How to Run a Writing Competition, by Dianne (Di) Bates

When I compiled the online magazine, Buzz Words (The Latest Buzz on Children’s Books) , I ran a number of writing for children competitions, sometimes open and other times restricted to subscribers. These included competitions for picture book texts, short stories and poetry. All competitions were held under the banner of the Kathleen Julia Bates Memorial Writing Competition. My daughter Kathleen was killed at the age of two, so it was a lovely way to honour her memory.

In most of the competitions I covered my costs, the exception being the children’s (lyrical) poetry competition which didn’t get many entries, probably because there is no market for children’s poetry in Australia so not a lot gets written. A few times I actually made a profit running competitions – but not enough to live in the lap of luxury! The most successful competition was where I charged a $10 entry fee with every entrant receiving at least a one page critique of their story. (However, it was a lot of hard work as I critiqued all of the non-shortlisted manuscripts). The numbers of entries in the six competitions I ran ranged from 185 to 75. All competitions were  offered prizes for first, second and third with certificates offered for Highly Commended and Commended. Prize money has totalled $300 in each of the competitions.

If you or your organisation decides to run a writing competition, there are a number of considerations. To begin, make sure you include every bit of relevant information in your competition description. When you are fully satisfied you have listed every relevant criteria that will go out to prospective entrants, make sure you get an impartial reader to check your notice: it is very easy to overlook a simple thing that can later cause problems.

Be prescriptive when describing what the competition is about. If it is for a short story, is it a story for adults or young people? If the later, what age group is the story aimed at? What is the maximum word length? Are there any restrictions; for example, is the competition only open to senior citizens or those under the age of 18 years?

Make it clear that all entries should have a title page with the author’s name, full contact details (including email address) and word count; state that manuscripts be double-spaced and in 12 (14) pt with all pages numbered. Think about whether or not you are prepared to accept more than one entry per writer. State also that only those entrants who include a stamped addressed envelope will receive results. (I’d suggest that you don’t return entries: this is because many people send a ssae that is too small for return of manuscript plus results’ sheet).

If you are charging an entry fee, make sure that you state to whom cheques be made out to – such as a specific person or organisation. If you are prepared to accept more than one entry per writer, then you need to stress that there is $X for each separate entry.  How much you charge will depend on factors such as the total amount of prize money and feedback on individual stories. Most writing competitions attract entry fees of $5 to $15.

Name the competition finalist judges and their positions. In my last competition I had two judges (children’s book editors): I gave each of them the 10 entries I scored highest and they judged the winner and place getter using the same scoring criteria that I used such as story originality, use of language, characterisation, and reader impact. Judges provided a short sentence or two about winning entries. They worked to a deadline and were paid $100 each. It is a good idea to keep entrants’ names anonymous when you pass short-listed manuscripts on to the finalist judges.

Finally, in organising the competition, allow about 12 weeks from announcement of the competition to the deadline for receipt of entries. Add about 6 – 8 weeks for judging.

Publicising your competition will largely depend on which writers your competition will appeal to, but you are wise to consider writers’ centre magazines, the ASA and FAW newsletters, and online magazines such as Buzz Words.

Running a writing competition can be frustrating, but it also give the organisers a chance to take a look at the quality of writing that is being produced ‘out there’ and to learn valuable skills in organisation and networking.

Dianne (Di) Bates’ most recent book – her 100th — is the YA novel, Crossing the Line (Ford Street). Recipient of the 2008 Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature, Di is married to award-winning children’s author, Bill Condon. They live in Wollongong, NSW and share the website


The Australian Literature Review has launched its first writing competition with a prize pool of $800 ($500, $200 and $100) and a professional appraisal of the winning and runner-up short fiction entry by author Sophie King ( Entry is free. If you appreciate The Australian Literature Review and would like to help support the site, consider buying your next book by clicking one of the book cover images on the site and buying any book through Fishpond.


The Australian Literature Review

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