How to Run a Writing Competition


The Australian market and competitions for writing for children (excluding books) is extremely limited. To encourage children’s writers, and to honour my late daughter, I have run a number of writing for children competitions over the past few years under the banner, the Kathleen Julia Bates Memorial Writing Competition.

Past competitions have included awards for picture book texts, short stories, first chapters and poetry.

In most of the competitions I have covered my costs, the exception being a 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. When I ran an unrestricted poetry for children competition, I did make a profit – but certainly not enough to live in the lap of luxury!

The most successful competition was where I charged a $10 entry fee. This enabled every entrant to receive a score-sheet and at least a one page critique of their poem. (However, it was a lot of hard work as I critiqued all of the non-shortlisted manuscripts). The numbers of entries submitted in the six competitions I’ve run to date have ranged from 75 to 205. All competitions have 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 poem, is it a poem for adults or young people? If the latter, 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, some are as much as $25.

Name the competition finalist judges and their positions. To assist the judges, you can sift through the entries and give each judge the 10 entries that scored highest so that they can arrive at the winners and place-getters. Each entry can be scored on criteria such as story originality, use of language, characterisation and reader impact. 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.

Here’s what children’s author Emma Cameron had to say about running a writing competition: ‘Prior to being a published author I valued how competitions made me stick to deadlines and gave helpful feedback. I recently ran my first competition, where winner and shortlisted entrants received mentoring. All appreciated the prize and though running competitions provides little income I’ll continue to do it so that writers seeking publication have somewhere to send work and receive guidance.’


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 Bates

Dianne (Di) Bates’ most recent book is a junior novel, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). Her Australian children’s poetry anthology, Our Home is Dirt by Sea, will be published in 2016 by Walker Books Australia. Recipient of the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature, Di is married to award-winning children’s author and poet, Bill Condon. Their website is

Game of Keeps Cover-3_front_draft



3 thoughts on “How to Run a Writing Competition

  1. Interesting points here. I find the most difficulty in holding contests is publicising them and, if they’re for younger writers, communicating with them since you usually have to go through school channels. Schools obviously can’t children’s home addresses, so prizes have to be sent via the teachers mostly. Book prizes can be pretty costly to post, too.

  2. Thank you Di for all your hard work in promoting poetry.
    I enjoy the daily posts and wish you every success and fulfilment in all that you do.
    Love Margaret x

  3. Thanks for the feedback. The competitions I’ve run Sally have been for children’s writers. I have a huge database of them and of writing groups, writers’ centres et al(such as Buzz Words and Pass It On, ASA, CBCA). Publicity is not at all difficult, trust me; it only takes about 1-2 hours to send an email with competition rules and so on to these databases. This, in turn, generates other publicity through word of mouth and through cyberspace. Why not try it?

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