has run an analysis on acceptance rates and payment in both literary and genre journals (spoiler: it’s not great).

But I’m in it for the big money. So this year I’ve been focusing on competitions. Hey, if I’m going to write great stories, I’d like to get paid 🙂

To that end, I’ve created a spreadsheet which shows the potential return on investment for a competition entry. Some are fantastic. Some are really dismal.

In fact, I started this after seeing a great opportunity for a short story into film competition. However, it came with a staggering $59 entry fee – and only $1000 first prize. I thought – hang on a minute, that sounds crazy! But I needed some data to back up my idea.

And yes, after tracking a few dozen competitions over the past year, I can confirm that that competition was crazy.

You can check out the spreadsheet here.

As you can see, depending on where you send your story, you can get a very different prize even for the same entry fee. So if you think your story is an absolute cracker, you want to get the most you can, right? 🙂

I didn’t measure just against first prize. Sometimes the overall prize pool is quite decent, even if the first prize isn’t great. Some comps have really generous 2nd and 3rd places, while for others the difference is huge.

It’s not that I avoid the comps in red completely. But if there are two comps around the same time, for around the same entry fee, and I have only one great story ready, I’m going to lean towards the higher paying one. If the lower paying one is really prestigious, I suppose I could be swayed, but that hasn’t happened yet.

And as I said, if it’s a competition that I want to enter for other reasons, I might still give it a go. For example, Words With Jam only scores 83 (I generally avoid anything under 100), but I like them and I like the comp, so I’ll still enter.

Anyway, hope that helps some other people. And if you have anything to add to it, please email me at lividlili@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

 

PS – if this proves popular, I’ll update it more regularly with more competitions. But it could just be a good reference for you, if nothing else 🙂

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0 Responses

  1. This is cool! The most bang for my buck I’ve thought about with competitions is whether they offer advice. However prize money is definitely something to consider against the entry fee!

    1. Interesting – I usually look for advice and feedback from writer friends and acquaintances, so I guess that hasn’t been a consideration for me when submitting to comps. But high entry fees and low prizes really bug me!!

    1. I didn’t know you were a writer! (other than about sport, obvs) Yes, do it. There are loads of great opportunities out there and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll succeed 🙂

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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