November 3, 2011

Submitting Your Work to Competitions

Whether fiction or poetry, it must be work that is original yet not merely sensational for the sake of sensation. It must contain clear, well-developed themes and be written in a style that exhibits love of language and mastery of craft.

If fiction, whether literary/mainstream or genre fiction, the characters must be fully drawn, not stereotypes, and must be engaged in conflicts (either internal or external) that are compelling and show forward momentum.

In both poetry and fiction, if it's a universal story (love, death, loss, coming of age, moral responsiveness or failure to respond), it must be told in a fresh way.

And poetry, whether formal or free-verse, must exhibit rhythm and "music" in its use of language, syntax, line breaks, and structure. A group of words carelessly slung lengthwise down a page is not a free-verse poem; it's a group of words that needs to be made into a poem.

Furthermore, a group of words that ‘plays’ with language without attempting meaning or message is not a poem, it’s an exercise.

This is an excerpt from and I've copied it here because I think it's the most succinct statement of what competitions and editors like to see.  

In addition, the work should be free of errors (spelling, commonly confused words, or the like) and the writer needs to read the directions carefully in order to follow the submission guidelines. In some, the author's name can not appear on the manuscript. Many of the competitions have reading fees around $25 or more; the writer should know that the prestigious awards have a lot of submissions, upward of a 1000 or more. The work needs to be a very high caliber.    
I used to send a lot of manuscripts out and pay many fees--I didn't mind supporting the many small presses that used these funds to help maintain their operation. But it began to feel like a form of gambling; I realized I had better ways to use my funds. I've become more selective.

There are arts boards that take applications; these are very worthwhile and they do not ask for a reading fee.  In Minnesota, the state arts board offers many opportunities.  Visit their website at There are regional arts councils as well, and I recommend that you go to any workshops that are offered for assistance in the application process. In northeastern Minnesota, see

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