Monday, April 1, 2024

Develop a Healthy Perspective on Writing Contests

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

It's that time of year again—writing conference season. With all the excitement of attending a conference also comes an attack of nerves for those who entered contests. Contests are fun and bring a lot of benefits, but they can also derail our progress if we give them too much power. 

We've notified the finalists in the Selah Awards for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, so writing contests are on my mind. Over the past few weeks I’ve done everything from congratulate to commiserate with writers who entered, and it’s made me consider how I view contests—and how I should view contests.

It’s easy for me to be unbiased when it comes to this particular contest because I’m not allowed to enter it. My co-director, Edwina Perkins and I, along with contest director, Eva Marie Everson, set the contest up that way on purpose to protect the integrity of the judging. 

Before you jump to any conclusions, NO Edwina and I don’t have anything to do with the judging for this contest. We really don’t have much to do with the contest at all. We leave that up to the amazing Eva Marie Everson. She does a fantastic job, including protecting this contest with the ferociousness of a she-wolf defending her young. And to be clear, she doesn’t do any of the judging either. She pulls in readers to give their honest opinions about the books entered. We don’t allow editors or agents or anyone else with connections to specific parts of the industry take part in the judging. 

But readers are fickle—and opinionated. What one likes, another dislikes. And that is what’s at the heart of this post. Entering a writing contest isn’t like solving a math problem for the right answer, it’s subjective and unpredictable.

Enter the Not-So-Good
Fact 1: Good books don’t always win. Sometimes they don’t even make the finalist list. 

Fact 2: What we may consider as “poor books” sometimes make the finalist list, and they sometimes win. 

Conclusion: Writing contests aren’t FAIR.

Now the Truth
Writing contests aren’t fair. Yep I said it—and I’ll go one step further. Very little about the publishing world is fair. It’s a subjective industry full of unpredictable people. But just because a contest isn’t fair, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. 

Let’s look at the concept of fairness. It’s something we learned about in Kindergarten and while it had purpose there, it pretty much skewed our perception of how things should be. 

Truthfully, life isn’t fair. 

So why enter a contest if it’s not going to give us a fair shot? But that’s another misconception. Contests really do give authors a pretty fair shot. We do everything we can to limit the biases and equal the playing field. But we’re part of a subjective industry, so the end results don’t always appear fair. 

Look beyond winning and losing to find the value in entering writing contests.

Onto the Good
Value #1: Experience submitting your work without knowing the outcome. It’s good practice for submitting our work for publication. 

Value #2: Visibility. Even if we don’t win, there are judges who see our work. Many contracts have come from a judge seeing a writer’s work—whether it won or not.

Value #3: The possibility of winning. 

Acknowledging Frustrating Emotions
Entering a writing contest does engage our emotions, no matter how much we try to keep it from happening. There’s nothing wrong with getting excited when we win, or sad when we don’t. The important thing is to keep our perspective. Winning or not winning a contest won’t make or break us. Publishing is a journey. It has highs and lows, as well as easy times and difficult ones. 

Publishing is also a career and/or ministry choice for many of us. When that’s the case, we need to remain professional in all our dealings. Calling out a contest and labeling it as unfair won’t change the system, but it will make us look petty and unprofessional. Rubbing a win in the faces of others has the same negative impact on our publishing goals. 

Bottom Line
Go ahead a take a chance and enter the contests that appeal to you. Increase the odds by following the directions exactly and make sure the contest you’re entering is a good fit for the writing you’ve done. Then sit back and enjoy the ride. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, but good will come out of the experience, no matter what. 

These are my thoughts on entering contests. I’d love to know yours. Be sure to leave a comment in the section below. 

And don’t forget to join the conversation!


Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her website, through FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


  1. I appreciate your honesty about contest. There have been times I didn't win and wondered why - and there have been times I've won. But the truth is don't give up! It took me entering several years before I started winning.

  2. Edie, thanks for being honest about writing contests. It's always fun to win -- but as you point out, judging is subjective and it's wise to hold onto our desire to win with open hands. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” Robert T. Kiyosaki (1947-), author & businessman

  3. I struggle with justifying contests, mostly because of entry fees and lack of feedback. It's one thing to accept a loss and move on. But even more discouraging to know you've sunk a bunch of money into a contest, lost, and have no way of knowing why your book was rejected and whether the rejection was truly subjective or warrants consideration for how to improve your books to better appeal to readers.