As part of this blog’s mission to offer you the perspectives of writers who have found success in entering writing contests, we recently caught up with Tricia Springstubb, a fiction writer from Ohio whose name has lately come up as a winner of contests that we list in our Grants & Awards pages. This year Springstubb won the Howard Frank Mosher Short Story Award from Hunger Mountain (she also earned an honorable mention in their young adult writing competition) and the Iowa Review Award in fiction. “It's only very recently that my literary fairy godmother has begun to ROCK,” Springstubb told us, adding that she just found out that her story is among the top twenty-five entries in Glimmer Train’s September Fiction Open. We asked her to share a bit about her experiences as a competition entrant and winner.
How many contests do you estimate you have entered? How many did you enter before winning your first award?
I've probably entered less than ten contests. The Iowa Review Award came on my third or fourth try. The other ones have followed in succession.
What do you look for in a contest?
I try to enter contests where the judge is someone I recognize and respect. I know too well how subjective and even arbitrary these prizes are, so I like the idea that if I should actually win something, a person whose judgment I value made the choice.
How do you select a piece to submit to a competition?
This sounds moronic, but I tend to write long short stories. So I try to pick one that most closely fits the contest's guidelines, so I have to cut as little as possible.
Do you have an organizational strategy for tracking award deadlines, submissions, and honors received?
I have a folder full of paper with journals and dates scribbled and circled and crossed out. But I plan to initiate a coherent filing system within this lifetime. Just recently a writer friend made me aware of your Grants & Awards Database and I now have it bookmarked. What a useful tool and generous service!
What is the most rewarding aspect of receiving an award? What award has been of the most value to you?
The affirmation of winning an award fires me up. Also, it's nice to no longer have to leave the “awards” section blank when I apply for fellowships or grants. And of course being published and read is always the main thing.
I had a recent weak-in-the-knees experience when Ann Patchett, who judged the Iowa Review Award, read here in Cleveland. Afterwards I spoke with her and she remembered the story and talked about it with me. It was cool to be a member of her club, even if only for an afternoon.
What piece of advice do you have for writers looking to contests as a way to get their work into the world?
Awards can earn you some traction, but I don't know that I'd recommend them over just plain old submitting. Fifteen minutes of fame! And then you're back to work.