I received this email from a reader this week:
“I see an entry that might work for me, but then the publication requests $10, $20, and sometimes more to enter the contest. Many times I just pass. Why should we pay to present our work? To date, I have paid a few, but generally I balk at anything over $10.”
My immediate response is this: Would you fund a contest out of your pocket and would you work for free?
Some contests do not charge a fee, but they are a tiny minority of the contests out there. Why? Because they have the financial means or the sponsorship to avoid having to ask for fees. However, most contests do not have that luxury.
Contests are not cheap to run. I ran a contest for nine years and offered a no entry fee category and an entry fee category. To make a point, I gave the winner of the non-entry fee category a big $50 first prize, then I gave the winner of the entry fee category a big $500 first prize.
When considering contests, and wondering why you have to pay an entry fee, consider the costs of the contest provider:
1) The prize money. No entity has bottomless pockets. The money has to come from somewhere, and why not entry fees?
2) The judges. If the contest wants a reputable judge (or two or three), then they have to cough up the money to pay said judge(s). No writer should work for free, to include the writers who serve as contest judges.
3) The advertising. You’ve never head about a contest if it was not advertised. FundsforWriters accepted money from contests that want to repeatedly promote their competition. That money has to come from somewhere.
4) The publishing. Many of the contests provide publication. Whether online or in print (especially in print), there are expenses.
In my contest experience, the contests that command entry fees usually acquire the best work. The contest I ran was an experiment with the results being as I expected. The quality of writing improved in the entry fee category. When writers had nothing to risk and paid no entry fee, the writing quality sank horrendously. It wasn’t even close. That fact alone can justify a contest charging an entry fee.
Frankly, if I see a contest that charges no entry fee, I dig into them more, hunting how they afford to fund the competition. And I even wonder why they are not using the income stream provided by entry fees to avoid sucking funds away from other needs in their enterprise.
Pay the entry fee. The contest provider seriously has the right and need to charge. Plus, you’ll submit a better quality product.