I agree with much of what you say, and though any prize money would be helpful my main motivation is to get my name on the literary radar. Although many competitions are great sources of revenue for the organisers, with thousands of entries, I'm mindful of what happened with a competition run by the local newspaper in Liskeard, Cornwall.
It's part of a large newspaper group who publish local papers and has an average circulation figure of 7,500 a week. The contest they held had one question: name the original name of the town, which is Liskerrett. The prize was worth having if you like preening, for it was being collected from home in a chauffeur-driven Bentley to be taken for a meeting and tea and biscuits with the mayor, followed by a trip to a country house restaurant to enjoy a meal for two. I knew the chauffeur, and he found out that just one person bothered to enter the competition—a little, old lady who was thrilled to be the only name drawn out of the hat!
I've spent the last week searching for short story and poetry competitions, and so far have found twenty that close by the end of May. A few are free to enter, while most cost £3-£8, with one charging a whopping £25. The prizes range from having your winning story read out by an unspecified celebrity, to publication in a rather obscure journal, to publication by a reputable book company and £20,000 as an advance.
The latter figure is for the Daily Mail
and the Amazon Kindle Storyteller
prizes for a debut novelist. I'm torn about entering either of these, as though both publishers have great clout when it comes to generating publicity, I'm wary of their business methods and politics. Entering the Amazon contest requires giving them exclusive rights to all of my ebooks through their Kindle Select programme, withdrawing them from other online book merchants. The Daily Mail entry rules stipulate hard copies only, which seems daft in the 21st century, but I guess it's way of reducing the number of competitors.
Some competitions have themes, such as 'Silence', while others are a hugger-mugger of write about anything you like in whatever genre you fancy. Quite how the judges decide what is best between 3,000-word short stories set in some distant nebula, a Tudor castle and a Wild West town I don't know. Then again, a lot of media competitions are like this—think of the Oscars or the Mercury Prize for music.
One thing that I've noticed in my assiduous research, is that most competitors, judges and eventual winners are female. I've nothing against that, and anyway it reflects statistics
. It's something to bear in mind as I write new material.