Monday, June 18, 2012

The topic of poetry contests, their fees and what a poet receives for a specific fee, is one that it often discussed in the poetry community (here and here on our own blog as examples). However, these contests are not the only ones available to the poetry community.

For example, the Science Fiction Poetry Association is currently offering a free contest with a $50 prize plus publication in three different categories. Check out the details here.

Locally, and more immediately, the Writing Knights Grand Tournament is a FREE contest with both a book prize and chapbook prize for winners. Local poets who have a book or chapbook manuscript ready to go and looking for a publisher should check out the contest here. Rumor has it there are very few entries--many less than expected--this year, so odds are good for publication.

What other contests are folks submitting to? How do folks feel about contests with fees or negligible fees? How about contests that guarantee a prize of sorts?


Geoffrey A. Landis said...

A problem with pay to enter contests, other than the fact that you never know whether the judges will simply pick their friends as winners (after all, Jorie Graham might be a judge), is that it puts up barriers to participation by people for whom money is an issue. And there are people for whom a twenty dollar entry fee is something they have to think long and hard about.
If winning contests is really the way to get recognition in poetry, and if you have to face rejection and keep on submitting even after being rejected one, ten, fifty times.. well, we've set up a system where only people with money can afford to be poets.

With that said, I do like the Ohio Poetry Day contests. They do have a fee, but it's pretty low, and it's clear they're not making money at it.

pottygok said...

Here is how the process was explained to me once:

1) Send poems out to lots and lots of magazines (which still costs money for stamps), getting copies and/or money for your troubles.

2) Sell copies to used bookstores, at readings, etc. and use the money to enter contests.

3) Use prize money from said contests to enter larger (chapbook and/or book) contests.

4) Use chapbook and book creds to land a job or reading gigs, which pay for contests or makes then unnecessary.

The issue, here, of course is that one MUST BE SUCCESSFUL on all levels to succeed. This simply isn't the practical case, even for successful poets. When I was getting my MA at CSU, Eliot Khalil Wilson won the First Book Award from Cleveland State University Press, which brought with it a $1000 prize as well as publication, copies, etc. Wilson told us, in class session, that he BROKE EVEN with that prize. That means he had to enter 50-100 contests, with fees from $10-25, just to win one. The odds simply aren't in the poet's favor, and yet there seem to be few other options to getting nationally recognized, as micro and indie publishers don't have the clout that university and big name indie presses do.

I also tend to support contests that clearly give something for all entrants. For example, there are a few contests that give a copy of the winning chapbook, or a years subscription to a journal, for the entry fee. I also like haiku contests, which tend to charge a dollar per entry.

VertigoXX said...

The Standing Rock poetry chapbook competition has a $9 entry fee, but all entrants receive a copy of the winning book. I'm down with that. (It guarantees sales and distribution of the book in advance, and after all, wanting people to READ your book is the biggest reason anyone would enter in the first place.)

Other contests I've run into, however, with $20, $25, or even $30 entry fees and nothing going to anyone but the winner, those just don't sit well with me. A publisher's job is to earn a profit by SELLING BOOKS, not by leeching money from the hopes and dreams of writers looking to be discovered.

I've also noticed some other small presses that charge a reading fee. This brings up another end of the equation. I can understand charging a couple bucks to ensure the only submissions you receive are from authors who actually bothered to read your submission rules and guidelines. (I'm seriously thinking of doing just that to reduce the number of unpublishable manuscripts sent in and compensate myself for the time wasted looking at any manuscripts that don't follow the guidelines.) There has to be a limit, though. Like Geoff said, $20 takes a serious bite out of many of our budgets. Deciding to submit a manuscript somewhere with a fee like that might mean not getting to go to someone else's book release because that was the gas money.

John Burroughs said...

Google wouldn't let me post my rambling comment because it's over 4096 characters long. Maybe that's a sign that I've said too much or should be a good editor and revise my raw, hasty response. But I'll split it into two parts and post it anyway.

I agree with most of what everyone has said above. As a poet, I have never submitted to a contest with a fee or to sent a manuscript for consideration to a press with a reading fee. For one thing I just can't afford it. For another it feels like buying those instant lottery tickets. Sure there's less chance involved. But the odds are not in my favor. The lottery system is set up so the state ultimately makes more money than it pays out. If it's a press I'd be willing to donate to anyway, just because I respect or especially like what they do, I might be more likely to pay a reading or contest fee, and feel I'm doing a good deed, if I could afford it. But I can't. And I am definitely more receptive to something like Ohio Poetry Day, with its very modest fees, blind reading and plethora of prizes - knowing the organization and that they're doing it more for love than money helps (I've done website work for them gratis) - or to an organization like Standing Rock, which I also know and respect and which is offering me a "free" book and not expecting something for nothing. But again I haven't paid them either. Why? Because I simply can't afford it. And if I do have 10 bucks to spare, I'd prefer having a book in the hand (buying it from a poet I like or a friend or a local publisher I respect) over potentially throwing my money away in contest bushes, hoping to snag book publications that might never be mine to snag. Maybe I'm not the best person to ask, however, because I can't help being biased. It's easy for a person like me with little or no money to make grandiose proclamations about how poetry should be free and to stand up against all fees. But really, I guess, it's best to judge each on a case by case basis - though, alas, in a lot of cases we just don't (and can't) know. Perhaps most publishing decks are stacked to some degree, even when the publisher tries to make every effort to be objective and fair. I just know competition takes a lot of the enjoyment out of poetry for me.

John Burroughs said...

Speaking as a publisher, I've never charged a reading fee. I've thought about it. In some ways it would make my life easier. Our next Crisis Chronicles Press chapbook is ready to print - but I can't do it until I sell more of our last couple of titles. I had to choose between ink and the electric bill. Even my rent's three weeks late. I could call these press-essential expenses, hold a contest, charge a fee, solve my immediate issues, print our next book posthaste and make a relatively good case for doing so. But I won't. I'm not even sure I can accept that charging a fee is good for quality assurance because there are as many bad poets with money as there are without. Plus by charging a fee I think I'd open myself up to charges of impropriety. I think I'd become hesitant to publish a friend's book because I'd worry people would think I only accepted her manuscript because she's my friend. And someone I took a fee from and then rejected might become disgruntled and think they never had an honest chance and I'm a charlatan. And it would be total BS. But by doing it for free, I can publish who I want when I want for whatever reasons I want (though in all cases the poetry must be damn good and worthy of publication), and who cares what anyone else thinks? Of course I'm biased. And you're not gonna have to give me your money to find out. Like VX said, I'd much rather earn money to support the press' efforts by actually selling books rather than "leeching money from the hopes and dreams of writers looking to be discovered" (though donations are always welcome). Hell, in an ideal world, I'd love to not have to sell anything at all - just produce great art, great chapbooks by great writers, and broadcast them far and wide for free. That would be a lot of fun - if I could afford it. But I can't - just like I can't afford reading and contest fees. So instead I'll just sell books and buy books and even give away books occasionally when I can, and try to leave the fees (without judging which are righteous and which are not - as that seems largely beyond my ken) to others.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

I can accept an entry fee that gets you a subscription. A lot of editors do complain that people submit without reading the magazine, so this would at least mean that the next time people submit, they might have actually read the magazine and have an idea what the editor buys.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

Note to John:
Actually, since your comments split naturally into two parts, one part commenting as a poet and one part commenting as a publisher, it makes sense to post them as two separate comments, even if that hadn't been your original intent.
(and I pretty much agree with what you say.)


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau