Welcome to Writing Contest Smarts where multiple award-winning author Melinda Rucker Haynes will share everything she knows, and continues to discover, about writing/literary contests and how you can make them work for you.

Indie Publishers Can Benefit from Entering Literary Contests

June 11th, 2017

Traditionally published books have long won awards (Wikipedia List of Literary Awards). ContestSmarts believes that Indie publishers (authors of self-published books) can benefit from entering writing/literary contests IF a contest meets their publishing/promotional goals. As the numbers of independently published authors increase, more literary organizations are allowing self-published books in their contests. Additionally, other organizations have assembled to accommodate the promotional needs of Indie publishers. Many have instituted contests that offer prize money and some form of promotional exposure as a “winner” on their website and other venues. Some of these can have other promotional value to an Indie publisher besides the possibility of winning money and the “winner” announcement that may only be listed on the organization’s website.

However, we recommend that an Indie publisher wishing to enter their published book in a contest carefully evaluate how the contest operates and what it offers entrants against what the Indie publisher hopes to gain by entering.  In the case of one Indie publishers’ organization’s contest that we have experience with, the submission guidelines/rules were very general and judging criteria immeasurable in our opinion. The listed eleven “experienced” judges were tasked with reading unlimited entries during the submission period open for nearly a year. There was no feedback to the entrants, which could mean no judging accountability on possibly thousands of entered books. How could so few judges read so many books? This contest would seem to offer entrants little value if they aren’t chosen the winner. Nevertheless, if an Indie publisher is already a member of the contest’s sponsoring organization, they could support and promote their book through an organization they’ve invested time and money in. And they just might be lucky enough to finish in the money, as well as win some new readers. Hey, it could happen. And we’d like to hear about it here at ContestSmarts!

Contest/Conference News

ContestSmart’s Melinda Rucker Haynes is a longtime member of Pacific Northwest Writers Association and has won Finalist awards in the PNWA Literary Contests. Mmmmelinda is happy to announce that she is the PNWA 2017 Literary Contest YA Category Sponsor and will be presenting the workshop, Crafting the YA Novel, at the July conference on July 22.

Venetia Lewis’ Western Short Story “The Devil, as a Roaring Lion” was awarded Honorable Mention in the 2016 Art Affair Annual Literary Contests, Western Short Story.

Posted by Melinda Haynes | Contest Evaluation, Contest News |

Five Reasons to Enter Writing Contests

December 18th, 2016

Among the benefits of entering writing contests are if my entry is judged a finalist or a winner, I’ll have opportunities to meet other creative people who inspire me to improve my storytelling craft. I may learn how my work fits in the current market, how to market my book to a broader audience or pitch directly to an acquiring editor or an agent. There are more really good reasons to enter literary contests for any writer:

  1. Have a deadline/goal to work to.
  2. Receive feedback that improves storytelling craft and/or mechanics.
  3. Build your writer’s resume.
  4. Test your project’s audience appeal.
  5. Promote/market your project and your brand.

And one more reason:

  1. FUN, because no writing contest is perfect but someone will win and it could be YOU!

Tucson author, Nikki Broadwell was cruising the web looking for writing contests and found an interesting contest at Crimson Cloak Publishing. Nikki reports that what worked for her on the contest’s website were the very low entry price and the unique format of the contest, which served to jump-start her imagination and creativity. She studied the picture on the site according to the contest requirements below:

Crimson Cloak Publishing Contest Subject Matter
Please look carefully at the picture – there are several key features which stand out, these being:
•    The hooded rider
•    The horse with red eyes
•    The body hanging from the gibbet
•    The castle with its single tower
•    The high mountain in the background
•    The lake, sea, loch, or fjord (etc)

  We expect you to bring all of them into play although the scene depicted by the image may occur at the beginning, in the middle or at the conclusion of your story – that’s entirely up to you. If you’ve never written anything in the fantasy genre before, please don’t let that put you off. A fresh perspective may be just what will catch the judges’ attention. 

