02 July 2021
Follow this ten-point checklist from the WGGB to avoid bad writing competitions and give yourself a winning advantage
Many writers use competitions as a way to develop their craft or gain recognition and the proliferation of online publications has resulted in an explosion of these writing opportunities in recent years.
But some are little more than money making ventures for the organisers or disguised professional commissions offering little or no remuneration. In some circumstances, they actually end up costing the writer more than they gain, through loss of intellectual property rights and/or future potential earnings.
As the trade union for writers in the UK, WGGB has become increasingly concerned about this trend and has launched a new guide Competition or cut-price commission? to help writers navigate this complex area.
You can find the Top 10 takeaway tips below, and download the full publication for free here.
1. First some definitions! WGGB says that a competition is an ‘open invitation’ process that benefits the winning writer, their general craft or their career as a whole. By open invitation, the union means that anyone can enter and/or the requirements for entry are open and transparent.
2. A reputable competition will always offer a prize or award that offers the winning writer at least one of the following: financial compensation, professional development, access to a greater audience and/or industry specialists. Or a combination of all three.
3. The golden rule is that a reputable competition should always be of greater benefit to the writer than the cost of participation.
4. Don’t give away your rights! A reputable competition will publish full terms and conditions regarding the writer’s intellectual property rights (for example copyright). If there are no terms or conditions, or rights aren’t mentioned, then ask. If you can’t find the information don’t enter. Detailed guidance including definitions of rights can be found in the guide.
5. Occasionally competitions will offer something other than a financial prize, professional development or access to a greater audience or industry specialists. This is called ‘fair exchange’ and involves the winning writer receiving merchandise, software, theatre tickets etc. You should consider carefully the value of the prize to you against the intrinsic value of the work you are submitting.
6. Some competitions charge an entry fee and in many cases this a token amount to cover the cost of administration. If a more substantial fee is requested, writers should exercise extreme caution. You should never pay an entrance fee for any competition that is taking the intellectual property rights in the work you are entering.
7. Competition judges who are well-known writers or industry professionals generally mean that the competition will have a high professional profile.
8. When weighing up whether to enter a competition or not, ask the following additional questions: Are you eligible to enter? Is your work appropriate for the competition? How competitive is this particular field? Is it outside UK jurisdiction and therefore copyright law? What would you actually benefit from winning the competition?
9. Writing competitions cover many different genres, eg books, poetry, short stories, theatre, audio drama, film and TV. Each has its own unique set of factors to consider and you can find detailed advice on all these areas in Competition or cut-price commission?
10. If you are not already a member, consider joining WGGB. The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is the trade union for writers in TV, film, theatre, audio, books, poetry, animation and videogames. As a member you are entitled to free advice and contract vetting from their expert staff, plus a host of other benefits. You don't have to have professional credits to join, and membership starts at £9 per month (£30 per year for students). You can join here.
WGGB ran an online event to launch their new guidelines and you can watch it on their YouTube channel.
Want to improve your chances in creative writing competitions? Check out these top tips.