Then I noticed that some contests offered a subscription to their literary journal or a copy of the winning book. I figured if I entered those contests at least I’d get something in return for my investment. Typically, a book contest entry fee (reading fee) costs between $20 and $30 dollars. A chapbook contest runs around $10-20. And a single poem contest can be around $10. At one point, I only sent my work to single poem contests because ten bucks for a reading fee wasn’t so bad. But I never won. I’m a perpetual bridesmaid. I received honorable mention in the Harold McCracken poetry contest at UAF. I was a finalist (twice) for the Joy Harjo Poetry Award. I was a finalist for the Winning Writers War Poetry Contest and received honorable mention in Boulevard’s Emerging Poetry Award. Is the literary contest route worth it? Sometimes a writer can spend years and a ton of money entering contests.
1. Only enter reputable contests (CWLA’s Kathy Tarr sends out contest information to students, and contests are regularly announced in Poets and Writers magazine, AWP's The Writer's Chronicle, and on www.newpages.com).
2. Check to see if your university offers a contest or if a regional journal or writers group has a yearly prize. Often they don’t have a “reading fee.”
3. Enter “first” book contests not “first or second book” contests.
4. Enter contests for students in MFA programs.
5. Enter contests that offer you something in return: a literary journal subscription, a copy of the winner’s book.
6. When you are first starting out, enter short story, novel excerpt, or poem contests. Those reading fees are easier on the wallet.
Eventually, entering contests did pay off —I won first prize. No, I didn’t get a book prize, I received a Ray Troll autographed t-shirt. I had submitted a poem to Alaska 49 Writers’ Ode to a Dead Salmon Contest and won first place. Now, whenever I wear my Ray Troll t-shirt I don’t feel like such a bridesmaid. I’m a grand prize winner!