Your Ultimate Guide to Finding Christian Writing Contests in 2017

Christian Writing Contests 2017 Image 1Regardless where you are on your writing journey—from wannabe to bestseller—you can benefit from entering contests.

Why?

Because the right contest can tell you:

  • Where you stand
  • How you measure up against the competition
  • What you still need to learn

To get you the complete lowdown on everything you need to know about writing contests I consulted the ultimate expert. Dr. Dennis Hensley is chairman of the Department of Professional Writing at Taylor University, Upland, Indiana.

It’s because of Doc that I unequivocally refer to Taylor as having the best university writer training program in the country, bar none. Ever since I heard him speak more than 30 years ago, I have never hosted a writers conference without inviting him to keynote and teach. Doc is always a favorite and never disappoints.

His students don’t just learn to write and sell and publish. They’re in the game every day, pushed to query and propose and market their work to real publications. So Doc isn’t preparing them to be professional writers when they graduate; he’s thrusting them into the action now.

Besides having students sell their writing, Doc pushes them into contests too. He’s turned out  enough productive writers over the decades to tell me that what’s good for them has to be good for you and me.

So I asked him:

Why are you such a strong advocate of Christian writing contests in 2017?

Contests force writers to hit deadlines. That means they have to finish, and finish on time. It’s hard to beat that kind of training.

If a writer wins or even places in the top three, it often means publication in a magazine or quarterly or journal. That’s fantastic exposure for any writer trying to build a platform—which means every writer.

How big a deal is winning, really?

Being able to list “contest winner” on your resumé impresses publishers and boosts your confidence. From then on, the covers of all your books can feature you as an award winner. The news can be publicized in your hometown paper, college alumni magazine, church newsletter, you name it—it garners notoriety. It can also help land radio and TV interviews.

How can my students find out about writing contests?

The Write Life has a list of 29 free contests occurring in 2017. See that here.

Poets & Writers magazine lists at least 50 contests and the websites that explain their requirements.

The Christian Writer’s Market Guide 2017 carries over 10 pages of contests in both inspirational and general markets, including poetry, articles, children’s books, novels, and nonfiction books.

Writer’s Market 2017 contains around 90 pages of contests for journalism, playwriting, songwriting, poetry, TV and movie scripts, novels and nonfiction books, and essays.

How can a writer be sure a contest is legitimate?

Go to swfa.org, a free website that offers tips on how not to be cheated by scam artists who try to get you to pay for awards or charge editing fees to work on your manuscript. Any contest that charges anything is suspect.

What is meant by “blind” vs. “open” judging?

Blind judges don’t know the names of the writers they’re judging. In open judging, the bylines appear on the entries.

Doc, why are you willing to spend so much time judging writing submitted to contests?

Because it exposes me to such a wide range of topics and writers. For example, I judge a different category each year for one magazine contest. One year I may judge Editorials, so I analyze more than 50 of those. The next year I may judge Interviews, so I’ll read 50 interviews amazingly interesting people.

Reading widely like that keeps me on top of things and stimulates my own thinking as a writer. It also exposes me to many periodicals I might not normally come across. That’s good for me and for my students.

Also, besides just judging, many times I’m able to critique the submissions, providing guidance to writers who show potential but still need mentoring.

Also, I hope my credentials add credibility to worthy contests. Hopefully contestants gain confidence knowing that a judge has a degree in English and has himself written more than 60 books.

If a competitor doesn’t win a prize, should they regret having entered?

Not at all, because of some of the things I mentioned earlier. Entering requires hitting a deadline. It offers the chance at prizes and publication. And often it also offers a chance for feedback from the judge, which can prove helpful.

Any inside tips on how to win a writing contest?

Follow the guidelines precisely.  Some require submissions by email and some hard copy. Some allow multiple submissions, while others limit it to one entry per person. Some are genre specific, others not. Some want your full name and address on the cover page, others want your name on a separate sheet.

Whatever the guidelines ask for, follow them exactly or your submission may be disqualified.

Proofread carefully. Nothing is more disappointing to a judge than an excellent story full of errors, evidencing a lack of professionalism.

Avoid gimmicks, such as five different fonts or colors or lace-edged paper. None of that impresses judges.

Don’t resubmit last year’s entry unless you significantly revised it.

Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is the author of eight writing textbooks, ten novels, and dozens of other books. He serves as a judge for the Christy Fiction Awards, the Christian Book Awards, and the Evangelical Press Association Awards. For ten years he also was a judge for the Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel Contest. 

What’s your favorite writing contest—and why?

Related Posts:

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

How to Write a Short Story That Captivates Your Reader

How to Write a Memoir: A 3-Step Guide

  • Kristi Ross

    Thank you Jerry! I’ve wanted to enter contests but had no idea where to look for them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us! Your expertise has proven to be an invaluable resource. Thank you!

  • Christine Lind

    Haha – well, this is a no brainer – it’s the writing contest I won! I have landed in the finals for the Eric Hoffer short story award about 8 years ago, and last year – The Gover Prize short list and published in Best New Writing.
    It’s extremely encouraging to win a contest, because like Dr. Hensley mentions – it boosts your confidence.
    Also, when in the middle of writing a novel and you have a long way to go – winning a contest with a short story or flash fiction (my favorite), helps to practice (again, like Dr. Hensley mentions) important writing skills regarding deadlines and submissions.

