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Writing Contests: Are they still relevant?

Poets & Writers MagazineAre writing contests still relevant in today’s virtual world? Contest notices have stuffed my mailbox, filled my writing magazines and taunted me with their deadlines for years. And I reciprocated willingly with my sacrificial manuscripts for many years. My reasons were many. Sure, I wanted to win. But for me,and for most writers, the opportunity to get my pages in front of an editor, agent, bestselling author or whomever meant someone in the profession would read my work. Today the ease of reaching out and touching people, even if it is virtually, tears down those many walls that separated writers from editors and agents from writers. Back then you pretty much had to get off your duff, dole out a bundle to attend a conference, and pray to God that you remembered your 3-sentence synopsis and maintained some sense of poise at the appointed time. Editors weren’t blogging, many weren’t even being interviewed. Forget social media. Contests were inexpensive and an opportunity to gain some insight from new, albeit somewhat jaded, eyes.

Writing contests offered a pathway to publishing

There were the usual big name contests that you still find today in Poets & Writers Magazine and Writer’s Digest Magazine but there were many others. In fact, the number of contests had exploded and nearly every writing organization in the country offered a variation on the novel writing contest. Send us your first chapter, send us your first three chapters, send us your synopsis, no, wait, send us your 3-page synopsis. You name it and someone solicited it.

My friends and I sat at our desks rolling manuscripts out of our coveted IBM Selectric typewriters and later our first computers. You could tell when a major contest entry closed by the lines at the local post office where your friends were stuffing papers into manilla envelopes, licking stamps, and double-checking entry forms. If that didn’t give them away, all you had to do was check for the dark circles under the eyes and the nonstop yawning. Sometimes I look back at those years and wonder at our relentless pursuit.

The impact of today’s self-publishing opportunities

The reasons stated were many but the underlying constant theme was the rush to publish. We so wanted to see our work in print, to have readers devouring our pages and wanting more. Sure, we had our critique groups, our local writing groups, and our writing friends from conferences but it wasn’t enough. We wanted the brass ring, that Holy Grail of publishing called “The Book Contract.” And so we stayed up until the wee hours churning out pages, reading and editing each other’s works, supporting each other during the lows, hailing one another during the highs, all the while keeping our eye on the final finish line. Contest after contest, year after year, we kept our heads down and wrote. Self-publishing was nowhere near as common as it is now and online publishing didn’t exist.

Are creative writing contests for you?

I wonder how well contests are doing now with all the opportunities to network, connect and publish?  Do writers still flock to contests and covet their awards? What about you? Are you entering contests? Do they matter to you? Share your experiences and whether you find contests have value today.


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