Why you should submit to literary contests

After Calyx threw their two-cents in, I decided to throw in mine as well.

As a writer and teacher, my money is in short supply. I submit to literary journals for a love of contributor copies and a blind, finger-crossing hope that someone might pay me as well. I, of course, don’t live off my writing. I teach to pay my rent. I write to stay sane. I submit because what I ultimately want to do in life is write.

Contests, with their $15 and $20 reading fees, seem like an extravagance. I, for one, have submitted to seven contests in my life, five that had reading fees. I’ve won none of them and only been a semifinalist for one.

Why should you ever submit to literary contests?

  • You could win AND/OR get published. We all submit our work to journals with the wild hope that we’ll be accepted. We can submit to contests with the same abandon. We can have confidence enough in our writing to believe that it’s worth sending out. For The Pinch‘s literary contest, if you are a first place winner in your genre, your work will be published in an upcoming issue. If you are a second or third place winner, your work might be. Also, all work submitted (even if you don’t win) is considered for publication. So, you could win and, even if you don’t, you could get published. Stu Dearnley, the third place fiction winner of the 2011 Pinch contest, got his first ever publication from winning a contest. We have also published work from other contestants that did not win.
  • You could receive critical attention from a great poet/writer/essayist. In terms of The Pinch‘s literary contest, all of the entries are read by the staff and then we, as a staff, decide which ten or fifteen finalists to send onto the bigwig genre judge. If someone on our staff really likes your work, your work might get published or you might get solicited to send us more work. If you are one of the lucky finalists (as in, we, as a staff, decide to send your work onto the bigwig), your work will receive personal attention from that bigwig. If you are selected as a (first, second, or third place) winner, he or she will know your name and write something special about your work. An amazing poet writing something amazing about a poem of mine would be…amazing.
  • You could win $$$. Many contests boast a wonderful $1000 or $1500 prize. That could help with attending a residency, submitting journals that ask for a $3 reading fee with each submission, or sending that manuscript out.
  • Your reading fee helps support the journal that hosts the contest. This point is really important. Since I’ve managed a literary journal, I know firsthand how important these contests can be for ensuring a journal can produce future issues, purchase merchandise to sell, host release parties, host readings, etc. Every year, The Pinch contest is its lifeblood to ensuring we can keep producing a great product, as well as hosting great events for our dedicated admirers to attend.
  • You get something. You more often than not receive at least one issue of the journal, and many times, you receive two issues, a full year of a journal you already adore!

I realize many of us writers aren’t rolling in money (unless we a.) won the lottery or inherited a lot of money, b.) have a fancy job, or c.)   married up), but by submitting to contests, you are not only taking your writing seriously, but also supporting the journals that help keep what we love so much alive and well.

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9 thoughts on “Why you should submit to literary contests

  1. I’m pleased to read this post, because while I finally began submitting to literary journals last year, I held off entering contests. I figured my odds would be longer than with a regular submission. The cost was an issue as well, but I understand why the fee is there. My bigger concern was the idea that it would be moot, because the competition was too great.

    Then I was encouraged to enter a writing contest last fall, I did so on a whim, and won! It wasn’t a literary journal, but it’s motivated me to enter three or four in the last few months. I hadn’t thought about your second point, that I might find myself invited to submit even if I don’t win. That is certainly an extra incentive!

    1. Wow! Congrats! Yeah, I don’t know if other journals suggest good contest submitters to submit other work to be published, but I know The Pinch does and that’s fuel enough for me!

  2. I think entering contests is great, too. When you get a copy of that journal, it really makes you feel like you spent your money for some good. While I’ve entered many contests, I’ve yet to win won that I paid a fee for, but it doesn’t really deter me. I think that there is something about the possibility that makes it seem exciting. I basically use my beer money, anyway, so it’s kind of a win-win.

    1. Totally! I’ve usually gotten the issue for the journal way after I received the contest rejection and so I was so glad to have that lovely journal in my hands. It totally seems worth it when the cost to enter isn’t much more than purchasing an issue or two anyway.

  3. Thanks for your essay. Ironic it should post today because I just got my rejection from the Pinch contest in my e mail literally minutes ago! It’s all good though. I appreciate the opportunity and I think my piece needs improvement anyway before I spank it on the butt and send it back out the door. You made several very good points and I’m just gonna keep bangin’ my head against the wall because it feels so good when I stop! 😉 It’s a numbers game and you just have to keep putting stuff out there – and as you articulated- it supports journal you’re submitting to and I think it supports the entire practice and discipline. Write on brothers and sisters!

      1. It’s a really good essay and very timely! I had a really productive day today. Wrote and submitted three pieces of flash fiction, posted two endorsements on Amazon and Lulu and posting a book review on my own blog now! Thanks for responding!

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