Tips For Unpublished Manuscript Prizes: 44 Do’s and Don’ts

Oh, the unpublished manuscript – the gem that’s hiding on your hard drive, just waiting for the spotlight! Maybe you’ve written the next great American novel or a short story collection that’ll make readers weep. Perhaps you’re sitting on a poetry collection that’ll stir souls or a nonfiction book that’ll change minds. How do you get it out there? Manuscript contests! I’ve been down this road myself, folks, so buckle up and let’s dive into a guide filled with Q&A’s to guide you through the winding path of manuscript contests!

The Letter Review Prize is open for submissions. Our writing contest is awarded every two months, with a total Prize pool of $4000 USD and publication for our winners. Up to 20 writers are Shortlisted in each category, and the winners are considered for submission to the Pushcart Prize and other prestigious anthologies. All entries are considered for publication. The categories are Short Fiction (up to 5000 words), Poetry (up to 70 lines), Nonfiction (up to 5000 words), & Unpublished Books (Novels, Story Collections, Poetry Collections, and Nonfiction).

Q1: What Are Unpublished Manuscript Contests?

Ah, the golden ticket for many writers! Unpublished manuscript contests are competitions where you submit your full manuscript or part of it (novels, short story collections, poetry collections, nonfiction books) for a chance at publication, prizes, or literary representation. I’ve entered a few, and let me tell you, they are a fantastic way to get your work noticed. Some prestigious publishers and agents even scout talent from these contests!

Q2: Where Can I Find Manuscript Contests to Enter?

Get your detective hat on! Check reputable writing websites, writing magazines, and even social media groups dedicated to writers. I once stumbled upon an excellent contest through a friend’s Twitter post! Organizations like the Writers’ Guild and various literary agents often host or promote such contests. Keep your eyes peeled and network with fellow writers to stay in the loop.

Q3: How Should I Choose Which Contests to Enter?

Choose wisely, my writing friend! Look at the contest’s reputation, the judges involved, prizes offered, and if there’s an entry fee. I once entered a contest because one of my favorite authors was a judge! Also, make sure your manuscript fits the genre, theme, or specific criteria of the contest. Aligning your work with the right contest can make all the difference.

Q4: Can I Enter the Same Manuscript into Multiple Contests?

You bet, but be cautious! Check each contest’s rules to see if they allow simultaneous submissions. I’ve entered the same manuscript in different contests but always ensured that none had exclusive policies. Keep track of where you’ve submitted, and if your manuscript wins somewhere, notify other contests if their rules require it.

Q5: Should I Tailor My Manuscript for Each Contest?

Tailoring can be key! If a contest has specific guidelines about theme, genre, length, or formatting, make sure your manuscript matches. I once tweaked a novel’s opening to fit a contest’s “adventure theme,” and it paid off! However, don’t lose your manuscript’s soul in the process; keep its core intact.

Q6: What Should I Watch Out for to Avoid Scams?

Watch out for red flags! If a contest asks for excessive entry fees, promises unrealistically grand prizes, or lacks transparency about judges and past winners, be wary. I’ve seen some sketchy contests out there, so research thoroughly. Legitimate contests will have clear rules, reputable judges, and a track record you can verify.

Q7: What’s the Typical Entry Fee for a Manuscript Contest?

Ah, the cost of dreams! Entry fees can vary widely, from free to a hundred dollars or more. I’ve paid anywhere from $10 to $50 for reputable contests. Higher fees might be associated with bigger prizes or well-known judges. Always evaluate if the fee aligns with what the contest offers and if it fits your budget.

Q8: Can I Enter if I’ve Self-Published Part of My Manuscript?

This can be tricky! Some contests are strict about the unpublished status, even if you’ve only self-published a part. Others may be more lenient. I had a friend who couldn’t enter his novel because he’d posted a chapter on his blog. Always check the specific rules of the contest to be sure.

Q9: How Long Does It Take to Hear Back About My Submission?

Patience! Response times can range from a few weeks to several months. Some contests will provide a timeline, while others might leave you hanging. I’ve waited anywhere from one month to half a year! If they offer notifications, make sure to sign up, and don’t hesitate to follow up if the stated time has passed.

Q10: What Rights Do I Retain When Entering a Manuscript Contest?

