Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ready to Write: Submitting to Writing Contests

It's writing contest time in the literary world. Or, at least in my case, finding out I didn't win a writing contest. Sure, it's a long shot submitting that essay or story you've revised and revised for a needle-in-a-haystack chance at prize money and publication (although submitting last year to South Loop Review: Nonfiction + Art did result in the latter--to be printed in the Fall 2013 issue--a long, but worth-it wait akin to the yearlong process of book publication).

The recent rejection to which I am referring is the first annual Sycamore Review Wabash Nonfiction Prize, selected by guest judge Mary Karr (poet and author of The Liars' Club, Cherry and Lit):
"Congratulations to our winners and finalists, and thank you to all who submitted. We received an astounding 326 submissions in this first year, and many more poignant, moving submissions than we have room to mention. Our editorial staff enjoyed reading the work of so many talented writers."
Alas, I'm gearing up again, considering which of my personal essays from my thesis collection to submit, and where. Competing against literature and writing professors with published books and other credits in their bios can be intimidating at best, discouraging at worst. But, for me, I think it's less about keeping an eye on the prize as it is just getting a piece dressed and out the door. Sometimes a contest deadline provides the motivation I need to do just that.

There's also something intentional about the process. Browsing literary journals online, reading submission guidelines, revisiting my own work and taking it seriously enough to try -- all make the effort worthwhile. Even the submission fees (usually hovering around $13-15) are a worthy investment, as they go toward a yearlong subscription -- often 1-2 volumes per year. When I recently received the latest South Loop Review, a sizable book full of innovative work I'm thrilled to soon add my name to, the price was a small one to pay.

Finally, in terms of considering whether or not your own work is ready for the submission process, here's some advice straight from the source -- a blog entry, "What Captivates Us," by Sycamore Review's nonfiction editor, Shavonne Clarke:
When I read through Sycamore’s nonfiction submission pile, those pieces that grip me most seem almost self-aware in this way. Either they have excised those dull bits from their memories, or they have transformed them into something fascinating. They are full of tension. What will happen, I wonder, but of course, everything in an essay has already happened. This is where an essay becomes masterful: what has happened in the past becomes, for the reader, the present. As with a good short story or novel, these essays are capable of transporting me. There is a journey to be made, a path to be forged, and all of it matters because I imagine that the writer is still grappling with it now, today, this very moment. These memories are still breathing, creating a narrative that will bring us to a new place, to an insight into our condition. 
With many deadlines beginning mid-March, here are a few great links to get you started (thanks to Kathy Crowley at The Review Review):

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