"Prizes are an attempt to mould, and to pre-empt, posterity. Their answers rarely satisfy; they seem, sometimes, to possess an astonishing capacity for ignoring talent. Yet they occupy an increasingly crucial, and volatile, position amid those imperfect processes by which writing is turned into literature...
"I still remember my first few 'publications' as the most satisfying of my life. These came within magazines and pamphlets of near-infinitesimally small circulations as the result of a few poetry and short story competitions I entered as a schoolboy. They could scarcely have come any other way: I had no knowledge of, no contacts within, and no clue about, the book market. I was simply in the habit of sending off things I wrote to the kind of competitions that teachers advertised on notice boards. Such things were, I gradually realised, almost invisible to the world of published books and admired writers, and divided from it by a seemingly immense canyon of ability, insider knowledge and experience. Yet there was also a remarkable continuum between them: one based on judgments about texts and the universality of the desire to write and to be understood. Once words written on a page by one person were being read by another, the playing field was—briefly—level. This was about writing words down, sending them out into the world, and finding that they had meant something to someone else. And, knowing this, wanting to do it again, and better...
"At their best, prizes foster innovation and form a bridge between the more brutal facts of a literary market and the radical possibilities at its edges—the revolutions, innovations and talents yet to come."
Tom Chatfield, "The art of prize-fighting", Prospect, January 17, 2009
"How did winning your latest honor, the AWP Award Series in Creative Nonfiction, change your career?"
"I believe The Riots was pivotal in helping me to gain my position as an assistant professor in the doctoral creative writing program at the University of Cincinnati. Obviously, publications enable one to establish themselves in tenure track positions in academia—there's nothing unusual about that. However, I applied and was hired as a poet. My first book, Lovely Asunder, was published in the same year just a few months earlier, and landed me an interview for the position. During the interview process, The Riots was published, and as it turns out, the faculty member that had taught creative nonfiction in the program at UC had recently left for a position elsewhere, so they needed someone who might be able to teach creative nonfiction as well. This meant I had something extra to offer the department—important in such a tough job market! A more subtle benefit of winning the prize is that my work seems to have caught the attention of a few agents and editors at literary magazines I admire who've queried me for new essays."
"More Words From Winners: Danielle Cadena Deulen", Poets & Writers Magazine, G&A: The Contest Blog, April 18, 2012
"The consensus among editors and publishers seems to be that literary prizes have become more important in the last decade, as publishers and booksellers have grown more adept at taking advantage of them. Heidi Pitlor, an editor at Houghton Mifflin, says, 'The more opportunities we have to put a gold seal on the cover of one of our books, the better.'...
"One reason prizes are more important than ever is that competition for consumers' attention has grown so fierce. In 1999, a hundred and twenty thousand books were published in the United States...
"[T]he less information consumers have about something, the more they're forced to rely on...third-party imprimaturs. This helps explain a curious fact about American literary prizes: they generally help relative unknowns much more than stars. Michael Cunningham, Carol Shields, Pete Dexter: all saw sales skyrocket after winning major prizes."
James Surowiecki, "The Power of the Prize", The New Yorker, June 18, 2001
Excerpt from "Writing Contests: For Winners? Or a Waste of Time?"
"Contests can provide you with a showcase for your work, a chance to bring your work before judges who are also editors, agents, or published writers in their other incarnations. And you don't have to win the contests to be a winner, either. Many writers will tell about their experiences of being contacted by editors or agents who read their contest submissions and were impressed enough to ask to see the whole manuscript... 'Contests can open doors for writers,' [says writer Dawn Tomasko]. 'It's a tight, competitive market and if an editor or agent notices your work through a contest so much the better. It's one way to get a foot in the door. I very much liked reading the different judges' responses to my work...'"
Glenys O'Connell, "Writing Contests: For Winners? Or a Waste of Time?", Contest Guru
Excerpt from The Poetry Life Alternative Guide to Getting Your Poetry Published
"Read up on the winning poems from previous competitions...get an understanding of the quality necessary to win, and enter. The vast majority of entrants in poetry competitions are simply not up to standard and the first reading can reduce the field by up to 80%. So if your work is good there is often less competition than you think. Winning a major poetry competition gets you the best possible publicity—and a fat check!"
Adrian Bishop, The Poetry Life Alternative Guide to Getting Your Poetry Published plus How (Not) to Win Poetry Competitions (2000)
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