I wish I could remember the author who posted on her website that writer’s competitions are a great path to publication. I believe she was a Canadian writer. I’d love to thank her. It was the advice that led me to the Hillerman Mystery Competition. As I mentioned in the first post, agents receive an unbelievable number of manuscripts on a daily basis. Agents complain that the majority of what they receive is poorly written, not right for their agency, not right for the agent that is being addressed, not specific to any agent, etc. etc. Makes me think the occasional well written query would stand out, but the needle in the haystack is still tough to find.

Figure out your book’s unique qualities and start small. If you write mysteries/romance/science fiction/literary/etc., try writing for a few of the online mystery/romance/science fiction/literary sites. Try submitting short stories in your genre. Try a nonfiction approach to get your name in print. Find something that makes your book, or you, unique and start there. Even if you only write fiction you need something to make your writing unique. Agents disagree over the necessity of fiction writers developing a platform, but as difficult as it is to get noticed, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Publication in small magazines or presses would be a great start, as would winning a writing competition, even a small one.

If you are convinced this is the book, it’s the best you’ve got and it’s polished and print ready, start searching for competitions that fit your book. Following are a few I found just by doing a quick Google search. The goal isn’t the prize. It’s the exposure your writing will receive and the chance to either connect with an agent, or possibly bypass the agent all together and move straight to the publisher. That’s what happened with The Territory. I was getting nowhere with the agent search. Submitting to a first mystery competition actually got my book read by someone who was interested in mysteries set in the southwest – exactly what I had written.

Writing a great book isn’t enough. You have to figure out how to get your great book into the hands of someone who will recognize it as such. What’s your plan?

Hillerman Mystery Competition: mystery novel set in the southwest


Tartt Short Story Collection – first novel


Best Unpublished Novel Contest


Delacorte Press Prize for Best First Young Adult Novel


Southeaster Writer’s Association: large number of prizes for unpublished writers


The International 3-Day Novel Contest: this looks like it would be fun to try but I need my sleep


2011 Winter Rose Contest for Unpublished Authors: this hits all categories – romance, historical, paranormal, etc.


Following are literary magazines that offer short story competitions. This is a small sampling. Google your genre and you should find sites specific to what you are writing.






Writer’s Digest Competitions: this is the most well known group of competitions. Probably won’t narrow the number of participants you are competing against too much!


December 2, 2010

Out of the Slush Pile

I wish I could remember the author who posted on her website that writer’s competitions are a great path to publication. I believe she was a […]
December 2, 2010

The Author Questionnaire

During my first conversation with Peter Joseph, editor with Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, he described the first two steps in moving forward with publication: signing […]
November 27, 2010

The Territory

 The Territory: “A massive Pandora’s box perches on the Rio Grande in Mexico, it’s lock broken, ready to spill untold violence across the river into […]
November 26, 2010

First Post

I listened to a cell phone message on September 30th from Mr. Peter Joseph, editor with Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. Nauseous, pulse racing, I was […]