Keep your eyes on the fine print! Most contests will specify the rights they require if you win or place in the competition. I’ve seen some that ask for first publication rights, while others may want exclusive rights for a period. Always read the guidelines to ensure you’re comfortable with what you might be granting.

Q11: How Do I Prepare My Manuscript for Submission?

Great question! Preparing your manuscript is like dressing it up for a big date. Follow the contest’s formatting guidelines to the letter. I’ve seen folks disqualified for simple formatting errors. Use a standard font, double-space if required, and ensure proper margins. If they want a synopsis or a specific section, follow those instructions too. Make sure it’s edited as well as possible – think of it as your manuscript’s first impression!

Q12: What If My Manuscript Is Not in the Requested Genre?

Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole won’t work here. If your manuscript doesn’t align with the requested genre, it’s best to look elsewhere. I once tried to push a sci-fi novel into a romance contest – needless to say, it didn’t fly. Find a contest that celebrates your manuscript’s unique flavor!

Q13: Can I Submit My Manuscript if It’s Co-Written?

Teamwork makes the dream work! Many contests do accept co-written manuscripts, but you’ll want to check the specific rules. A buddy and I once entered a thriller we wrote together, and it was a breeze. Just ensure that both authors agree to the terms and that you follow the submission guidelines for co-authored works.

Q14: How Important Is the Cover Letter for My Submission?

Think of the cover letter as your manuscript’s handshake. While the content is king, a well-crafted cover letter can make a difference. Keep it professional, concise, and relevant. I always tailor mine to the contest, mentioning why my manuscript fits and expressing enthusiasm. Remember, it’s the first thing the judges will read!

Q15: What Should I Do While Waiting for the Contest Results?

Oh, the waiting game! It’s like waiting for water to boil, isn’t it? Keep busy by working on other projects or starting a new one. Networking with fellow entrants can be fun too! I once struck up a friendship with a fellow writer during the waiting period, and we became critique partners. Use the time wisely, and don’t let anxiety take over.

Q16: Can I Enter Contests Outside of My Country?

Many contests are open internationally, but some might have specific restrictions. Always check the rules. I once missed out on a fabulous contest because it was for UK residents only. If you’re eligible, go for it! The world is your oyster!

Q17: How Do I Handle Rejection from a Manuscript Contest?

Rejection stings, I know! But remember, every no brings you closer to a yes. Use rejection as fuel to improve. Most writers have been rejected more times than they can count, but each one makes them more determined. Seek feedback if available, learn from it, and move on. There’s always another contest!

Q18: What Happens If I Win or Place in a Contest?

Winning feels like hitting the jackpot! Depending on the contest, you might win publication, cash prizes, literary representation, or other perks. When I won my first contest, I danced around my living room! Celebrate, then follow the guidelines provided to claim your prize. It’s a significant step in your writing journey.

Q19: Can I Enter a Contest If I’m Under 18?

Young writers, unite! Some contests are open to all ages, while others may have specific age requirements. I’ve mentored young writers who’ve entered and won youth categories. If you’re a minor, look for contests that cater to your age group or read the rules to ensure you’re eligible for the general competition. The Letter Review Prize is open to writers of all ages.

Q20: How Can I Increase My Chances of Winning?

Ah, the winning formula! There’s no magic bullet, but I can share some tricks from my experience. First, follow the rules meticulously. Next, ensure your manuscript is polished, fits the contest’s theme, and stands out in originality. Tailoring your work to the specific contest, researching past winners, and staying true to your voice can go a long way.

Q21: Can I Submit the Same Manuscript to Multiple Contests?

A tempting idea, isn’t it? I’ve wondered the same thing before. Generally, it depends on the contest’s rules. Some contests allow simultaneous submissions, while others do not. I once submitted the same piece to several places, only to realize one of them required exclusivity. Make sure to read the fine print and follow the rules of each individual contest.

Q22: How Do I Choose the Right Contest for My Unpublished Manuscript?

Choosing the right contest is like finding the perfect pair of shoes – it must be the right fit! Consider the genre, target audience, submission fees, and the reputation of the contest. I usually make a list, research past winners, and evaluate what I want to gain from the contest. It helps narrow down the options and find the one that suits my work best.

