So I'm gearing up to write an actual full-length novel and I've decided that the best way to test the mettle of my writing (and make a couple of bucks in the process) is to enter a few writing contests.

But I simply don't have the time to write a brand new short story for every. single. contest. Plus, I'm a bit lazy. And I would really not like to waste six months to a year ignoring my wife and children just to write a book that will never break into the top 100,000 self-published Kindle books.

So I think that entering a couple dozen contests in the next few months is a good way to see if my friends, family members and former instructors have been too kind in their praises. I figure if I can't win a contest or 12 then I probably shouldn't waste my time on a novel.

Presuming my logic is sound on having my writing judged via contests, many, if not most, writing contests that give out cash prizes explicitly state that they do not want submissions that have been previously published -- a thoroughly understandable condition.

So here is my question: If I only have the time and/or desire to write one or two short stories of quality, is it ethical or proper to submit the exact same unpublished short story to multiple contests?

Feel free to explore other tangents if they relate to your answer: If I was fortunate to win two different contests with the same story and I got found out is it likely I would have to forfeit one or both prizes? Are contests not a constructive way to gauge the grade of your skill? If not, what is an excellent way to have your work peer reviewed (preferably for free by a professional)?

You certainly don't have to answer these questions; I have no problem saving them for another day for the Writers SE.

  • Minor notes: Short stories are different beasts than novels, so not everything carries over between them. Still, I think this is a great approach if you find it appealing :)
    – Standback
    Apr 30 '12 at 9:44
  • 2
    Are contests a constructive way to gauge the grade of your skill? would make a great question; go for it! Getting critiques of your work has been covered here; I myself am a big fan of the Critters online workshop. See also this answer, particularly the second half (after the bit about Kirkus).
    – Standback
    Apr 30 '12 at 9:47
  • Personally, I wouldn't consider contests to be a very good gauge of how good your writing is, since there are lots of contests, and most of them bring very little by way of payment, credibility, or validation. Instead, you might consider searching Duotrope for markets for your stories and submit there. This will be harder, but will give you a much better picture of how good your story is. Apr 30 '12 at 15:01
  • @Standback Short stories may be different beasts and require different skills and approaches, but if your writing sucks at the 5,000 word mark it's certainly not going to improve at the 50,000 mark.
    – Jed Oliver
    Apr 30 '12 at 18:19
  • Certainly true. But in some senses, short stories can be much harder - it's really tough squeezing plot and setting and character into so little space. Of course, it depends on your own style and preference - if you like short stories, then you've got a good idea of what it takes and of what works.
    – Standback
    Apr 30 '12 at 18:52

This is called a "simultaneous submission," and a well-organized contest should have a clear-cut rule on whether or not they're allowed.

If a particular contest doesn't call simultaneous submissions out specifically, the safest is to try and contact them and make sure what their rules are. At very least, be absolutely certain you can contact them and withdraw your story if it gets published elsewhere first.

As always with contests, watch out for scams or mishandling of your copyright.

And good luck!

  • 4
    And just to be completely clear, aside from the restriction on simultaneous submissions, there is absolutely no ethical or legal restriction on sending the same story to multiple markets. Apr 30 '12 at 14:59
  • @JSB, "Markets"? You mean sending to multiple publishers each for a different country/continent or geographical territory?
    – Mussri
    Apr 30 '12 at 21:18
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    @M.Na'el: No, "markets" refers to any two publishers/contests/magazines.
    – Standback
    Apr 30 '12 at 21:20

You can try it in a different way...

All I've read about big-company publishing says that you shouldn't send your manuscript to different publishing-houses at the same time but rather send it to the biggest (in your opinion) and see what they say about it. You'll have to wait a lot but you won't have to deal with a big publisher accepting then rejecting your story because they felt insult that you'd sent it somewhere else while they were reading it.

By the same logic, I'd say you should send your story to multiple contests on a (contest by contest) basis and see how it goes. Contests should be much faster in replies (scores) so the process's more tolerable than what's with publishing houses. At the same time, multiple contests would most likely have different times for submitting and scoring so it would take even less time.

And lastly, I would second Standback's recommendation that you view the contests rules and/or contact them for clarification.

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