6 Surefire Ways to Get the Most Out of Writing Contests

Posted on 14 July 2011

I have a short piece called “Six Surefire Ways to Get the Most Out of Writing Contests” in the August 2011 issue of The Writer magazine. This issue should be on newsstands now. You can find my article in the Take Note department near the beginning of the magazine.

I interviewed two writers for this piece: Laura van den Berg, winner of the 2007 Dzanc Prize (and author of What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, a lovely short story collection), and Jacob Appel, who has entered (and won) an insane number of short fiction contests. And I mean “insane” in a good way. Talking to him made me want to run out and enter a contest or twenty.

In the article, Laura and Jacob offer some tips for choosing contests and improving your chances. I, meanwhile, seem destined to screw up Jacob’s very sensible advice of entering contests early by continuing to mail my entries on the postmark deadline and not a minute sooner.

Now that the August issue is out, I’m reminded that months ago I sent The Writer another piece, a personal essay, that is tentatively slated to be published in early 2012. This is the type of essay that you need to write but also suspect it would be a big fat embarrassment to, say, publish it in a nationally distributed commercial magazine. And yet here I am. You’d think I’d be used to the self-induced shame by now, but it’s a process. You have to kind of ease into it.

Quick! What are your six surefire ways to get the most of out ____?

7 responses to 6 Surefire Ways to Get the Most Out of Writing Contests

  • Averil Dean says:

    Sheesh! You are everywhere. How are the rest of us supposed to keep up?

    Can’t wait to read the article! (You know a trip to the bookstore means braving the most heinous traffic in Vegas, right? What I won’t do for love.)

  • Teri says:

    Averil is right. You are everywhere!! And I’m so happy to see you popping up all over.

    And I hear you about the piece to come out in 2012…. I had an essay accepted last summer, to be published yet This Summer, and now I’m feeling squeamish. What in the world was I even talking about a year ago??!!??

  • Teri says:

    P.S. A few years ago I served a year on a lit magazine. It was interesting to learn how things looked from that end of things. Regarding the writing contests, I can speak to the Fiction Contest we ran. There was a $1,000 prize and several hundred submissions. Our process was:

    1. Read opening 2 pages to see if it grabs us. If yes, into the Maybe Stack it goes. If it doesn’t, it goes into the ‘read later’ pile. (you never want to be in the read later pile — grab the reader from the first paragraph!)

    2. If a story really grabs us, we tag it “Potential Winner.” If the story does not have Potential Winner appeal, it dies a quick death. There’s just too much competition to keep it around.

    3. Getting your story in early is a key. If you get it in late — and I know some who subscribe to this theory — you have to be good enough to knock what’s already there off the pedestal. That’s tough to do.

    • Thank you for the insider’s view! I guess it depends on how contests are run — some don’t look at entries until after the deadline, but others certainly do. It’s smart to just get it in early…too bad many writers (ahem, yours truly) need/use deadlines as their “inspiration.” My muse has a name and it’s Last Minute Terror Writing/Submitting.

  • OK, another magazine issue on my list. Guess I need to re-up my expired subscription. Thanks for being so ubiquitous.

    The only surefire way I have of getting out of anything is finding a way to avoid my WIP. Doing a hell of a job with that tonight. I could probably name a dozen ways to go about it.

    • I’m supposed to be writing right now, and I just spent 5 minutes methodically unknotting my laptop’s power cord. (Hey, it’s a lot longer now!) Also, I only logged into my blog because I actually need to look something up on here for research for a Q&A I’m working on. Seriously.

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