Q23: What Are the Potential Costs Associated with Entering a Manuscript Contest?

Ah, the costs. I remember the first time I paid to enter a contest, wondering if it was worth it. Fees can vary, from free to quite expensive. Some contests offer critiques or other perks in return. Always weigh the potential benefits against the costs and budget accordingly. And remember, there are plenty of free contests out there, too!

Q24: How Do I Handle Feedback from Contest Judges?

Feedback is like gold, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Embrace constructive criticism and use it to grow. I’ve received feedback that stung at first but later helped me improve leaps and bounds. Thank the judges if you can, take time to process their comments, and then apply what resonates with you.

Q25: Is It Possible to Negotiate the Terms of a Contest?

Well, I’ve never tried to haggle with contest organizers, but generally speaking, contest rules are set in stone. If you have concerns or specific needs, it might be worth reaching out to the organizers, but keep in mind that they’re likely to stick to their stated guidelines. It’s best to find a contest that aligns with what you’re comfortable with from the get-go.

Q26: How Can I Protect My Intellectual Property When Submitting to Contests?

This is a concern many of us have, myself included. Look for clauses in the contest rules that specify what rights you’re granting. If anything seems fishy or overly broad, it might be best to steer clear. Trusting your gut and doing research can help protect your hard work.

Q27: How Can I Stay Motivated to Keep Submitting to Contests?

Oh, the motivation game! It can be tough, especially after a rejection or two (or ten!). What keeps me going is the love for my craft, connecting with fellow writers, and celebrating small victories along the way. Setting goals, joining writing groups, or having a writing buddy can keep you encouraged. Remember, every submission is a step forward.

Q28: Should I Hire a Professional Editor Before Submitting My Manuscript to a Contest?

A professional touch can make a difference! I’ve hired editors for some of my work, and it’s been worth it. If you believe in your manuscript and think it has potential, investing in professional editing could be a wise move. Just be sure to find an editor who understands your genre and voice. It can make your manuscript shine.

Q29: Can I Share My Submission on Social Media or My Personal Blog?

Sharing is caring, but be careful with this one. Some contests require that the manuscript remain unpublished, and sharing it online might violate those rules. I’ve been tempted to share my work before, but always check the specific contest guidelines to ensure it’s allowed. When in doubt, hold off until after the contest results are announced.

Q30: How Long Should I Wait to Hear Back from a Contest Before Moving On?

Ah, the waiting game! It’s something we writers know all too well. Generally, contests will provide a timeline for when you can expect to hear back. If they don’t, a rule of thumb is to wait for the time mentioned plus a little grace period. I’ve found myself checking my email daily, but patience is key.

Q31: Can I Enter a Contest If I’m Not a Professional Writer?

Absolutely! Many contests are open to everyone, regardless of professional status. I remember the first contest I entered; I was just a hobbyist. What mattered was my passion for writing, not a professional label. Just be sure to read the guidelines, as some contests may have specific eligibility requirements.

Q32: How Do I Know If My Manuscript Is Ready to Submit to a Contest?

Knowing when a manuscript is ready can be a tricky business. I usually take it through multiple drafts, get feedback from writing buddies, and give it a final polish. Sometimes, I’ll set it aside for a bit and return with fresh eyes. If it resonates and feels polished, it’s probably ready. Trust your instincts and your process.

Q33: What Happens If I Win a Contest But Have Already Signed a Publishing Contract Elsewhere?

Talk about a good problem to have! This situation can be complex, so it’s best to consult with the contest organizers and possibly a legal professional. Each contest and publishing contract may have different terms. I knew someone in this situation, and open communication was key to navigating it smoothly.

Q34: Can I Include Illustrations or Graphics in My Manuscript Submission?

This is a unique question and one that depends on the specific contest. Some may allow or even encourage illustrations, while others might want text only. I once entered a contest that welcomed illustrations, and it added a whole new dimension to my work. Check the guidelines or reach out to the organizers to be sure.

Q35: Can I Re-Submit a Revised Manuscript to the Same Contest in the Future?

I’ve pondered this one myself. Some contests allow re-submissions of revised work, while others may not. If you’ve made significant changes and believe in the new version, check the contest’s rules or contact the organizers to see if re-submitting is an option. I’ve done this before, and it was welcomed!

Q36: How Can I Use Social Media to Boost My Chances in a Contest?

Social media can be a powerful tool! While it may not directly influence judges, building a following can show engagement with your audience. I’ve used platforms to share my writing journey, connect with others, and sometimes contests have public voting rounds. Engaging responsibly online can create a supportive community around your writing. Remember that some contests will not accept work that has been published online.

Q37: Are There Any Contests Specifically for Unpublished Authors?

Yes, indeed! Many contests are designed specifically to give unpublished authors a chance to shine. I’ve entered some of these myself, and they can be a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure and credibility. Research and find those that cater to new voices; they’re out there waiting for your unique story.

Q38: What Are the Benefits of Winning a Manuscript Contest?

Winning a contest can feel like hitting the jackpot! It’s not just about the prize money, if there is any. It’s about validation, exposure, networking, and sometimes publishing opportunities. I once placed in a smaller contest, and the boost to my confidence and the connections I made were invaluable. Winning a contest can open doors and be a steppingstone in your writing career.

Q39: How Can I Find Unpublished Manuscript Contests that Suit My Genre?

Ah, genre-specific hunting, one of my favorite pastimes! The best way to find contests that suit your genre is through targeted research. Look for websites like Reedsy, magazines, and writing communities that focus on your genre. I’ve found amazing opportunities by joining Facebook groups and following Twitter accounts dedicated to my favorite genres. The connections I’ve made have also tipped me off to hidden gems!

Q40: What’s the Importance of Following Submission Guidelines to the Letter?

I can’t stress enough how critical this is! Not following guidelines is a surefire way to get your manuscript disqualified. I’ve been on both sides—as a contestant and a judge—and even the tiniest deviations can mean an automatic no-go. Think of the guidelines as your first impression. Show that you’re professional and attentive to detail by following them to a T.

Q41: Is It Ethical to Hire an Editor Before Submitting to a Contest?

Absolutely, if it’s allowed by the contest rules! Many writers, including myself, work with editors to polish their manuscripts. An editor’s insight can make your work shine. Just be sure that the final product still reflects your voice and vision. The first contest I ever placed in was with a manuscript polished by an editor, and it made all the difference!

Q42: How Much Should I Focus on Formatting When Submitting?

Formatting might seem trivial, but it’s another way to show professionalism. I once lost track of a contest’s formatting rules and had to scramble last minute to fix it. Adhering to the requested font, spacing, and margins helps ensure that your manuscript is easy to read and assess. Ignoring these details could lead to an unfortunate early rejection.

Q43: Can Winning a Contest Lead to a Publishing Deal?

Yes, it can, and I’ve seen it happen! Some contests are specifically linked to publishing opportunities. Winning or even being a finalist can attract attention from agents and publishers. I know a writer who won a contest, and it led to her landing an agent. From there, she got a publishing deal. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a possibility worth exploring.

Q44: How Can I Leverage a Contest Win to Further My Writing Career?

Winning a contest is exhilarating, and it’s a chance to shine a spotlight on your work. I used my successes to network with other writers, update my writing resume, and boost my online presence. It opened doors for guest blog posts and speaking engagements. Celebrate your success and then use it as a tool to connect with others in the industry and further your writing journey.

The world of unpublished manuscript contests is an exciting and potentially rewarding landscape. Whether you’re navigating the intricate alleys of novel contests or exploring the vivid vistas of poetry collection competitions, I hope this guide has offered you valuable insights. Remember, fellow writers, persistence is key. Keep polishing those gems, and who knows? The next contest might be the one that brings your manuscript into the limelight! Happy contesting, and may the literary odds be ever in your favor!

The Letter Review Prize is open for submissions. Our writing contest is awarded every two months, with a total Prize pool of $4000 USD and publication for our winners. Up to 20 writers are Shortlisted in each category, and the winners are considered for submission to the Pushcart Prize and other prestigious anthologies. All entries are considered for publication. The categories are Short Fiction (up to 5000 words), Poetry (up to 70 lines), Nonfiction (up to 5000 words), & Unpublished Books (Novels, Story Collections, Poetry Collections, and Nonfiction).