Is it wrong to pay an entry fee to a literary contest?

Back in April 2012, a critic wrote this comment for one of my blog posts: “It’s quite an accomplishment to boast of winning book contests that one pays to enter. It’s like bragging about charming a lady of the evening onto her back.”

My response—would it surprise you to discover that there is an entry fee for the two most prestigious literary awards in the United States: $50.00 for the The Pulitzer Prizes, and $135.00 for the National Book Awards? If you don’t believe that, click the links and read the evidence.

In addition, Poets & Writers Magazine lists many reputable literary contests that charge fees, and for decades I paid the fees and entered some of those contests often not placing, and the literary contests that I did place in are not listed on Winning Writers.com’s list of Contests and Services to Avoid.

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I have also entered Writer’s Digest’s literary contests several times and the fee is $100 each time.  I have never placed, but with that $100 fee comes a judge’s detailed commentary and score that authors may quote for promotional purposes—that is if the judge says anything nice about the book. There is no guarantee.

What counts is not the fee but if the contest is juried. There is nothing wrong with a literary contest that charges a fee that goes toward the costs of running the contest and a cash prize for the grand prize winners.

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Every literary contest does not have a foundation or grant to pay the costs of running a literary contest. In fact, Writer Beware says, “Is the contest free? If so, you probably have nothing to lose by entering—though be sure to read the fine print. If you’re a poet, be aware that a ‘free’ contest is one of the major warning signs of a vanity anthology scheme.”

Many legitimate contests charge a fee to cover processing expenses (which sometimes include an honorarium to readers) and to fund the prize.” Source: Writer Beware ® Blogs!

Poets and authors enter reputable contests to establish the fact that what they write might be worth reading.

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And when poets and authors place in a reputable, unbiased literary contest, they should publicist it, because if they don’t, who will? Published authors and poets are responsible to promote their own work, and if they are traditionally published, the publisher still expects the writers to promote their own work and build an online author platform.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

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6 thoughts on “Is it wrong to pay an entry fee to a literary contest?

  1. Pingback: Are you self-published? I am! | Lloyd Lofthouse

  2. So glad you are making this clear. Paying for contests has a long, reputable history, even though I believe we must be selective. But that’s always been true! I retweeted your link, I like this so much! Your readers may like to know that there is a page dedicated to contests I think work well for writers–contests accessible to all–on my Web site (http://howtodoitfrugally.com/contests.htm). And, I’m sure they all know about WinningWriters.com

  3. I used to chair a publications contest committee for a national organization. Their contest was meaningful to those who submitted publications, articles and journalistic photographs because it had compensated judges from within the professional industry. It took a full year to set up and process the contest and I volunteered my time. The contest was also a way for the organization itself to make money to put on an annual conference and provide scholarships. The fee was reasonable, the feedback was valuable and the winning was meaningful. Thus, as a writer, I look at the costs of contests, who it supports, what value it has and decide based on those assessments. A thoughtful post, Lloyd!

    • I agree about the part where that critic belongs in outer space but want to add “without lodging in the international space station, a space suit or oxygen supply”. :o)

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