Whether you're a poet, short story writer, a novelist, etc, I'm sure most of you have submitted your work to a writing contest at some point in your life. Contests can come in many shapes and forms. They might be for large anthologies to help you get your name out there. Some may pay royalties to their authors. Others have big cash prizes. And some pay nothing, but at least you get the bragging rights. The things I hear most writers say is that they don't know where to submit their work or where to start looking, or how to prepare their piece.
First off, here are few of the common places I visit to find writing contests/opportunities:
Submittable: This is a submission engine as well as a place where sites compile contests that are available. More and more sites are using submittable as a way for authors to send in their work. Once you enter your information once, it's usually there for you to use again. What's great is you can track what pieces you've sent in, where they are in the process, and which pieces have been accepted or rejected. There's a messaging system too so you can contact the contest site if you have questions. Once you sign up and indicate your genre interests, it you can also look up available contests through the system.
Poets & Writers: This site is great because not only does it provide helpful writing tips, it also frequently updates contests or submission opportunities. You can filter it depending on entry fee, genre, deadline, etc. So if you're only interested in poetry, you can just select the poetry category. Or if you don't want to pay for an entry, you can filter out all of the contests that cost money.
Writer's Digest: Writer's Digest hosts a lot of writing contests each year. They also list other contests/events that are going around, so keep checking in for the newest and greatest stuff. Like Poets & Writers, Writer's Digest provides helpful literary tips as you're prepping to submit your material.
Jerry Jenkins: Jerry Jenkins lists contests that are going on throughout the year and it gets updated every year. What I like the most about it is that it'll provide a link directly to the contest so you don't have to go looking for it.
The Write Life: I like this website a lot. They provide 31 free writing contests that have cash prizes. So if you're looking to make some money for your writing, this may be the route to go.
These are just a few sites to get you started. If you're looking for a particular genre, you might have to dig a little deeper into the internet to find the right contest for you.
As you prep your piece for submission, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Read the Guidelines: Whatever contest you enter, it is vital you read their guidelines. They might have very particular ways that they want you to submit your piece (font, size, single vs double-spaced, etc). If you don't do as they request, they may disqualify you without even reading your piece. Get it in on time, and if any of the directions are confusing, be sure to e-mail them and ask for clarification.
Stay on Topic: If you enter a contest that has a particular theme, make sure you're submitting a piece that works. If the theme is "Aliens in Space," don't give them a contemporary romance or paranormal entry. Stay as close to the topic as possible.
Word Count: When contests give max and min word counts, you need to stick to them. Even if your entry is 5001 words and the max is 5000, that one word can still get you disqualified. Again, stick to the guidelines.
Review Other Published Pieces: Some sites will have previous anthologies available for your to peruse. If you have the opportunity, read through some of their pieces to see if your work seems to fit in. If the magazine/anthology is completely different from your realm of work, you might consider submitting somewhere else.
Make Sure the Contest is Legitimate: There are many contests out there that will gladly take an author's money and not do anything with the contest or will scam the writer. Make sure they've published other pieces before, they have a history, and the information on their site is spelled correctly. I know that last one might sound odd, but a lot of scam sites will have misspellings, which would seem odd if they're running a writing contest.
Don't Harass the Judges: When you submit a piece, don't e-mail the judges or the site owners repeatedly to find out the status of your piece (unless it's to notify them that your work was published somewhere else). The more you pester, the more likely it is your piece will be dropped. It takes time to review the work, choose the right pieces, and prep them for publication on paper or on site. Be patient. Generally "no news" is good news because it means you haven't been rejected yet.
I hope this helps you as you look for places to submit your work. If you have other tips or sites people should check out, feel free to post them below!