Saturday, 6 February 2010

What's your strategy?

It's that time of year when some of the biggest writing contests open for entries including, of course, the Bridport Prize (accepting flash fiction for the first time). Then there are impending deadlines for the Fish One Page Prize, the Bristol Short Story Prize, and then Exeter, Yeovil - the list goes on. All of which has me thinking: what's your strategy for deciding which contests to enter and what influences that process?

Do you, for instance, consider the odds?If you're a newish writer do you tend to enter smaller contests and build up to the bigger ones? If so, I admire your pragmatism; I could never resist jumping straight to the big fish (in this case Fish itself, where I got lucky in 2008).

Bridport is a longer shot than ever with a 40% increase in entries for 2009: 17,000 entries, including poetry! I wonder, was this the result of Ali Smith's judging role, or could it be that the exchange rate made Fish seem more expensive than ever to enter? (Terrific prize money, of course.) To what extent does the entry fee affect your decision to submit to a certain contest? At all? Somewhat? Only in relation to the prize money?

Does the choice of judge make a contest more (or less) attractive? Does it influence your decision at all? I know I've sometimes thought (no doubt wrongly) that a particular judge may or may not like my writing because of the impression I have of the judge's own writing, or taste.

I also wonder how far the marketing of a contest matters, in the scheme of things. There are some amazing sources out there - I'm thinking in particular of Sally Quilford's Writing Competitions Calendar - but what else should contest organisers do to attract entries? Does it help when the judges blog about what they like? When contests offer a critiquing service (usually at an extra cost)?

I'd love to know what other writers think about this subject. Is entering contests a big part of your writing life? It was a huge part of mine a couple of years back, but now I've drawn my horns in (partly because entry fees add up, partly because I'm taking longer to polish stories). Do share!