Monday, January 30, 2006

Where Have All The (Good) Writers Gone? -
Or More On Writing Contests

I remember reading this at the beginning of the year and putting a note for a later post. I only just now came across the note (which only proves that my sound organization methods work...).

The article, from Poets & Writers, is about disappointing writing contests. Disappointing for the organizers that is. In fact, so disappointing that sometimes they cannot find a winner. The article, Press Offers Refund, and Then Some says:
Much to the chagrin of writers everywhere, there is no longer anything particularly shocking about a literary contest that fails to yield a winner. When W.S. Merwin announced that he couldn't find a worthy manuscript to win the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1997, many writers--including some of the nearly six hundred who entered the contest--could barely contain their outrage. Since then, however, the winnerless contest has become a fairly common occurrence.

As opposed to most of the contests that "failed to yield a winner" and didn't refund the contest fee, Winnow Press (while still not finding a winner) did not only refund the entry fees, but also "postage costs, and returning all of the manuscripts that were entered in the contest, along with a complimentary poetry chapbook or fiction book published by the press."

Two things are at the heart of the matter as I see it from the article:

The first, the issue of contest entry fee refund. I've already mentioned in a previous post about writing contests that I don't particularly like contests and don't enter contests with an entry fee. It is my choice of course. But for those who choose otherwise, I urge to pay attention to the terms of the contest. Is the fee non-refundable? What are the copyright terms? Is it worth it? Keep in mind that not all contest organizers are like Winnow Press.

The second thing, and perhaps the bigger issue, is the fact that so many contests are winnerless. That is, the quality of the submissions, the mss is poor. This is something that is hard to hear. Could it be that in this internet age where any person who ever dreamt of being a writer now tries his/her luck? Could it be that the editors, the judges' expectations are unreasonable - a ms. that requires hardly any editing?

To contrast that, I will quote a local writer, Mark Leslie. In his blog about an anthology -North of Infinity - he's currently editing he says the following:
However, this is the first time I can ever remember going through an open submission reading phase and not receiving a single submission that wasn't good in some way. There wasn't a single story sent in to me that wasn't a good piece of writing, or a good story, or an idea that I found fascinating.

That, in and of itself, made the reading of unsolicited submissions extremely satisfying.

So perhaps not all is lost...

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FredCQ said...

I ran a fantasy Ezine for a short period of time and received roughly 3-5 submissions a day. I noticed that while many of the writers were really talented, they tended to submit work that still was first draft quality and riddled with errors. I think you are doing yourself a major disservice if you submit a manuscript that is less than perfect.

I never have submitted my work to a contest. If I did, I would be very skeptical about paying a fee.

ME Strauss said...

I don't submit to contests for the mostpart because the work involved in getting a piece ready is worth way more than the prize. I just can't afford the time on something so subjectively judged.

I've often looked at some contests and thought, "Gee wouldn't it be easy to start a contest. Charge a $15 fee. Give a $500 first prize. Get everything by email. Publish a small chapbook. And keep the rest of the money." I bet poetry contests are an easy biz. has a contest that once you enter, they hound you forever to become part of a hard cover anthology because your poetry is soooooo good. Ha!

Melly said...

Oh, Fred, you're so right. Always submit your best work, your perfect work. Only problem is, even perfect is in the eyes of the beholder (assuming we're talking beyond spelling mistakes or gramatical errors).

I remember this one incident when I was part of a critique group. One of the better writers in the group submitted a short story and when we critiqued it some of us said that it felt raw, read like a first draft. She started laughing(luckily) and said that this particular short story she worked on more than any other she gave us before and that she was sure it was her best ever.

Besides, how do you explain the rejections I get if all I ever submit is absolutely perfect??? ;)

Melly said...

Liz, oh my, you sure have a point there.
In fact, I often wondered that myself.
So how about we start a contest, eh? :)

David Amulet said...

This reminds me of the great short piece appearing at the end of a recent Publishers Weekly. 'Twas a rant from a publisher who had been reading resumes from wanna-be proofreaders ... all of which had typos or other errors! Honestly, people, is it that hard to give something a good look-over before sending it off?

Sometimes it's amazing we aren't yet a Third World country. Or, even worse, France.

-- david

Carter said...

RTFG! Read The *ahem* Guidelines! I never cease to be amazed at how many magazines complain in their guidelines about people not following them. How would anybody expect to have their work accepted when it's not proofread, formatted correctly, etc., etc. And how can anybody send anything out that's not at least grammatically correct and spell-checked (manually, of course, not by computer)?

I just don't get that at all. My work represents me to the world. It's all most people ever see of me. I want it to make a good impression. Maybe I need a hubris recharge.

Melly said...

David, that's too funny, sending resumes with typos for a proofreading job. Just too funny.

Carter, oh gosh. Let me tell you a story. It happened to me once, coupe years back, that I sent in an article that was accepted, only it asked in the guidelines for a diskette and I emailed it. The editor never said anything about it, only I was so embarrassed when I realized the error of my way, I never sent anything to that market again. Sad or funny but true.

In any event, all,I don't know why, but I had the feeling they were talking more about the actual writing quality rather than typos and stuff, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I take it so much for granted that when people say quality, I assume the actual quality rather than the other quality. Okay, going back to nut house now :)