THE CONTEST SHUFFLE: As the new manuscript nears completion, I've started compiling a list of contests and presses with open reading periods. Just before I started this post, I went to Poets & Writers and printed out the Grants & Awards section and circled the contests Wake is eligible for, as well as potential chapbook contests for After the Poison and a handful of contests that will yield single poem winners. Out of those 11 printed pages, I circled nine possibilities. If I enter all of them it will cost me $165. It's outrageous, especially the single poem contests charging $15. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most contests won't really get started until late summer or early fall, where you can spend hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of dollars entering your manuscript. Those open reading periods start to look better and better once you do the math.
I know Reb Livingston of No Tell Books and Dan Vera and Michael Gushue at VRZHU Press won't mind me singing praises for their approach to publishing. They publish who they like, support the writers and put together beautiful books in conjunction with the author. Both presses are using Lulu.com as their printing company. The books are gorgeous. I've got all the No Tell Books and just got Kim Roberts' wonderful The Kimnama from VRZHU and I challenge anyone to find more beautifully done books of poetry. Unlike some print-on-demand companies, the books are printed on fine paper, the covers can be slick or matte-finished and the perfect binding is...well...perfect. Cherryl Floyd-Miller has re-published her out-of-print first collection, Utterance: A Museology of Kin, and her award-winning play, Settling Sophia, through her own Flutterblue Press, using Lulu as her printer, distributor, storefront. Again, beautiful books. I am sold on this business model for publishing, especially poetry. Cherryl has inked a deal with prestigious Salt Press in the UK for her next couple of books, but she's fully embraced self-publishing as a way to get more of her work before an audience. I applaud her. Poets need to begin a new dialog on the publishing and distribution of poetry.
Winning a poetry contest is akin to playing the lottery. I'm sure I mentioned a poet I know who entered 70 contests before winning a prize. If each contest had a $25 entry fee that's $1,750. You could publish through Lulu, buy an advertisement in a nice lit mag and still have money to arrange a nice reading/publishing party for that amount of money.
Yes, I'm still going to enter a couple of contests, but I encourage anyone shopping a manuscript to visit one of my favorite blogs, Contest Central. There's a good list of which presses have open reading periods for both poetry and fiction. Let's be honest -- awards are nice. I have several on my wall and I'd wouldn't turn down another. However, at this stage in my poetic life, getting the work in readers' hands is more important.