I'm about to let you in on a little-known secret. Contests are a great way to get your work noticed! And if you place in a contest, you can mention it in a query to an agent or editor.
How do you find a contest? Google, of course!
The first thing to do is look for contests is in your local area. Most states have a league of writers, and most leagues have one or more contests per year. Annual membership fees are nominal, and more often than not, you don't even need to be a member to enter! (Though you will get a discounted entry fee if you are a member.) Also, Art Councils usually hold annual contests in every state.
The next step is to look for contests on a national level. The resource I use most often is Stephanie Smith's Contest Chart for Writers. Though your chances of winning are slimmer because there are more entrants, it is still worth a shot. Often, national contests are free.
Some trivia. Without doubt, the romance genre has the most contests. Rumor has it that in order for an author to be successful writing romance, he/she must win a contest. Romance readers look for it! The genre with the fewest contests is, most unfortunately, Childrens. (With the exception of YA.)
Thank you Liana for bringing up sci-fi! WRITERS OF THE FUTRE has an acclaimed contest that is free to enter, and winners are published in an anthology. The judges are well known sci-fi authors. Entries can be up to 17,000 words, and the contest runs quarterly. Check out this LINK for contest rules.
A good friend of mine entered a YA contest. One of the judges was an editor for a rather large publishing imprint. Though my friend did not win (she placed in the top 3) the editor offered detailed revision suggestions and asked to see her full manuscript, which she recently submitted.
Another kind of contest is one held on a blog with an agent as a judge, and submissions to that agent as prizes. These contests are super easy to enter, as everything is done online. As I write this, agent Mollie Glick with Foundry Literary+Media (who is, by the way, an absolute delight to correspond with) is accepting elevator pitch entries in the third QueryTracker blog contest, which ends at midnight PST June 16th. Here are her genres:
- adult fiction
- YA fiction
- narrative non-fiction
CONGRATULATIONS TO MY READERS WHO HAVE WON VARIOUS CONTESTS!
- KATIE who placed in Inspiration for Writers
- STINA LINDENBLATT who placed in Miss Snark's First Victim
- LORI CALABRESE recently won 1st place in Dragonfly Publishing Inc.'s 2009 Picture Book contest and will have her first picture book published next year
- LORI CALABRESE also came in 2nd place in the Children's Writer nonfiction sports contest!
- LACI SMITH for placing runner-up in the QTblog one-sentence pitch contest with Brendan Deneen
- ANA RIOS for finaling in a poetry contest (and thanks for the great link in the comments!)
- BARMAID for winning the National Writers Association scholarship contest