Dramaquill's All Things Writing

February 1, 2009

Contest entry fees: To pay or not to pay

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Sometimes, winning a writing contest can be an amazing way to get exposure, prize money, and if you’re lucky, a contract. 

But more and more contests are charging entry fees…and I don’t mean $5.00, either.  Recently I’ve seen novel contests that were charging as much as $50.00 to enter. 

Now think about it for a minute.  What if you enter four contests a year?  Each one costs $50.00.  Personally, I think the $200.00 in entry fees would be put to much better use buying paper, printer ink, stamps and envelopes for subbing to editors and agents. 

Whenever entering a contest, please do your research.  Paying an entry fee isn’t always a bad thing but there are factors to consider:

  • Is it a reputable contest – who’s running it
  • Does the entry fee match the prize
  • What is the entry fee used for
  • Who’s doing the judging
  • What are the terms if you win
  • How many prizes are there
  • Are prizes awarded based on number of entrants
  • Do you have to spend more money if you win

Let’s face it, a fifty dollar entry fee for an entire novel, where the prize is a publishing contract with an established, well-known publisher, would be $50.00 well spent.  However, that same fee, where the prize was a vanity press contract, would be, in my opinion, a waste of $50.00.  I wouldn’t even pay $5.00 if I was entering a poem on a site where the winners were chosen by online voting.  The fee has to reflect the prize.

So how do you find out which contests to enter? 

  • read everything you can about the contest
  • ask other authors if they have participated
  • ask your local librarian
  • read winners’ manuscripts from previous contests

To get you started, here’s a shortlist of contests.  Some charge fees – others don’t.  You decide.

Writer’s Digest’s contest fees are small in relation to the prizes.

Both for MG and YA first novels.  NO FEE.

For writers of fantasy and sci-fi.  NO FEE

Contest for playwrights – doesn’t appear to have a fee.

This site lists a ton of contests.  At the bottom of the site they tell you the types of contests they will not list, so they’ve done a bit of the research for you.


When it comes to writing contests, that really is the question.


  1. This is a great post. I think it’s really important people research and know about what they’re getting themselves into. Not every competition is legit and not all of them truly offer the entrant value for their money, even if they were to win. I tend to look for competitions where the prize is either a mentorship that will help develop my skills as a writer, or one that will offer a valuable credit / publication for my CV (ie. a competition that is recognised by publishers). Otherwise, it is probably not worth your money. Just my humble opinion 🙂

    Comment by Katherine Battersby — February 5, 2009 @ 6:54 AM | Reply

  2. All of you guys that don’t want to pay for a entry fee just wants something for nothing. To me this tells me that you are not serious about any contests,you just want something for nothing. Pay the entry fee and this show’s that you are willing to take the chance to become something and are not afraid of competition. If I was entering a contest I sure would want a entry fee because it gets all you clowns that wants everything handed to you out of there. To me this makes for a better contest and more competitive field and a lot more serious contestants who wants to be recognized in there field.

    Comment by bob — July 28, 2009 @ 2:22 PM | Reply

    • The entry fee is fine for something legit like Writer’s Digest’s contests. But there are tons of SCAMS out there that charge fees (like $35.00 for a novel) and the prize doesn’t equate with the fees.

      So…pay fees if you like but be careful. Not all contests with fees are legit or worth the fee they charge.

      Comment by dramaquill — July 31, 2009 @ 3:31 PM | Reply

    • Bob,

      A recent contest notification told me that for $25, I could enter a 20- to 30-page manuscript. Given that these contests routinely get between 400 and a thousand entrants, let’s do the math at 450 entrants. Okay? Yes, it’s $11,250 for the sponsor. So who do you suppose gets all that cash?

      It’s not just about getting something for nothing. It’s about a very restrictive and narrowly controlled field of entry that can charge whatever it pleases; it has nothing to do with a better or worse contest.

      Comment by Ted Gilley — October 21, 2011 @ 1:05 PM | Reply

      • You’re absolutely right, Ted. If the fee doesn’t equate with the prizes offered, forget it. Yes, some contests have to charge fees to afford great judges and big prizes, but no one should enter a contest and pay a fee without doing lots of detective work to see if the contest is legit, well-known and from a respected source. If a red flag goes up, you’re right to avoid that contest.

        And it’s true – a fee doesn’t necessarily make a better contest. Bob’s opinion is his own but I completely disagree with his comments.

        Comment by dramaquill — October 23, 2011 @ 6:24 PM

  3. last time, i joined a writing contests on the internet and i won a small price for writing a nice piece of writing :**

    Comment by Encryption Softwares — December 3, 2010 @ 3:39 PM | Reply

  4. […] Contest entry fees: To pay or not to pay February 20094 comments 4 […]

    Pingback by 2010 in review « Dramaquill’s Weblog — January 9, 2011 @ 5:15 PM | Reply

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