From time to time, guest bloggers will be posting on topics related to poetry and publication. When guests do post, please remember that their words and opinions are their own and may or may not be shared by me. Guest bloggers are not given preferential treatment by Poetic Effect.
Today's guest blogger is Donna M. Marbach, publisher at Palettes & Quills.
Poetry Contests, Our Community Projects
Poets & Writers magazine in its May/June 2012 issue published an article, that all serious poets should read, “The Risks and Rewards of Writing Contests” the article, by Michael Bourne, makes an interesting point. The contests are a kind of community project. Poets’ reading fees help support the whole concept of poetry by allowing publishers to continue publishing it. Readers, in turn, are exposed to poetry they otherwise would never see. “A community project” is certainly how Palettes & Quills (http://www.palettesnquills.com/) sees its own biennial chapbook contest.
Bourne’s extensive article examines what happens with the money from contest fees, suggests how one can determine ethical contests, and poses pros and cons to help readers decide whether entering contests is “worth it.” Though you, as poet, are really the only one who can answer the worth of contests, Bourne notes, “Unless your work is showing up in prestigious literary magazines or you have a connection to the editors at a press that publishes poetry, writing contests probably offer the best way to ensure that your work will at least get a fair reading.”
If contests truly are the best way to have your work read, how can you maximize your chance of winning one?
First and foremost, it is critical that you obtain and read the rules or guidelines for submitting and don’t assume that your poems constitute an exception to the rule. Contest administrators have rules for a reason and (whether you think they are reasonable or not), if you want to have any chance at winning, pay attention to them. If the rules are unclear or you believe you have a justifiable “exception” to something, write the administrator beforehand and get a clarification.
Secondly, know something about the final judge. It is useful to know the background, work and philosophy of whoever has been named the final judge. If you are not familiar with him/her, do some research. While it is not necessary or even desirable that your work be the same or similar to that of the judge, it is useful to know whether or not he/she might like or dislike your style of poetry.
Another tip you may wish to consider is to submit your manuscript as early as you can in the reading process. Avoid a last minute submission if at all possible. So many manuscripts come in right before a deadline that first readers can be overcome by the volume of manuscripts they have to read. You risk having your work being given a less than a positive rating simply because it is the 10th or 12th manuscript the reader has reviewed that day.
Also when entering a contest, in addition to considering the prize itself, take some time to consider who and how much competition you’re going to have. For example, if you enter Prairie Schooner Book Prize for $25, you could win $2,500 and publication (no specific number of books) but you would also be competing with 628 other poets. If you enter Palettes & Quills for $20, your prize is $200 plus 50 books, and you will only be competing against 140 or so other poets. Quite honestly, beginning and emerging poets have much better chances at winning some of the smaller and lesser known contests, thus making them a better bet for getting their work out and about.
Finally, submit a quality manuscript. Not only should your manuscript be clean, legible, and without spelling, typographical or grammatical errors, it should be a single work of some quality. Just as a poem should be more than a jumble of words, a good manuscript should be more than a bunch of poems. There are many ways to order a manuscript – too many to discuss in this essay. Nonetheless, no matter how you do it, you should arrange your poems according to some underlying theory that makes them a cohesive book.
In the end, contests are certainly one way to participate in the sharing of poetry. They provide poets with an opportunity to expose their work and to grow as poets. They allow publishers, especially small, independent publishers an opportunity to publish and disseminate good poetry to more people. And they allow readers, editors, and judges to assist in bringing good poetry into a spotlight that might not exist without them. Contests are indeed “a community project,” one in which we all can compete yet support each other at the same time.