Contests can be a wonderful way to make yourself known, get feedback on your work, and even just get the incentive to get off your bum and make art in the first place! But not every contest is alike. Some have different styles than others, and some should probably be avoided in their entirety.
Let me give you an example. On the one hand, you’ve got Cuesta College’s Tellus, the school’s annual writing publication. Student short stories, poetry, and essays are judged by Cuesta English teachers, and winners are chosen for use in that issue. Winners also receive prizes at an awards ceremony at Kreuzberg Cafe a couple of weeks after the contest ends. This is a good contest to try out, as it’s safe and college-supported. (Students may submit up to two works per category by sending submissions as e-mail attachments with subject heading “Poetry/Short Story/Essay Submission” (respectively, of course) to email@example.com. The deadline for submissions is April 5 at 3:30 pm. (Criminy, I sound just like fine print!))
On the other hand, I have grown very tired of the frequent e-mails I receive from World Poetry Movement, a vanity publisher disguised as a writing contest. (Vanity publishers have the goal of selling you expensive personalized products.) The organization, which claims to be “a proud member in good standing with the Better Business Bureau”—when in fact it is not BBB accredited as of August 2012 and has a C- rating—may have shown up as a contest ad on your Facebook feed at some point. Though apparently an excellent contest that less than three out of every 10 poems submitted have a chance of winning, its actual purpose is to butter you up with praise before trying to get you to pay $75 for the book and your “awards” (also extremely expensive, but apparently free with a copy of the book). It doesn’t matter what you submit, this group will publish it—but of course not to any sort of notable publication people will read. Do not submit to this group. It’s not worth your time, nor especially your money.
There are other contests for other kinds of artists as well, of course. Some are quite trustworthy, but I am running out of space this week to mention them. Rather than click that Facebook ad link to a sham of a contest—especially if you aren’t a writer—try going to the FB page for Cuesta’s school newspaper, the Cuestonian. There you can learn about an art contest that uses the school’s logo to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Also, if you pick up a physical paper, you may realize that, as far as poetry goes, poems can be submitted to the Cuestonian itself for a chance of being featured. And believe me, you’ll feel a lot better about displaying yourself to your peers than displaying yourself to yourself. Good luck to you all, and keep practicing!
Intern Chris White-Sanborn takes submissions—for ideas for his next column—via firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy!