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Writing contests: Money money money

Writing contests are kind of a racket. On the one hand, they present a chance for glory: bragging rights, prime publication, a kind of gold star on your literary record, and cold hard cash. But on the other hand, they often require cash to enter. Twenty dollars here and twenty dollars there adds up for a struggling writer.

And, of course, it adds up for struggling literary magazines too. It's no secret that one reason literary journals run writing contests is because they can be profitable.

But if we can assume that this is a symbiotic relationship, and that all are willing partners, then it's worth pointing out that there are some notable awards coming up.

Take, for example, the Missouri Review. Its 19th annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors' Prize awards a total of $15,000 -- $5,000 each in the fields of poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The entry fee is $20, and the deadline is Oct. 1.

Also with a deadline of Oct. 1 is Zoetrope's short fiction contest. The fee is slightly less ($15 per submission) and the first place award, $1,000, is nice but not huge. The three top submissions will be "considered for representation" by seven notable literary agencies.

Locally, the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award comes with a $3,000 cash prize -- plus publication by Red Hen. This year, Nick Flynn is judging the contest; it's $25 to enter and the deadline is Aug. 31.

The website for the magazine Poets & Writers has a good database for finding contests, but it's better for immediate rather than long-term planning. Writers really focused on garnering these awards may need to work out complex rubrics, schemes and schedules to make writing prizes pay.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: yomanimus via Flickr

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Hallelujah, Jacket Copy. The writing contest world looks so appetizing when a writer is staring down the dry well of his/her bank account. You think to yourself, “It’s twenty bucks. I can give up a week of Starbucks for the chance at some major dough.” I have the same internal debate when standing at the slot machine in Vegas: “It’s only a quarter. I could win hundreds, right?”

Unfortunately, it feels like no matter how great a writer you are, the odds are stacked against you. The literary magazines have thousands of entries, and the editors are munching through short stories like preschoolers through Cheerios. They’ve got a hard job, and I wouldn’t trade them my lunchbox for the world.

Bottom line: I don’t set my hopes (or bets) on winning any prizes, but I continue to submit because…well, you never know when you might hit the jackpot.


It fits the unfortunate model that more people seem to be interested in writing than they are in reading.


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