Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Appel Words of Wisdom: Part I

I very much enjoyed Jacob M. Appel's intelligent article in Poets & Writers entitled "The Case for Contests." Unfortunately the article is not online, so as a labor of love, I have typed out some highlights and excerpts and posted them here:

"I confess I enjoy paying fees to enter writing contests.  One of the decadent pleasures of my week is cuddling up with my checkbook on Friday afternoon and doling out my meager earnings to literary journals in ten-and fifteen-dollar increments.  I have been entering fiction contests relentlessly, if not compulsively, for the better part of two decades--and over time.  I have garnered my modest share of first-place finishes and an even greater number of honorable mentions....I have also lost my share of contests--hundreds of them, possibly thousands--including many to which I have submitted my work, years after year, since my college days  So as a battle-scarred veteran of the contest circuit, nothing disturbs me more than those naysayer who chronically deride participation in these literary competitions, which I continue to believe present one of the most rewarding and fair opportunities available to emerging writers.

"The critique often goes something like this: In no other creative enterprise are aspiring artists expected to fork over money for an opportunity to have their work considered by a self-perpetuating band of aesthetic gatekeepers.  Up-and-coming composers don't send their original scores to the Boston Pops with entry fees enclosed.  Including a money order or certified check will not convince the New Yorker to publish your political cartoons.  So what right do literary journals have in asking young writers--many of whom can hardly pay their rent or feed their pets--to dish out hard cash for the mere chance of publication?
....

"The greatest selling point for contests is that they level the playing field in two distinct ways.  First, in all but a few competitions, they offer each contestant an assessment of the work by a judge who does not know the author's identity.  To paraphrase the caption of the celebrated Peter Steiner cartoon, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog," in the submission pool of literary contests, nobody knows you're not Alice Munro or Joyce Carol Oates.
        ....

"Occasionally I am asked--usually by a student--if there's a trick to winning writing contests.  After all, the names of the same emerging writers appear frequently on the list of winners of various contests, suggesting that these individuals must be doing something right.  Most likely, I imagine, they are writing good poems and stories that deserve to receive accolades and inquiries from agents.  At the same time, I do believe there are a few rules of thumb that increase the one's odds to taking a bow in the winner's circle.  My best advice is that one should submit to contests early and often.  The benefit of submitting early is that many competitions read and evaluate the work as it arrives, yet most of the submissions show up within days of the final deadline.  For these competitions, the advantage of submitting at the first opportunity is a well-considered and thorough read by a judge who is not yet downing in entries.  The reason for submitting often is that tastes differ widely and a story or poem that appeals to one judge may not suit the appetite of another."

Stay tuned for more excerpted appearls tomorrow.


7 comments:

Renee Thompson said...

Hooray Jacob Appel! I love his advice to submit early and often, and have read similar suggestions from the editors/judges of Writer's Digest, which doles out good money each year to an impressive number of writers.

Get your novels out there, too -- AWP, Autumn House Press, Leapfrog Press, and Amazon/Penguin all have contests in the works (or will soon). Early and often. Yep. Works for me.

Anonymous said...

I cannot justify the expense of contests to my spouse, and I have a very loving and supportive spouse who sticks by me in everything. I just see these contests as a total crapshoot and waste of the family resources. I can better spend the money buying someithing nice for my sweety or paying the electric bill.

I've never read anything about a Mrs. Jacob Appel, maybe if you don't have family obligations (guilt) it's easy to cast a $20 to the wind and see where it blows...I can't do that. I envy his attitude.

Anonymous said...

Appel's very convincing. I read the whole article in Poets and Writers and was convinced afterwards that I needed to submit to contests. But I'm already doling out $600 a year in postage and printing costs, for which last year (2008) I received nary a single acceptance. That's right: $600, over 200 journals, and no acceptances.

So why would I want to submit to contests if I can't even get a regular submission accepted? And why would I want to spend another $1000 a year on contest entries? Appel's right, I can't find the funds for it.

anonymousse and gel said...

i'm not really eager for more "appeals" tomorrow. what exactly is this dude famous for except that he's a contest junkie? if i need a dose of optimism i'll go read some Saroyan.

yawn thanks...

Native_Ink said...

Submit early before the judges get swamped? I wonder if the same logic would apply to lit magazines. Maybe it's better to submit at the beginning of a reading period rather than at the end. The editors might still have fresh eyes and might not have chosen their favorites yet.

Of course, this is probably just another useless thing to obsess about while waiting for lit magazine to reply....

gimme said...

If you're paying to get published you're a sucker. Period.

These "pay to enter" scams continue to work because wannabe writers are the biggest suckers on the planet.

Anonymous said...

judges making their decisions before the contest deadline does not "level the playing field."

and what good is this hidden identity thing? if you're still clamoring for success in competitions, no one's heard of you anyway.

"If you were studying to be physicians or attorneys..."

You would probably have, like, a ton of books and doing the same thing over and over would get really depressing and you'd wonder why you even bothered until...God in Heaven, there's a Proctological Competition in August? My chance for glory!

Oh, wait...