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interview that serves as the centerpiece of this issue’s special section, I asked representatives from four
popular book-publication contests if they felt that some writers remain
skeptical of the way contests are run. I knew it was a loaded question, so I
wasn’t surprised by the silence that followed. Many people associated with
contests—administrators, preliminary readers, final judges, publishers,
and even some winners—tend to tread lightly over the terrain that was
carpet bombed by allegations of unfairness during a nearly three-year stretch,
from August 2004 to May 2007, by the now-defunct Web site Foetry.
The main problem with the
way some contests were run—by and large, the past tense applies—was
not the result of nefarious plans hatched in the minds of evil warlords or
money-hungry despots, but rather a lack of communication, a lack of
transparency. That’s why the Council of Literary Magazines and Press’s Contest
Code of Ethics cites “clarity of guidelines” and “transparency of process” as
two of the bedrock principles of an ethical contest.
It’s also why this
magazine publishes interviews such as the one on page 52, essays such as Laura
Maylene Walter’s “The Dotted Line” (65), and regular features such as Bullseye
(69): to provide information and access to publishing professionals so that
writers can better make decisions that will further their careers. We have a
similar goal in Grants & Awards (85), which is vetted to include only
legitimate contests that offer writers a fair chance of winning a prize of real
value. This editorial resource provides all the information readers need in
order to decide whether any given contest is one they want to research further.
And we always encourage readers to fully investigate each potential
opportunity—including the details about how each contest is run.
Which brings me back to my
question. The silence was broken by Michael Collier: “I’m just thinking of when
I was sending my book to contests for five years, and how I felt each time I
released it. You’re nervous about it, and if you become a finalist, you start
to read the tea leaves. You try to think of all the angles of why you would or
wouldn’t be selected. I think the act of sending out a book makes you attentive
in a way that can also make you skeptical.” We all need to be attentive, but if
we ask the right questions and stay informed, the answers might leave us a
little less skeptical.