Nikki wrote her story in a flurry of creative inspiration then followed the detailed pay requirements and entered the contest. She already feels like a winner because she had fun writing a great story that just might win!

From a ContestSmarts perspective, if we try to use the Five Reasons to Enter Writing Contests listed above to decide if entering this short story contest is worth our time and money, none of the five would apply. But now that we’ve found another not so businesslike reason, we might say “What the hell, let’s have some fun and go for it!”

Posted by Melinda Haynes | Uncategorized |

Winning Strategies: Novelist Venetia Hobson Lewis on Short Story Contests

December 1st, 2016


ContestSmarts WINNING STRATEGIES invites writers to share writing contest experiences in their own words. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of ContestSmarts.com, its founder or affiliates.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANovelist Venetia Hobson Lewis: I’ve written fiction periodically throughout my life – sometimes with more vigor and enthusiasm and persistence than others. While I was in Los Angeles, some of the screenplays I wrote with my sister came “oh, so close” to giving us a breakthrough. Yet – that did not happen. However, I did get experience in the motion picture business. For nearly 18 years, I was corporate paralegal with the title of Director, Legal Affairs at a major motion picture studio.

In the last four years, I have set my sights again on a literary career. Branching out and putting out feelers and getting connected takes time. To a writer’s advantage, there are now a plethora of online opportunities, in far greater numbers than in years past.

You can get caught up in the frenzy of “Having to get Something Out.” But, you know, you have to go at your own pace and only offer your best work. Then, you wait. And while you wait, you continue to write. I’ve written two unpublished novels – a romance and a historical fiction set during World War I. Currently, I am most pleased with the progress I’m making on my third novel, another historical fiction, my genre of choice.

Short stories have always been a favorite literary form of mine. In fact, while I progress on my third novel, I’m also writing western short stories that I intend to compile in a collection that will be available sometime next year. In the last few years, I’ve entered a number of short story contests, primarily those at Glimmer Train and the Art Affair Literary Contests in Western Short Story.

Glimmer Train, one of the premiere short story magazines, is often a source for selection into the “Best Short Stories of the Year.” Known for high-quality work and attractive pay prospects, GT draws multitudes of writers. Throughout the year, GT runs quite a few contests, some only for emerging writers. Entry fees vary from $2 to $19 dollars. Authors do not receive feedback unless GT is anxious to publish their story.

In 2013, I first entered the Art Affair Literary Contests with my Western Short Story “The Laundress.” It was awarded Honorable Mention. An author from England took First Place, so one would have to say that Art Affair is an international contest, open to all writers, published or unpublished. Well respected and listed in the Writers Market, Art Affair Literary Contests – a poetry contest runs concurrently with the Western short story contest – require a $5 entry fee per story or poem. In 2013, I don’t believe any monetary prizes were awarded, nor were publication and feedback received. This year (2016) small monetary prizes are awarded to the 1st through 3rd place winners. Being recognized by this established contest is a feather in anyone’s war bonnet.

I wouldn’t sneer at the smaller contests. Any credible prize is excellent for a resume. Such recognition might be the one selling feature that sets you apart from another writer. As for entering any contest, read the instructions and rules set forth by those running it. Otherwise, your work, over which you’ve slaved and gnashed your teeth, will be summarily thrown out. My advice is simply “keep writing and hope for the best.” With each promotion of your work, you are closing in on a breakthrough. If you would like to contact me, my e-mail address is venetiahobsonlewis@gmail.com.

Posted by Melinda Haynes | Winning Strategies |

Indie Author/Publisher Monique de Jong on the CIPA EVVY Book Awards

November 21st, 2016

The views and opinions expressed by the individual(s) in the following interview do not necessarily reflect those of ContestSmarts.com, its founder or affiliates.

Monique de Jong Ph.D. was born in Strasbourg France. She studied American literature at the University in that city. A Fulbright scholarship brought her to the United States. For many years she was an Assistant Professor at American University, Department of Languages and Linguistics, Washington D.C. She received her Ph.D. from the George Washington University. After spending many years in that city she and her husband now enjoy life in Arizona.

