Anatomy of Awards: A Decade of Writing Contests

From the May/June 2015 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Each year Poets & Writers Magazine compiles details about hundreds of writing contests for Grants & Awards, the editorial feature that lists upcoming contest deadlines and recent winners. Over time we have been able to glean information from these listings and track the gradual changes and trends of the contest landscape. To shed some light on the shifting tides of writing contests during the past ten years, for example, we combed through the Deadlines section of the eighteen issues published in 2004, 2009, and 2014, focusing our attention on the sponsoring organizations, total prize amounts, and entry fees.

While the number of contests has increased by 27 percent over the past decade—from 471 in 2004 to 597 in 2014—the total amount of prize money offered by those contests has decreased by 6 percent, from more than $5.7 million in 2004 to less than $5.4 million in 2014. Meanwhile, the number of no-fee contests has also decreased (from 33 percent of all contests in 2004 to 19 percent of the total in 2014), while the average entry fee has gone up by 9 percent over the same period. As for contest sponsors, the number of small presses and literary magazines offering prizes has gone up—a good sign for the world of independent publishing—while the number of contests sponsored by government agencies, such as state and federal arts councils, has gone down.

The charts below take a closer look at the numbers behind the past ten years of Grants & Awards.


Addition for next survey

It would extremely useful to have facts about the size of first-place awards by sponsoring organization categories. The information might encourage more organizations to give bigger awards.