Deciding whether or not to enter - what to consider
Who is judging?
Are the judges reputable names in the writing inductry e.g. publishers, literary agents, well-known writers.
What is the prize?
Any competition that offers publication in a PRINTED book is worth considering. This means the organisors are investing in the work. Ebooks or online printing is also fine but as it requires less input in both financial and practical terms consider what that implies aout the competition.
If there is a considerable financial prize this also means the competition is worth entering. Be cautious of competitions that only offer a small cash prize - they raise this money from entry fees so are not investing much in the competition themselves (see below).
How much to enter?
Most (not all) competitions charge an entry fee to cover paying judges and admin etc, costs. This is fine but be clear how much they are charging and only enter if you think the fees are fair. Many are around £10 and quite a few offer discounts on mulitple entries. Try to work out whether or not the competition is just covering costs or is trying to turn a profit from your entry fee.
What reputation does the competition have?
Many competitions are well established and have been running successfully for a number of years. Check websites carefully to establish the background. If a competition is newly established that doesn't mean you should avoid it but take into account all the other points raised here.
What and how to enter
Is there a theme?
If a competition has a specfic theme make sure your work fits this as closely as possible. If there is no theme have a look at what kind of work has won previously or who the judges are and what their tastes might be.
What is the maximum word count?
Pay attention to what you are asked to submit and submit only that. Don't try to sneak in extra words/poems/pieces (if multiple enteries are not allowed). This could result in your entry being disqualified.
What format should your entry take?
Each competition will have its own requirements e.g. double line spaced, header/footer, page numbers, cover sheets etc. Follow the instructions given or your entry could be rejected - but your won't get your fee back.
Email or Post?
Where possible use email - it is cheaper and quicker. If you have to post allow maximum time for the piece to arrive and even consider special/recorded delivery if it is really important your entry gets there.
What are the Terms and Conditions?
Always read the T&C carefully. Most competitions won't accept pieces that have already been published and/or won another comp. Some even reject those placed in other competitions or published online. If in doubt always ask. Some competitions are only for unpublished writers or writers of a certain age/gender.
Most competitions also say entries shouldnot be under consideration in other places. I feel this is extremely unfair as, given how long it takes for results to come through, writers would wait a lifetime to get their entries out to even just a few places, especially as most competitions are only run annually. My personal advice is to do simultaneous entries and simply withdraw as soon as a piece gets long/short listed in one competition. You will lose your entry fees for the one you withdraw from but I feel this is a far better gamble than waiting for subsequent years to roll around before you can try again with a piece.
Look for competitions that offer good prizes, have established reputations and will help build your publication credits by printing work in competitions anthologies. Competitions don't have to tick all of these boxes to be worth entering but get a general sense of what you are paying towards by entering and judge whether you think it is worthwhile. Be wary of competitions that are just being run as a business to make money from writers by taking entry fees and doing little or nothing with the work entered.
Some competitions can appear very reputable but turn out to be anything but. Click on the link below to read about my personal experience with one competition I would NOT recommend - Chapter One Promotions.