i have entered, and usually lost, a few writing contests every year for a very long time. i have a love/hate relationship with them, as you can never rely on them to boost your ego. the actual logistics of entering contests blends together smoothly with sending query letters out to agents and publishers. local contests and grants, national foundations, get-rich-quick-writing-schemes, literary magazines, online literary magazines, and pretty soon you are washed out to sea.
when you lean in for a closer inspection, you start to notice that you don’t have nearly as many choices as you thought you did at first. it takes a few hours, but you can start to wade through contests that don’t apply to you, or agents who don’t represent your genre. some prizes are only for women, or people who live in philadelphia, or are given for essays that deal with LGBT issues. you pick a handful, almost but not quite at random, and then you have to start figuring out each person’s guidelines.
submitting manuscripts requires the same delicate approach as turning in a paper to a cranky professor. double space, don’t double space, never double space. font types, word count limits, what info to put in the header and footer. this stage seems to really shine with the old fashioned, slow, obstinate energy of the publishing industry. it is a publisher’s world, right now, and self-publishing is probably the champion who will dethrone the king. even if it is a pipe dream, i still like thinking that some day i might be able to write a story and then simply email it to a magazine without the fear that it would be rejected for having the wrong margins.
but, i digress. at least there is some sort of infrastructure to try to make a name for yourself as a creative writer. right at this moment i don’t look too kindly on the subject, since i have been getting piles of rejection letters from agents for the last novel i wrote. but let’s be honest; all it would take is one of the ten or twenty contests i enter to toss me a second place prize to make me as happy as a clam.