  • Adrian

    Thanks for making this difficult topic easy to understand.

    • Thanks, Adrian.

      • Adrian

        There’s something I’d like to ask you, Mr. Jenkins. I know a refugee who just moved here from Uganda, and he has a really incredible story about how he became a Christian when he fled an violent insurgent group, and even when he believed they had killed his family. Last November, he just discovered his family back in Uganda. It’s an unbelievably rare ending to such a story and I feel like I have to tell people about it. What writing contest do you suggest I pursue with this amazing story?

        • I don’t know about a contest, but check out the last page of Christianity Today magazine for the last several months and see if it’s something that would fit that format. Might be worth trying to market to them.

          • Adrian

            Thanks!

  • Great article, Jerry! Thanks for covering this often-overlooked topic in such great detail. There’s also a brand-new contest, the Excellence in Editing award, sponsored by the Christian Editor Connection. It’s for books that are “superbly written, well edited, and published by a CBA publisher or self-published by a Christian author.” The award is open to all books published in hardcover or paperback in 2016. http://christianeditor.com/eie/

  • I’ve submitted short stories to Neoverse and Glimmer Train. Haven’t won yet, but I’m still working on it! To be published in Glimmer Train would send me over the moon!

    Also I had a short story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. It’s not a writing contest, but I did get paid and it was a good shot in the arm of confidence. Sometimes you just need a little encouragement to keep going!

  • Nicole M

    This is an area I really need to delve into. At one point I had started a spreadsheet of contests, but never pushed myself to the point of entering one. I just entered my first contest this week, so this was a timely article!

  • Sally Larkin Green

    I have always thought most writing contests were scams or rigged so I never entered any. I love that I learn something new every time I read one of your articles. I will have to look into this now and enter a few. Thanks Jerry.

    • Good, Sally. Many are scams and moneymakers, so you have to be careful.

  • Grace Potts

    Are you going to have more first novel contests? Grace Potts

  • Frances Wilson

    Thanks Jerry
    Many contests were to me like a swimming pool to deep for my limited, or lack of skills. I just recently dipped my toes in and submitted something to a reputable source. I have no whims that I will win, but I will learn something.

  • Genevieve Curtis

    I was considering contests again, but wasn’t sure if that was a good use of my time as a writer. I’m encouraged! Thank you.

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    My favorite writing contest would be the fiction ones. Fiction is my first love in reading and I want to learn to write fiction better. Didn’t realize entering contests is an important learning tactic. Thank you for an enlightening post. :)

  • Thanks for the detailed and helpful post, Jerry. I totally agree that contests are great for training yourself to meet deadlines as well as stricter guidelines. Have shared this.

  • Mary Jean Rose

    Contests? I panicked after my first 30 pages and I am supposed to think contests? I want to write..
    You are right it’s mentally exhausting work. Now I have to think if at 77 I want to work that hard.
    Thanks for all your help to date. Feel like I am sitting on a wobbly fence right now. Wait maybe I’m the one shaking.

    • Ha! Be encouraged. Imagine what a contest win would do for your confidence.

  • Shirley

    I’m about to get involved with the Christian Writers group near where I live. I’ve noticed there are bi monthly competitions so that’s where I’ll start.

  • Robert Murphy

    It may be a little off-subject, but I write occasional product and book reviews although I haven’t really pursued it. What kind of guidelines or suggestions do you have for writing effective product and book reviews?
    I conduct occasional product reviews for HuntinDawg.com, and so far have reviewed the following books.
    “Gifts of the Crow” and “Imperial Dreams – Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre” for Simon and Schuster;
    The Bull Moose Dog mysteries (“A Dog About Town”, “A Dog Among Diplomats”, and “A Dog at Sea”) for Dell;
    I’ve also independently reviewed “The Art of Racing in the Rain”.
    Thanks,
    RMM

    • Robert, the general rules apply, no matter what you’re writing. Omit needless words. Think reader-first. Avoid redundancy. Give the reader credit. Naturally you don’t worry about dialogue and POV, but most of the rest of it, yes.

      • Robert Murphy

        Thanks, I’m going to start putting more effort into that as well.

  • Sheree Downs

    On a whim, I entered the Lakewood Colo. history writing contest. To my great surprise, I won 2nd place & $200!!! Wow, is that a big stoke to the ego, I AM a writer!!!

    • Fantastic, Sheree! Congrats!

      • Sheree Downs

        Thank You!! Mr. Jenkins

  • Jeffrey Hulse

    @jbjdisqus:disqus My first novel (co-written by Jennie Bradstreet) was a semi-finalist this year in the ACFW Genesis contest. We didn’t make the finals, but the experience led me to search the Guild Forum and found this blog on the subject. Anyways, I appreciate the Writing Guild and hope to one day get to a chance to meet you.

  • Very interesting. I would definitely use some of those tips for my future academic writings. Thanks a lot!