The Contest Enterer

As ever, Merrie

If you are a true writer and never been published, won honorable mentions, or contests, you’ll understand what writers do in their spare time. I don’t mean housework. Or walking dogs, grocery shopping, visiting friends, gassing up the car. I mean, you are constantly trolling various websites you know that keep you informed about upcoming contests you want to focus on. Some of them are theme based, some limited to 1000 words, 1500 words, the first ten chapters, a chapbook which has 2-3 related OR unrelated chapters that have something in kind. After my 25+ year career of freelance writing, I no longer care about winning money. What I’m seeking is publication, notoriety if only for a month, and printed proof that I’ve been published. It adds bells to your toes that you won the big one. If you’re planning to publish in the future, you can mention this in your query letter to an agent. Yes, plenty of magazines, well-known journals, and Glimmer Train claim over and over that their winners are unknowns, but I’ve stopped believing that. In fact, Glimmer Train’s contests that I’ve entered and paid their high-end reading fee of $18-$25, publishes writers internationally. How can one little unknown female from Baltimore compete with that? In fact, one of their recent winners was I believe Russian, and her writing was translated for the contest.

If I sound like sour grapes, I can’t help it. I try to limit my contest entries to under $100 a year, but sometimes places raise their reading fees, and I have no choice but to pay them. I would love to enter a Fiction Novel Contest but the reading fee is $50, and the book must already have been published. I’ve self published, but I would never enter those books in contests. They were practice novels, and I’m glad they’re extinct. At the time, I let emotion sway better judgment, and published them before really giving them a jaded eye.

About 3 years ago, I forged a friendship with a young professor at Loyola College University Baltimore, the head of the Creative Writing Center.  He and I sometimes meet and compare notes. He has received a “come on” to publish a novel he’s not yet begun, and in the meantime, has sold a slogan with a ditty to a beer company, which is called COPY WRITING, plus, a nonfiction article to the prestigious BALTIMORE REVIEW magazine. Since he teaches several writing courses during the school year, I’ve stopped sending him announcements about contests, but I used to and now he’s on their email list too.

The novel that’s taking me nearly 5 years to write is nowhere on any bookshelves in the history of this world. I’ve checked often. It’s about a childhood disease that needs to be written about, but I want it to be in a fiction setting, in a YA voice, otherwise no kids who desperately need to are going to crack the cover. At present, it has changed themes 3 times, narrators 3 times, and titles twice. Right now, it’s nameless. I have about 600 very short chapters of it, and need to cut many more. So, going back to the very first version of what I wrote (smartly having kept all versions, dated and timed on my computer and flash drives), I’ve begun again. The trick to finish this enormous task is that you must still love your characters. Otherwise, you get depressed, consider writing a chore, and cut and slash unmercifully. If you don’t like your characters, nobody else will either. Sometimes in good books, I don’t like certain characters, and after a few chapters, that’s it for me. “The Goldfinch” comes to mind in this notation.

Below is a listing of all the contests I’ve entered since 2013. Among them all, I’ve won only two. I was delighted, proud and pleased, and framed the accompanying artwork and certificate in our den.

All you writers out there, when you comment, please feel free to share your experiences too. Writing and selling is not a given. First time writers selling a great novel is a rarity. Harper Lee is a good example, as until 2015, she never wrote another book after “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Kathryn Stockton received 69 rejections for “The Help.” And JK Rowling…well, let’s just ignore her, because she had an angel on her shoulder, and is just the luckiest writer in the world.

Contests Entered: An Architect of SortSS  aStoriedpastContest AUTUMN LEAVES CONTEST BelovedHH  I feel guiltyLinkedIn  Jody 2  MyMother’sMarathon NELLIE  REALSIMPLEessay  ScaryMerrie.docFAcontest  Suicide-FictionAttic SuicideGlimTrn SuicideHopeClarkcontest SuicidePeterHixsonAward14 TalkingWriting2014 The worst Mistake I Ever Made on a Job  TheMillionDollarDog  WalterPercycontest



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