Poetry Competitions

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If you are a writer, especially if you write poetry, do you enter competitions? If so, how do you pick which to enter?

Here are a few of my own criteria:

1 Is this an area I can write about? Have I already got something on a broadly similar topic that I can edit and adapt to fit? (Like most writers nowadays I keep copies of my work and it’s surprising how often a non-winning entry can be re-cycled and entered for a different competition.)

2 Look at the terms and conditions. I’ve often seen details of a competition and been fired with enthusiasm to enter,  only to find I’m disqualified because of age or geographical location. They want writers under 30 living in the South East or they only accept writing by women.  (Funny, I’ve never seen a writing competition restricted to work by men writers.)

3 Next I consider the number and value of the prizes offered – I firmly believe the creative writer is worthy of his/her hire.  In general a number of smaller prizes are better than one huge one.

There is a poetry competition currently advertised where the entry fee is a hefty £17.50. OK you are sending a bit more than a limerick, the entry is a set of 3 to 5 poems,  but the snag, for me at least,  is that there is only one winner mentioned.  The prize is large, I grant you.  £10,000, but  this is the only prize. As far as I can see from the website there are no runners-up, no second or third prizes – it’s £10,000 or nowt. I’d have to be very confident about the excellence of my poems to enter this one. Just think, there’ll be a vast number of entries and some of them will be very good. Do I really think I can come top of that lot? You must be joking!

I’d rather go in for a smaller more local comp where the prizes are smaller, perhaps the short-listed poets get it the chance to see their work in print in an anthology. Better than nothing and ideally you’d get a copy of the anthology with your work in it.

Note: I’m deliberately not giving the full details of the competition with one huge prize.

4 There are some – very few but some – poetry comps that appear to claim ownership of all entries whether or not they win or are short-listed. I think this is unfair and avoid these contests. It is important to read the rubrics and know just what you are offering when you send off your work.

5 Some competitions for an extra payment offer you a critique of your entry. Probably worthwhile. At least if you don’t win you get some feedback and so you can improve your work next time. One – and at this point I can’t recall exactly which competition it was – for an additional sae would sent you a list of the winners and comments on their poems – but not the actual poems themselves! Difficult to learn anything from this.

6 Then there are the free to enter competitions that have some cash prizes but the main attraction is that they will publish large numbers of poems, often not especially good poems. Note: this isn’t vanity  publication – you are not asked to pay to see your work in print, but if  – or do I mean when – your poem is selected you will be pestered to buy a copy of the anthology in which it appears or even several copies to send to family and friends. Do you really want to pay to see your poems printed alongside a lot of rubbish? My feeling is that a publisher who wants to print my work should be paying me 

7 There still persists in some quarters the idea that a poet is some unworldly creature above considerations of such mundane matters as payment for work done. Some years ago I came across a poetry competition that asked entrants not merely to give their work away, but to pay an entry fee to compete to give their work away. Needless to say I didn’t enter!

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