Writing Contests

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The latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine stopped me in my tracks, Visa card in hand.  The cover read, “BEFORE YOU PAY ANOTHER ENTRY FEE, READ THIS.”  I put the Visa card down…

There’s something about Spring that makes me itchy – not just because of allergies.  I feel as if I need to get busy, send stories out into the ether and writing contests have always appealed.  Why?  Prize money, mostly.  Who wouldn’t be lured by the prospect of a $3,000 first prize.  Also, there is the appeal of exposure and possible publication.  Then there’s always that desperate need to please, to be loved, and to be showered with accolades…

I often consider entering contests.  I have a nest egg set aside just for entry fees – sticky pennies and quarters still covered in sofa cushion lint.  So, when my favourite writer’s magazine tells me to put the brakes on, I feel the need to listen because my sofa doesn’t seem to be coughing up as many quarters as it used to.

Are contests a good use of my time and lint-covered quarters?  Does anyone ever really win?  Do new writers ever have a chance? As with everything, it depends on what you’re after and how many quarters you can scrounge.  To win takes lots and lots of patience.

The article profiled an author who entered many contests.  After 11 years of entering, she finally won.  The biggest carrot to her wasn’t the prize money but the publication of her stories.  Poets & Writers says that in the past decade, the number of prizes that include publication has risen 50%.  Running contests keeps  a great number of small, independent presses in business.  Independent publishers are important because they will often take on a novice writer whose manuscript shows promise – something a large New York publisher will rarely do.  As writers, we want the species of independent presses to survive.

Contests are a numbers game.  Writers often have to submit to dozens of contests before they win – this can take years.  Nothing in the writing world moves quickly.  And, a contest win doesn’t always guarantee publication; however, it does give you credibility if nothing else.  Every little bit helps.

What does prize money mean to the winners? For one writer, it bought a new computer; for another, books.  One writer’s words struck me when she said it bought her time and peace of mind.  Another winner said it would buy him more contest entries.

In my humble Banshee opinion entering contests is a good thing but I can’t see pinning all of my hopes on a contest win. I can see that there are some intangible benefits.  The more you submit (or enter), the more exposure your work will get.  With every submission (even if you don’t win or get published), you build on your experience, your body of work.  This will lead to more confidence.  It’s about getting out there.

Should everyone enter writing contests?  The article concludes that writers having luck being published in literary magazines probably don’t need writing contests.  For those who haven’t yet reached that benchmark, writing contests get our work read.  The article emphasizes again that we will doubtless have to enter dozens and dozens of contests before achieving success.  That’s a lot of quarters.  I don’t know if my sofa can do that.

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