Submitting your work to online markets can be a lucrative avenue for emerging writers. Not only can it expose you to a wider audience and demographic, be a huge boost for the ego, and kick-start a career, but it can also introduce you to a supportive writers’ network. Finding these markets is as simple as searching on Google, but with the enormous amount of opportunities presented, this can be overwhelming.
Although there is a wide array of contests offering prizes and publication, it also opens these opportunities for scams. They come in many guises, but sadly, scam contests all have the common goal of taking your money.
What to look for when trying to decide if a market is legitimate
It’s not always easy to spot a scam competition or opportunity. Check these points off as you look at online markets for your work.
Entry Fees: The presence or absence of a fee is not, on its own, a sign of a scam.. Although many organisations support their prizes with entry fees, others use them in an attempt to ensure serious entrants. Expect to pay between US $5 and US $15 for poetry, short fiction and non-fiction articles; with novels and screen plays you may expect to pay up to US $50. The ratio of the fee to the prize offered should be reasonable (ie don’t enter a competition where the fee is $10 and the prize is $30). Similarly, free competitions need careful consideration; look closely at the rules, and the rights you may be surrendering once you have entered.
Cost: If you are submitting to an opportunity where the winners are ultimately published in hard copy format, you should never be asked to pay for the printing or publications costs, or be bullied into purchasing copies. Winning authors are normally sent a copy of the publication as part of their prize. If you have to pay to receive a copy, it’s possible you are dealing with a vanity publisher.
The publisher is reputable: Do some homework on who is conducting the contest or award program. If it’s an organisation, magazine, or publisher you don’t recognise, be sure to verify their existence from more sources than just their own website. Check out what other publications or contests they have run, and the quality of work which was awarded previously.
The quality of the publication: If you are submitting to an opportunity where the winners are ultimately published in hard copy format, do some homework on where and how it will be distributed. If the winners are published online, do some digging on the site itself, the advertising it has attached to it and the links it promotes. It will be obvious if it’s just a money-making portal or not by the quality of work it has previously published .
Rules and regulations: A legitimate opportunity will provide clear rules with information on the categories, deadlines, format, fees and prizes. In many circumstances it will outline the judging format and give examples of previous winners or expectations. It must also outline any rights you are surrendering. Don’t enter if these are not included.
Frequency of opportunities: Whilst there are good reasons to run regular competitions or openings for submissions, excessive or continuous contests could indicate that the organization is more focused on the dollar factor, than quality.
Specific opportunity: A reputable contest ought to be specific about what they are looking for. Care needs to be taken in entering or submitting to opportunities which lump all styles (poetry, short stories, flash fiction and manuscripts of novels or screen plays) together. Similarly, awards which have dozens of categories may also be organizations looking for a fast profit without publishing quality.
As a starter, some good sources of both free and fee-paying opportunities can be found at Duotrope.
Steps to take when considering selling or submitting your work to online markets:
- Find sites which offer similar stories or articles to those you already write.
- Manage your submissions with good record keeping. A simple spreadsheet with the title of your piece, date and place it was submitted should be sufficient. Not only is it good practice, but many sites ask for exclusive publication rights.
- Subscribe to online zines and newsletters in your area of writing interest. This will ensure you are kept abreast of trends and opportunities.
- Be professional and be consistent.
- Be tenacious. Just because one publications rejects your work, doesn’t mean that everyone will. You need to find the niche market suited to your style, genre and voice.
Submitting your work to online markets may seem daunting, but through careful sifting of the myriad of opportunities, you will find the perfect platform to promote your work.