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June 8, 2022

What to look for in a writing competition’s T&Cs

These days it’s fairly commonplace to agree to having read the terms and conditions for a service or product without having given them so much as a cursory glance. But when you enter a writing competition – whether it be for an unpublished short story, essay, poem, or even a full manuscript – it is essential to pay attention to what you are agreeing to, as there could be significant consequences for you and your creative work.

For example, some competitions place restrictions on your ability to submit your entry to other competitions, some require the first option to publish the entries of the winners and runners-up, and some unscrupulous players may even require you to assign your copyright to them.

Knowing what to look for in the terms and conditions of competitions and prizes will enable you to be more discerning and to make informed decisions about where you enter your work.

Eligibility Criteria

Before you spend time working on your entry, you should always check the eligibility criteria carefully. No matter how well written your short story, poem or manuscript is, the eligibility criteria is strict and serves as immediate grounds for disqualification of your work, without it even being read. It is therefore a waste of your time – not to mention your money, where entry fees are involved – to enter a competition for which you are clearly not eligible. If you are unsure about any of the criteria, it is always best to contact the competition organisers for clarification.

Entry Information

You must adhere to a competition’s specific entry requirements. Again, paying close attention to the requirements ensures that you won’t be disqualified at the outset for minor errors such as exceeding the word count, or forgetting to include page numbers and double spacing. When you are competing with a high volume of entries, you do not want to give the judging panel any reason to disregard your work.


As the author of your entry, you own copyright in your work. Any reputable competition will be clear in their terms and conditions about the ways in which they are seeking to use the work you are entering.

Typically organisers of writing competitions will want a copyright licence from you, coupled with some other permissions. Examples of reasonable requests are:

  • the right to copy digital entries for the specific purpose of running the competition (so that, for example, digital entries can be distributed to each member of the judging panel)  
  • permission to use, reproduce, publish and communicate to the public a short excerpt from your entry in the event it wins or is named runner-up 
  • an exclusive first option to publish your work in the event you win the main prize (usually subject to the signing of a separate publishing agreement)
  • permission to use your name, title, photograph and biography for the purpose of announcing the winner and runner-up of the prize and for associated publicity purposes.

However, it is not typical to require an assignment or permanent transfer of your copyright. We are yet to see any instances in which it is appropriate for a writing competition to require that you assign your copyright to the organisers.

Exclusive Licence versus Non-exclusive Licence:

Granting an exclusive licence is agreeing to allow the competition organisers to use your copyright work to the exclusion of all others (including yourself), for a specific purpose such as the publication of a book. 

The competition terms and conditions should be very transparent about the scope of this licence:

  • How will they use your work: will it be published in an anthology, in a newspaper or journal, or on their website? Are you granting permission to distribute, broadcast or sub-licence the work in whichever way the organisers intend?
  • What period of time will the licence cover? Is the licence worldwide or limited to Australia? 
  • Importantly, who does this licence pertain to: only winners and runners-up, or everyone who enters the competition? An exclusive licence should only be sought from the winning entry and not from every entry submitted to the competition, which is a clear overreach. Such a term would mean that even if you don’t win the prize, you lose the ability to make money from your work in other ways. In a nutshell, be wary if the organiser gets to own or exclusively control your work and you get nothing in return.


Granting a non-exclusive licence to organisers means that you are granting permission to use your copyright work for the specified purpose, and length of time, but this agreement is not exclusive to them. This means that you would be entitled to also commercially exploit your work in whichever way you wish, whether you’d like to submit your work to other competitions, or publish it elsewhere.

Once again, it is important that you pay attention to the scope of the licence: how do they intend to use your copyright? For how long? And, will this compromise your ability to secure other publishing opportunities with publishers who will want to insist on exclusivity? 

Answers to these questions will enable you to make an informed decision about entering the competition.

Moral rights

As an author, your moral rights are set out in the Copyright Act: the right to be attributed, the right against false attribution and the right of integrity in your work. Writing competitions should always be willing to credit your work to you upon publication. They should not alter your work in a way which is harmful to your reputation.  Be wary of clauses which ask you to “waive” or forfeit your moral rights or consent to an infringement of your moral rights.


Upon submitting your entry, you will usually be asked to make a series of promises, for example, that your work hasn’t been previously published and that your manuscript is your original creation and not copied from any third party. Make sure you can honestly make these promises as, strictly speaking, you could be sued for breach of warranty if you have lied, and you would certainly forfeit the prize. 

Ownership of Property

Some competitions may include a condition stating that entries will become the property of the organiser and cannot be returned. This statement does not refer to copyright unless otherwise outlined in the terms and conditions. It is simply a carryover from when competition entries were submitted in physical formats, and alleviated the competition organisers from the administrative and financial burden of sending printed short stories, essays, or books back to the entrants at the conclusion of the competition. Please note that if you are submitting work in hardcopy, it is not wise to submit original photos or irreplaceable material in your entry.  


Competition terms and conditions should specifically describe the prizes on offer for the winner and any runners-up or highly commended entries. These prizes could include cash prizes, particular products or services, or publication of the entered work. 

Again, it’s essential to understand the specifics of what is being offered: there is an important difference in between, say, a $10,000 cash prize as well as the opportunity to publish your work with a traditional publisher, and publication with a traditional publisher with a $10,000 advance against royalties.

What do I do if I need advice?

When entering a competition, we urge you to do your due diligence. If you have any questions or concerns, contact the Australian Society of Authors via our free members-only advice service.