ContestSmarts: Monique, tell us a little about your novel. On the CIPA 2016 EVVY Awards  website your book is listed as having won Second Place in the Historical Fiction Category. Congratulations!

Monique: Into Crosswinds is a book I wanted to write since the mid-nineties while living in Washington D.C. but never found the time. It’s a WWII novel based in part on my family’s experience while the rest is fiction extrapolated from and supported by known events. Live interviews in situ and extensive research feed the book. You’ll travel from France to Germany and to the Ukraine. If you are a history buff, you will enjoy the ride and may find some new aspects of the war you didn’t know. If not, you’ll appreciate its countless thrills and overarching suspense. For more information, please visit my website www.intocrosswinds.com.


ContestSmarts: Why did you choose to enter the CIPA 2016 EVVY Awards?

Monique: I wanted to get professional reviews. A friend of mine who had read and liked Into Crosswinds referred me to a friend of hers who is a prize-winning author. I contacted him and he suggested I also enter writers’ contests. I chose the CIPA EVVY annual awards, mostly because the price was reasonable. Subsequently, I asked if I could also get a review and the answer from CIPA was no.

ContestSmarts: Did the submission guidelines give information on the judges and how the submissions would be evaluated?

Monique: So far, all the contests I perused on the web claimed that their judges were highly qualified. I usually tell from their site if they are serious or cheap. CIPA asserts that theirs are chosen through competitions and include authors, critics, editors, publishers etc., the usual suspects! You probably have a better set of tools to assert their validity. I am brand new in the game. But I read Mr. McKenna’s (the friend in question) books and there is no doubt, in my opinion, that he deserved his CIPA award and others too.

ContestSmarts: In your opinion, what benefit to entrants is there in entering the CIPA?

Monique: CIPA stands for Colorado Independent Publishers Association. They are independent publishers that provide educational seminars to new independent publishers. Those seminars are taught by professional publishers. After the awards were announced, CIPA displayed the finalists’ books to showcase them for publishers and booksellers at the CIPA booth. Some authors were also featured with book signings. The big plus, in my view, is that the contest submits finalists to publishers during another event where the latter can scrutinize, purchase and promote finalists’ books. As for the contest submission guidelines, the contest opens in February. Some of the requirements are: you must have an ISBN and publication date. The cost is $95.00 for non-members and $75.00 for members. $75.00 is also the price of a membership. Note also that the organization sponsors monthly meetings and special events mostly for publishers. Check it out on the web at www.CIPA EVVYawards.com. scanned-image-2-1-002-800x531-800x531

ContestSmarts: Would you enter the CIPA again?

Monique: I’ll enter my next novel, of course, and I recommend prospective writing contest entrants to try out CIPA. Unfortunately, I don’t have any tips that might give them an edge since I blundered into it myself and did not get to know any of the players in person. I do however recommend that they plan to attend all the post contest events if they win a prize. They stand a chance to make valuable contacts.

ContestSmarts: Good luck to you, Monique and thank you for sharing your interesting experience as an indie author/publisher with an award-winning book.



Posted by Melinda Haynes | Interviews |

What Members Do at ContestSmarts

November 10th, 2016

ContestSmarts invites members’ discussion that shares experience with writing contests and tips that may help writers improve their writing contest results. ContestSmarts endeavors help writing contest sponsors to improve assessment criteria with a standardized scoring method, use qualified judges and provide feedback for each entry.

Non-members are not allowed to comment, post or join the discussion. We do not allow video or audio uploads or attached files.


Posted by Melinda Haynes | Uncategorized |

Is That Writing Contest Right for YOU?

October 22nd, 2016

I’m considered a sort of “contest guru” so writers ask me if a given contest is a right one for them to enter. While my best advice is not to give advice, I will share what has worked for me. With sixteen writing awards and six published novels, I still enter writing/literary contests. But my goals in doing so are different than they were when I was new to fiction writing and I encourage writers to choose contests that will meet their writing/publishing goals. When a couple of CONTESTSMARTS members asked if I were going to enter a book festival’s 2017 literary contest, I had a look at the contest’s website and the posted submission guidelines:

  1. No limit to number of entries ($20 fee per entry)
  2. Online/electronic submissions.
  3. Label each submission’s genre with the title: fiction, nonfiction, poetry (categories NOT accepted: stories for children or young adults, academic or how-to non-fiction).
  4. Maximum length for prose is 5,000 words.
  5. Double space prose submissions.
  6. Submissions must be in English and unpublished (self-published allowed).
  7. Authors retain all rights to submitted work.
  8. Winning entries will not be published.
  9. Winners and the top 50 finalists will be notified in December 2016.First-, second-,third-place winners receive $1000. $500. $250. First-, second-, and third-place winners in each category receive scholarships to the Masters Writing Workshop.
  10. The top 50 finalists will be invited to attend the workshop ($300 fee).

After evaluating these contest submission guidelines according to my goals, I didn’t find any reasons to enter this contest, though from a CONTESTSMARTS perspective there are some “positives.” The entry fee is relatively inexpensive, the prize money is decent, which includes $300. scholarships to a writing workshop and contest submissions are online.

The BIG NEGATIVES are that unlimited entries are allowed, which means your fabulous entry could be up against thousands of other entries. Your next questions should be:

  • Who are judging the entries?
  • How many judges are there and what are their qualifications?
  • Are judges using a standardized (criteria) scoresheet for each entry?
  • Do entrants receive reviews or scores? (If entrants receive no feedback other than an eventual list of winners that they aren’t on, where’s the value for the nonfinalists and nonwinning entrants?)
  • Where are these important questions answered on the contest website? (If you can’t find the answers, it’s possible criteria-based assessment–all entries judged according to established standard criteria–isn’t being utilized. Criteria-based assessment insures judges will judge only if/how well the entry meets the criteria. If there is no established criteria, the judges may judge whatever they wish). To CONTESTSMARTS that’s a “fairness” red flag.

After reviewing the contest guidelines, CONTESTSMARTS concludes entering this contest would be of little tangible value to writers except for the nine entrants winning money and scholarships. The top 50 finalists receive a finalist award, which is of value but finalists must pay $300. for the workshop.

Writing/literary contests are primarily designed as revenue generators for the sponsoring organization. CONTESTSMARTS says that’s not a bad thing, but not really an unqualified good thing for writers either. Before you enter a writing contest—investigate. Does entering this writing contest meet any of your writing/publishing/promotional goals? Always ask yourself, “Is this writing contest right for me?”

If you decide a writing contest is worth your time and money, go for it and good luck!


Posted by Melinda Haynes | Contest Evaluation |

Featured Contest: Rivers of Ink

October 3rd, 2016

The large, well-known literary contests attract much attention and thousands of entries. A writer hoping to do well in writing contests shouldn’t overlook the small, regional contests that have qualified judges, diverse genre categories, entry feedback, promotion of finalists/winners and other prizes or awards. Rivers of Ink the Mid-Columbia’s (Washington state) only professional writers’ conference has sponsored a literary contest since 2014.

ddd_6753-bwcopyContestSmarts presents an interview with author and freelance editor, DeeAnna Galbraith about her work with the Rivers of Ink conference committee.

ContestSmarts:  Tell us a little about yourself and how you got interested in writing contests.

DeeAnna:  I call myself a travel agent for the perfect ending. I’m a happy breast cancer survivor, a dog lover, and pie taster. Life without props. My serious side works hard at local writer panels, workshops, conferences and book signings. I have been writing fiction seriously for a little over twenty years and cut my teeth on romantic suspense. After self-publishing three, I have moved on to a mystery series with a female protagonist.chasing-glory

ContestSmarts: What has entering writing contests done for you and your career?

