AlaskaWriter LLC presents:

Inspiration, advice and more!
Join The AlaskaWriter LLC  mailing list.
Enter your e-mail:

News, tips, community and coaching for Alaska writers

Fast Links:


Writers: Create Your Own Easy-to-Edit Website

About Sonya

Contact Sonya

Books by AlaskaWriter Members

News & Tips

Member Services:

>>Edit Your Site
(Sign-on page for Alaska WebWriter)

>>Online Help for Editing Your Site
(Detailed information about how to update your AlaskaWriters site — from entering text, to sizing and uploading images.)




Sonya Senkowsky photo
Contests: How to win every time
(even when you don’t)

“This is not about winning contests; it is about improving your writing and keeping your standards high.”

— Sonya Senkowsky

1. If possible, attend the awards ceremony. It’s the polite thing to do. Showing up demonstrates your professionalism and respect for your peers’ time, and gives them a face to put with your name. If you don’t win, be open to what you can gain from the event. You can applaud others and help them feel good — and you have an opportunity to meet prizewinning writers, who could be your future friends, support system, mentors, editors or collaborators. Finally, keep in mind that it’s likely at least some of the people in the room are intimately acquainted with your work as a result of helping sort or judge entries. In one case, after three years of entering a national contest and never winning a thing, I introduced myself to a major magazine editor, only to find she was already familiar with my name and work, because she’d help judge the contest. (She had a good impression, too, thank goodness.)

2. Read and learn from the winners. Reading the winning works helps you understand what standards define excellence in your chosen genre. Contact writers whose work you like most, whether they won first place or an honorable mention, and praise them, congratulate them, get to know them. (Just don’t scare them; they may not be accustomed to so much praise!) Scan their bios for professional organizations you might consider joining, and keep reading their work, identifying the lessons you might learn from them. This is not about winning contests; it is about improving your writing and keeping your standards high.

3. Request and read judges’ comments. Many contests return top-placing entries with judges’ comments. This is priceless. Locally, the Alaska Press Women contest (affiliated with the National Federation of Press Women, though you don’t have to be female to join and enter.) is great for this — and the quality of the comments is one of the main reasons I enter. It’s not all about good strokes; even negative comments can be useful. The first year I tried radio reporting, one judge gave me an award (grudgingly?), with a scrawled complaint about the inconvenient format in which I’d submitted my entry. I didn’t repeat the mistake. If the contest you enter doesn’t mention whether it provides comments, ask the organizers; if they don’t, your request may give them a good idea. After winners are announced, you might also write a (pleasant) note to one or more judges, thanking them for their time and comments, particularly if you found them useful.. Most are volunteers. Most will also probably not be judging the same contest or category the following year, so you shouldn’t need to worry that such contact might be inappropriate.

4. Follow up, follow through. If you didn’t win, learn from the experience. Did you lose because your work was sub-par in some way, or because your goals don’t exactly align with those of the contest or category you entered? If it’s the latter, maybe you need to find a more appropriate forum. (The world’s best love note may win you a mate, but it’s unlikely to win a Pulitzer.) If your work did suffer from shortcuts or errors, be honest with yourself. Why did it happen? How can you prevent it next time? Would you benefit from mentoring, a writing group or a writing coach? How will you consistently expose yourself to examples of excellence? Use what you’ve learned this year to help set your goals for your next writing year.

If you did win, congratulations! Save your award certificates, comments, supporting materials, etc., in a clearly identified folder. If you want to display or frame a certificate or award, file a photocopy of it and put it in the same place. These come in handy when updating your resume or Web site — which, of course, you want to do as soon as possible. These might be useful immediately, or several years later. Consider posting not only the awards, but some of the favorable comments you’ve received. (“What a great writer! Every word is golden!”) If you are marketing your services or a new book, use your win as an excuse to send an announcement to your hometown newspaper, alumni magazine and other likely venues— including a convenient 1-line bio note about you and your book/service. If doing so would be appropriate, send out an e-mail or notecard to share your news with editors, agents, mentors, inspirations, or interview subjects. You may get more assignments or writing ideas in the process.

Sonya Senkowsky


Go home

Offering Web sites, tips & tools for Alaska writers

AlaskaWriter member sites:
>> Alaska Press Club
>> Alaska Professional Communicators (formerly Alaska Press Women)
>> Alaska Romance Writers of America
>> Alaska Writers Guild
>> Alaska Writers Workshop
>> Barbara Brown
>> Melissa DeVaughn
>> Kathy Day Public Relations
>> Sandi Gerjevic
>> Anne Hanley
>> Linda Herr - The Mess Arrester-SM
>> Marybeth Holleman
>> Heather Lende
>> Nancy Lord
>> Rose Marie Mayer
>> Jim Misko
>> Elise Sereni Patkotak - Precious Cargo Ltd.
>> Rupert Pratt
>> Marguerite Reiss (Kern)
>> Andromeda Romano-Lax
>> Sonya Senkowsky - AlaskaWriter LLC
>> Bill Sherwonit
>> Sandi Sumner
>> Lesley Thomas
>> Sherry Tomlinson

Hosted by
>> Alaska Timberwolf Tours
>> Unity of Anchorage
>> Laughing Raven Touring Co. (AlaskaWildlife Tours)
>> When You Were 15 Alaska


P.O. Box 140030 • Anchorage, AK 99514 • 907-830-7355 •


Unless otherwise noted, all materials Copyright AlaskaWriter LLC 2004. All rights reserved.
Photos of Sonya Senkowsky © 2004 David Jensen / David Jensen Photography.

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy