Every now and then, after (or in the midst of) a heavy grading period, I have to remind myself that in addition to being a university professor, I’m also a poet. In the throes of a busy semester, this can be a challenge, but this morning, I took a few minutes to work on a poem and send out a submission to a contest.
In general, I’m not a big fan of contests. It can feel like a waste of time and money, given the odds of winning. So I’m fairly selective about the contests I choose to enter. i like them to have a good reputation but not be the creme de la creme (those top national awards don’t need my money). But more importantly, I like to feel like I’m getting something for my money besides a lottery ticket. So the contest rules need to be clear and fair, and the organization running the contest needs to be one I know, trust, and want to support with my entrance fee. An added bonus is when the entrance fee buys you a subscription to a magazine (which I’d often rather have than a copy of the prize-winning book). It’s also nice when contest entries are also considered for publication in a magazine (though i don’t like it if I get the feeling you have to enter the contest to be considered for magazine publication).
The contest fee should be modest, but there should be a fee. I never trust a free contest unless I am absolutely confident about the organization running it (state Arts Commissions or other well-recognized organizations that run grant competitions are the main exceptions to the rule). I’ve heard of too many scams for poets out there to want to enter your free contest. But I have no interest in paying through the nose just to be read. I’ll take my chances in the slush pile, thank you very much.
I want to support a few contests per year by entering them. They should be sponsored by literary magazines or organizations that support writers, so I feel like I’m giving back to the community with my submission. If I get something good to read out of the deal, even better. And if my name gets mentioned among the finalists or even better as one of the winners, that’s fabulous, but I’m not holding my breath. I like the tangible, certain rewards that build a community of writers the best. Fame and fortune (or at least prize money) always seem too elusive to bank on.