DeeAnna: Contests are a way of sharing your best work and hoping you reach something in the judges. I have chaired the PNWA short story category and over 120 entries later, learned a lot. I’ve entered many contests and along the way received good and not-so-good feedback. But even the not-so-good feedback that was always relevant to that point in my writing. Although I’ve placed (finaled) in number of contests, my favorite is having my first book final in the 2014 Reader’s Choice Awards. Good contest results are a great addition to the hook-book-cook end of a query letter. My first request for a full manuscript was helped by a well thought out query letter.

ContestSmarts: Tell us about the Rivers of Ink contest.

DeeAnna:  I have been a committee member for the small and growing writers’ conference Rivers of Ink in southeastern Washington state for four years. We added a writing contest in 2014, which was well-received. It was open to all kinds of writing and we received a great cross-section; a memoir, a YA, a doctor’s monograph, a mid-grade, and more. Our contest entries have been judged on the basics: grammar, punctuation, pacing, fluidity, etc., and in the case of fiction, plot and character arc. Each entry was judged by two published authors. The winners determined by an agent. Our 2015 first place winner received conference entry and a cash prize. We are pretty small and the committee lost its chair two years in a row. We did not hold a contest this year. It is on the table for 2017.

ContestSmarts: Thank you, DeeAnna for the great interview! We’ll look forward to entering the contest in 2017.

End Interview



Posted by Melinda Haynes | Featured Contests, Interviews |

Encouraging Words

September 23rd, 2016

heart-of-ov-cover-5-16Why do it? Why spend weeks, months and years of your life writing all those words? Maybe you’re at the beginning of your writing career, or a seasoned writer still trying to break into the market. You may believe that perhaps after you’ve built your resume with writing contests, self-published a post-apocalyptic trilogy, contracted with a traditional publisher, signed with an agent or Hollywood has optioned your romance novels, you’ll know why you must write. Wherever you are on your writing journey, let me encourage you with a little epiphany I had . . .

“You can write millions and millions of words, and if you only discover your authentic self, you’ve discovered the real reason to write.”    Melinda Rucker Haynes

Posted by Melinda Haynes | Mmmmmelinda |


September 18th, 2016

The term “stupid @%&$* judge” is often used when a writing contest entrant receives a judge’s injudicious comments. Since we positively strive to be objectively honest, subjectively kind and adverbially inclusive at Contest Smarts, we’ll call ’em Undiscerning Arbiters and post some real winners here for everyone’s amusement and commiseration. Join us to share your writing contest experiences, helpful tips, and nominate a UNDISCERNING ARBITER AWARD winner!


loser“Give up writing. You’ll never be published.”  The writer who received this contest judge’s signed “evaluation” won a large NY publishing house’s contest the very next month. At the national RWA conference, the aforementioned Undiscerning Arbiter was at the next table when the author received her award of a book contract. Since that happy day, her many award-winning romance novels have been USA Today and New York Times bestsellers. Put that in your wonky judging hat, oh precious Undiscerning Arbiter!

Posted by Melinda Haynes | Undiscerning Arbiter Award |

Today’s Undiscerning Arbiter Award Goes To:

September 18th, 2016


The term “stupid @%&$* judge” is often used when a writing contest entrant receives a judge’s injudicious comments. Since we positively strive to be objectively honest, subjectively kind and adverbially inclusive at Contest Smarts, we’ll call ’em Undiscerning Arbiters and allow the author a chance to respond to the judge’s review for everyone’s amusement and commiseration. Join us to share your writing contest experiences, helpful tips, and nominate a UNDISCERNING ARBITER AWARD winner!

“I don’t care about your main character because she doesn’t care about anyone.”

My dear Undiscerning Arbiter, my main character doesn’t care about anyone because she’s become one of the UNDEAD who are rather less motivated to compassionate concern for others. You must have missed that bit.

Posted by Melinda Haynes | Undiscerning Arbiter Award |