A Journey through Writing Competitions

Are you looking for a way to jump-start your written words? Earning recognition in a writing contest is one way to create buzz for your book or credibility for your brand. A winning entry will give you a sense of accomplishment and a needed boost of motivation for the next project on your list. It may even open some marketing doors for you.

The Contest Landscape

Contests come in all shapes and sizes—some without entry fees, some aimed at book promotion, others designed to attract content for the sponsor. Some competitions even provide feedback to entrants or prize money for winners. Niche contests may specialize in e-books, short stories, poetry, novels, or literary fiction. Whatever material you offer, a contest awaits your submission.

More than cost alone, your goals should help determine the right program to enter. A contest with a category that matches your content will increase your chances of winning. You can assess various contests by comparing their websites. If you’re a self-published author seeking national exposure, this article from Publishers Weekly includes a list of leads to get you started.

Writing competitions will cost you time and money. Therefore, consider whether your marketing budget has better opportunities elsewhere before entering. After all, your work may not win. Even if your flawless piece will impress most readers, a contest judge may not like it. As writers, we know that our content will not appeal to everyone, regardless of its quality.

Our Story of Traversing the Landscape

Shortly after publication in 2016, my wife, Debbie, and I entered our book Wheels of Wisdom in a few contests. We’ve cycled thousands of miles throughout America and lived to tell about it. The book is very personal to us because it carries a unique message of hope and encouragement based on God’s work in our lives. It had come through the publication process with what felt like divine favor.

Contributors, endorsers, and early reviewers had encouraged us greatly. Among those contributors was Erin Casey of My Writers Connection, whose direction early on helped focus the content and improve the writing substantially. We came to believe strongly in our project and wondered if it might have broad appeal. Consequently, we were willing to invest in a couple of contests to see if it would place. When the National Indie Excellence Awards selected it as the winner in their Inspiration category, we decided to enter it into more contests—after we got over the shock, that is.

Each time the book placed in a contest, we had another opportunity to renew promotion for it. In effect, the accolades extended the launch time frame. We had news to share with media. I prepared a news release at selected intervals to create buzz for the book. Some media outlets responded favorably and chose to run an article or an interview.

In our case, the awards have been a stimulus, creating promotional opportunities, strengthening our brand, and encouraging us to push forward with more projects. Despite the honors, however, book sales to date have been hard to come by. Nevertheless, we’ve received intangible benefits from these awards that have justified the investment.

Taking the Trip Yourself

If your entry wins a contest, don’t expect a spike in sales or agents to come pounding at your door. While the recognition can enhance discoverability, an increase in sales may or may not follow. Before proceeding, I’d encourage you to read The Truth about Book Awards to manage your expectations.

Successful placement in writing competitions can invigorate your writing career and persuade you that your creativity has value. Unless you’ve already landed in the small pool of authors who have achieved success and notoriety through sheer skill, hard work, and persistence, you’ll find the recognition from an award to be of infinite value as you tell the world your story. God has appointed certain readers for it. You are responsible not only to write the story with excellence but also to help connect it to the select few. Writing competitions are one more tool to help you find them.


At age 52, Tim Bishop left a successful career as a corporate treasurer, married his dream girl, and embarked with her to parts unknown—on bicycles. Tim and Debbie have since coauthored four books about their midlife bicycling adventures. Their latest, Wheels of Wisdom, has won eight book awards, including four 1st-place finishes. Publishers Weekly dubbed the book “a roadmap for life.” The Bishops bring a strong Christian foundation to their inspirational, self-help books.

In addition to his writing and publishing endeavors, Tim volunteers as a “HopeCoach” on TheHopeLine, a help service for young people who are struggling with life issues. Tim is a three-time Maine chess champion, a CPA, and a consultant for small businesses. In 2014, he penned and published a business book, Hedging Commodity Price Risk. He is still out to prove that the writing contest he won as a college freshman was not a fluke. The Bishops blog at OpenRoadPress.com.