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How to Enter a Writing Competition

Having received hundreds of competition entries over the years we have seen lots of people make simple mistakes which disqualify them from competitions. Here are a few hints and tips to help you stop falling foul of writing competition rules.

Where to start?

If you are looking to take part in a competition it is important to know what the entry criteria is for the competition. Look for the rules or terms and conditions they will outline what you need to do to be eligible for the competition. Don’t just rely on the summery of the competition there will always be more details you need to consider when submitting your writing. They should be easy to access but you might have to email or go to a website to find this information, but it is worth the effort to read through carefully.

Entry Fee

Often a competition is looking for an entry fee to cover the expenses of running the competition or simply to make money, so make sure that that is something you want to do and that you can afford to pay. Check the website security before submitting your credit/debit card details. Make sure the site is genuine and secure, if in doubt don’t enter. Don’t put in bank details you shouldn’t be asked for these if it’s a genuine site. There are competitions such as ours that are free to enter too so that’s a good place to start.

Do you qualify to enter?

To begin with some important things to look for:

  • Are you the right age?
    Check for age criteria, you could be too old or too young!
  • Do you have to live in the right geographical area?
    Some competitions are for people from a particular town, county or even country. Your competition might be for local people, for UK residents only or could be for international writers only.
  • Do you need to be a new writer and unpublished?
  • Do you have to be a professional writer and already published?
  • Is the competition still open to new entries?

Word Count

All competitions will have a limit to the number of words that can be used. This is often because organisers can be sure that the piece of writing can be read by readers and/or judges within a reasonable time. This is so they can efficiently judge the competition, it’s not to make the authors life difficult.

Be careful that you don’t go over the limit.  Some competitions may allow about 10% over their published limit but that’s not guaranteed, either contact the competition organisers to check or simply stay within the word limit.


Whatever type of writing competition you are entering your writing must be easy to read. Wherever possible use a word processor to write your work. Ensure that you use a font that can be clearly read, don’t go for a fancy script, keep it simple. Arial point 12 is recognised as a standard front and size to use, so wherever possible stick to that. Check the criteria it may stipulate a particular font and/or size of font.

If you can, use double line spacing this will make your writing very easy to read and can also be another stipulation of the competition so remember to check. If you are not sure how to do this ask a question to your word processing programme’s ‘Help’.

Judges may be reading hundreds of entries so will not bother to read your work and will discount it if it’s not clear enough to be read easily.

Another thing to bear in mind is the way you save your work to be sent.  Don’t assume that your Microsoft Word document can be read, it might be better to save your work as a .pdf file so it can be read by different computers including Apple Macs and vice versa. Do check the competition criteria as the may define the type of file they want submitted. We do ask for Microsoft Word format.

Do you need to use a set starting sentence/opening line?

Some competitions have a set opening sentence that should be used, if so, make sure you use it. Even if it’s the best story ever written, if it needs a set opening sentence and you don’t use it you have immediately put yourself out of the running!

Make sure you proof read!

Writing competitions are often judged on the structure, spelling and grammar as well as other criteria. DO NOT RELY ON SPELL CHECKERS! Never just spell check and think everything is ok. If you are not confident on spotting errors when you read through your work, if you can, ask someone you trust and has good reading skills to look through for typos, punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors, you will be surprised how many a spell checker can miss.

Don’t Submit your work too early

Check the terms and conditions, usually an organiser will only accept your first entry, so make sure it’s the final version of your work you submit.  Make sure you have done all your proofing and editing before you send, once it has gone there is no changing your mind. Organisers don’t have time to sort through hundreds of entries to look for your previous version or have the inclination to see which version is the latest!

Cover Sheet

If the competition askes for a cover sheet with your details on it try to send it as a separate document, especially if you are sending your entry as a .pdf document. The organisers may not have the time or capacity to separate your electronic pages and may discount it if they are judging writing anonymously.

Some competitions have a submission page you just fill in the form and upload your document.

Make sure that you include all the details asked for, and they are up to date. If you are lucky enough to win the organisers will need to be able to contact you with the good news!

Check the start and closing dates and times for entering the competition

Make sure you know the start and more importantly the closing dates of the competitions and even the time you need to submit your work. Some competitions are very clear on the deadline time as well as the date; don’t assume you can submit up until midnight on the closing date, it might be close of business such as 5pm or midday.

Keep a copy for yourself

It is very unlikely that you will have your work returned to you once the competition is over so be very sure you don’t submit your only copy of your work. Always make a copy to keep especially if it is handwritten.

How should you submit your work?

There are different ways you can enter competitions. Check carefully how you can do this.
Always check to see if there is an entry form you need to complete before you are ready to send in your entry in. You don’t want to be caught out by having to complete a complicated form while competing against a deadline before you upload, or send in your work.

Submission portal
Some competitions require you to submit electronically through a portal on a website, you will need to have your writing ready to go.  They will normally ask you to complete an online form with some personal details and the ask you to upload your document to the portal.

If you just need to email make sure you know what details need to be included in the email, do you need to complete and entry form to send too? Make sure the organiser email address is entered correctly. Don’t forget to attach your documents!

If you are not sure if you will get a confirmation from the organiser to say that you email has been received; if you can, ask for a delivery receipt and a read receipt using your email software. If you are not sure how to do this or if your email programme does this ask its ‘Help’ facility.

If postal entries are accepted post your work in plenty of time before the closing date, if you are concerned that it may not get delivered you can always go to a post office and ask for ‘signed for delivery’ at an extra postage cost. Check you have the correct address to send your entry to.

Check to see if you need to enclose a cover sheet or entry form with your writing. Organisers may send you a confirmation of receipt if you send a self-addressed, stamped envelope, check with the organisers if you are not sure they will do this, it might save you wasting the cost of a stamp.

To summarise, always check the competition rules and terms and conditions, you should have all the information you need to enter, if not, don’t be afraid to contact the organiser and ask.

We hope you find this useful. Good luck when entering your next writing competition!