bright pink background with silver glitter spilling out of a silver trophy, what is a writing contest?
The Writing Process

Writing Contests: What They are and How to Write a Winning Submission

bright pink background with silver glitter spilling out of a silver trophy, Writing Contests: What They Are and How to Write a Winning Submission

Writing contests can be a great way to challenge yourself, hone your writing skills, and even win prizes. All writing contests are unique, too, which makes it fun to enter more than one. To make sure writing competitions are fair, contests often have specific guidelines and themes that writers must follow to be eligible to win. These guidelines can include word count limits, genre restrictions, and specific topics or themes that must be incorporated into each submission.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to prepare for your next online writing contest.

What is an Online Writing Contest?

Online writing contests allow writers to showcase their creativity and writing skills by submitting an original story that falls within the guidelines of the contest. Reputable literary magazines, writing organizations, publishing companies, or individual writers can host a writing contest.

The general goal of a writing contest is to discover talented writers who may otherwise go unnoticed. They offer writers an opportunity to gain exposure and potentially earn monetary rewards or other prizes.

Do Writing Contests Have Word Counts?

Word counts widely vary by contest and are set by contest organizers. With that said, it’s important to pay attention to the guidelines provided. Some contests have strict word count limits, while others may be more flexible. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully before submitting your work.

Crafting Your Submission

Before you start working on your submission, take some time to understand the contest’s guidelines and theme (if there is one).

Next, brainstorm ideas and different approaches you can take with your story, and write all your ideas down. This will help you to organize your thoughts and you’ll be able to identify patterns or themes within your ideas that you can develop further. Then, choose the idea you’re most passionate about.

Next, create an outline for your story if you’d like and then begin the first draft of your work. If you typically skip the outlining process,  jump straight into writing as soon as you have your idea.

Once you finish your first draft, read back through your work to fix spelling and grammar errors, make revisions to improve your story, and double-check that you’ve met the submission requirements for the contest.

The final draft of your contest submission should:

  • Have a clear beginning, middle, and end
  • Be well-organized
  • Be captivating from start to finish

How are Winners Selected?

Every writing contest has either a single judge or a panel of judges who read every submission. Many factors can make a submission stand out, but most judges typically ask themselves four questions when determining a winning entry.

  1. Does the piece follow the contest guidelines?
  2. Is it an engaging, well-written story?
  3. Does the story showcase the writer’s personal style and voice?
  4. Have I read anything like this before?

Your ability to tell a compelling story, your use of descriptive language and imagery, and your ability to connect with your audience on an emotional level are also ways your submission can stand out in any writing contest.


Both new and seasoned writers have a lot to gain from participating in writing contests. Plus, they get to flex their writing skills and be creative. While writers won’t typically receive individual feedback on their submissions from contest judges, writers should celebrate that they allowed themselves to be creative, wrote stories from scratch, turned in their work by a contest’s deadline, and allowed people to read their stories. In the writing world, those are big accomplishments worthy of a job well done!


Did you know Xulon Press is currently hosting a writing contest through Wednesday, September 13? Enter now!


Erika Bennett is the Content Manager for Xulon Press. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than a decade and her passion is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands. You can also find her writing on

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