Writing Is No Contest
Somewhere in my house—in a closet, perhaps, behind the "filing" cabinet that contains bank statements, expired warranties, and other domestic arcana that haven't been properly filed in more months than I care to remember, probably buried beneath an assortment of unmatched socks that my two-year-old son likes to secret away—there is a manila folder that is evidence of a more structured period of my writing life. Although I haven't seen this folder in some time, the care with which I prepared it left such an impression that I can easily recall the contents. For years I was a committed and careful contestant in a number of writing competitions, and I kept track of the work I submitted, when I submitted it, to whom, the entry fee, and so on, using a makeshift spreadsheet I kept in this folder, along with the many rejections, one for each line on the spreadsheet, that I eventually received. I can't say these rejections didn't sting—they did, still do—but what has kept me going is a belief in the value of my unpublished manuscripts (yes, plural; that's no typo) and the knowledge that my entry fees helped subsidize the publication of deserving debut books. Raising two small children has put a hold on my submissions for now, but it won't be long before I dig that folder out again.
We put together this issue's special section (page 42) in order to provide detailed information about many of the most rewarding contests—ones that turn manuscripts into books—with the hope that your folder will be thinner than mine, or, at worst, filled with rejections from precisely the contests that you, as an informed writer, were eager to win and proud to support.
Contests aren't the only route to publication, of course. For a careful consideration of a popular and potentially effective alternative, check out Steve Almond's account (61) of self-publishing his recent book. And if you too have felt that sting of rejection, and who among us hasn't—except maybe best-selling (if frequently misperceived) novelist Scott Turow (28)—consider the perseverance of Karl Marlantes (67), whose first novel has finally been published, after thirty years of effort, and the inspirational fortitude of Dawn Haines (21), who reminds us why we write: "Writing is about making connections and creating something where before there was nothing. It's about energy and intellect and gifts. It's about hope."