If Lottery Tickets Came with Coffee: On Applying to Contests

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a teensy bit competitive.

I get into flip-flop footraces in parking lots. Fail as a Catchphrase partner, and you fail me. I’ve been known to talk some smack. Ask the Cubs—they probably imagine that winning is a lot more fun.

As a writer, the dream of my work winning a competition or prize sends me into ecstatic fits (and it ain’t pretty).

Why not apply to journal contests every day?

Read more after the jump!

Think about it: Because of the fees and limited reading period, the competitive pool of work is significantly smaller than the ocean of submissions a literary journal (such as the Indiana Review) receives throughout the regular reading period. You’ve got better chances of standing out to editors’ still-bleary-but-fresher eyes. Because of publication deadlines, the response time is generally much shorter, which means those eyes are reading your work much sooner than usual.

But hey, I’m also a graduate student in creative writing. I live on leftovers. I drink gas station coffee. And you know I’m all about the motel swag (free shower cap, y’all!).

Therefore, the idea of paying someone to read my work—in the form of literary contests, so often sponsored by journals (like Indiana Review)—sometimes sticks in my craw. My cynical bent takes over: Is this whole “commitment to dynamic literary tradition” just a tacky marketing ploy?

As a writer and editor, I’ve come to this conclusion: Contests are actually a good deal.

In addition to the many benefits listed above, many journals’ contest reading fees come with a huge bonus built in: a subscription.

Imagine if you bought a lottery ticket at your corner gas station—playing for the millions—and they handed you a free cup of coffee*. I would buy a lottery ticket every single day. Why not? You have to buy a ticket (submit) to win, and so you get your chance—PLUS the vital sustenance to get you through your day (coffee/contemporary literature of the highest quality). Imagine!

There are, of course, exceptions. My peers tell me they weigh several elements before submitting to a particular contest: reading fee vs. prize money vs. the cachet of publishing in that journal vs. their subjective feelings about the final judge vs. how much is in their bank account that week.

My final decision of whether to submit to a contest is based on a mixture of all of these factors, and when I answer, YES—it’s because I think my work could be a good fit for the journal, and the chance of publishing in its pages sets my heart aflutter.

The wonderful subscription I’ll receive, win or lose, and the readers that have reviewed and responded to my work in a timely manner? Well, that’s just coffee on my lottery ticket.

By the way, our annual Fiction Prize is open, and with the winner chosen by the superlative Dana Johnson, it’s the best contest out there—of all the contests—EVER!

*(I’ll admit it: I love corn dogs. That would be enough reason for me to buy lottery tickets. The original title of this blog post was “If Lottery Tickets Came with Corn Dogs.” But not everyone enjoys the bliss- and energy-giving properties of the humble corn dog/[insert vegan substitute]. So coffee it is.)

7 Responses to “If Lottery Tickets Came with Coffee: On Applying to Contests”

  1. Sophfronia Scott

    Just so you know, I love corn dogs too! If the breading is done right, you get that perfect mixture of slightly sweet to go with your salty. Yum!

  2. Bernard Mickey Wrangle

    Or dynamite. If lottery tickets came with dynamite, I’d take up writing, just so I could enter one of these contests. Because then this analogy would be too compelling for my heart to ignore.

    But that’s just me. If there’s anyone out there for whom coffee is their dynamite, what the fuck are you waiting for?

  3. Anthony Martin

    Is sim-subbing to multiple contests a no-no?

  4. Mark Allen Jenkins

    I definitely prefer to enter contests that include a subscription or if it’s a book contest, a copy of the winning book. Interesting to think about the considerations you list above as well.

  5. Cheri Cabot

    I don’t buy lottery tickets, but I do like gas station coffee! It’s usually fresh because they go through it so fast. That being said, I like your spin on why a writer should enter contests. The time contest writing sits on an editor’s desk is shorter, just like fresh coffee. There appears to be little to loose, much to gain, especially in experience.

  6. Cheri Cabot

    Yikes! I wrote loose instead of lose. Sigh. Lost that contest already.

  7. Cheri Cabot

    Perhaps more coffee would help?