A bit ago I read an article in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell about the difficulties that young people face in a capitalist economy. Gladwell equated their big hurdle to rolling a boulder up a hill. Essentially, what Gladwell argued was that for any recent graduate entering the workforce, it has become a difficult process to gain that first foothold of credibility that can be parlayed into a long and fruitful career. Despite those initial difficulties, Gladwell posited that once established, for most it becomes relatively smooth sailing afterwards, aside from the fact that younger workers begin gunning for your spot.
The nature of the literary game serves as a perfect example of the truth of Gladwell’s analogy…
I myself faced many doubts about my writing ability. I had a professor at Beloit College write “Don’t make a career out of this” on an admittedly horrible short story I penned for his class. I wondered many times if I was only wasting my time writing fiction, poetry, and screenplays.
And then I landed my first acceptance letter from a competitive literary magazine, one that only accepted 13% of submissions. Mind you, the vast majority of submissions to that publication surely came from qualified writers with previous publications to their name who were submitting their best material. Despite how difficult it seemed before landing that first acceptance letter, since then it has been a steady and relatively easy progression of acceptances of my poetry and short fiction.
For you, perhaps your first admittance into the literary game might not come from a literary journal accepting your short work, an independent publishing house deciding to publish your manuscript or an agent deciding to represent you – your first big break may come from winning or placing in a literary contest.
If most everyone chooses to go one route, that being the route of trying to publish their short stories or poetry or get their manuscript picked up by an agent or small publishing house, then perhaps it might be worth considering trying something counter-intuitive like utilizing a literary contest to get your first break into the literary game.
Here are three reasons why you may want to consider entering one or more literary contests:
- It costs money to enter most contests. I fully understand that most people do not have money to throw around; however, imagine that you apply to five contests at an average cost of $20 each. For that $100 investment, if you win or place in any of the contests, you have just earned a major feather in your hat and can speed up the process of embarking on a career as a writer going forward.
- Few writers enter most contests. For many aspiring writers, the price, even as low as it is, is prohibitive. For established writers, only a handful of contests have “name recognition.” This creates a perfect opportunity for the aspiring writer hoping to make a name as many contests have only approximately fifty or so applicants, yet offer up slots for as many as ten writers to win or place.
- Contests grant instant credibility. Winning or placing in a literary contest immediately commands respect, making it easier for agents and publishers to take you seriously and opening up many doors for your literary career.
To learn more about specific literary contests, consider making a habit of visiting Poets & Writers. They have a page devoted to writing contests (+ grants and awards). Check it frequently and if a contest appears to be an appropriate fit, then take the risk and enter it!
What do you think about literary contests? Do you think they are a good method for aspiring writers to break in?
I wanted to take a quick moment to share this honor with you all. My author listing was accepted by Poets & Writers!
Check it out by clicking here.
A friend of mine who is a successful poet quipped, and in my opinion, not untruthfully, “Writers hate other writers.”
Unfortunately, what he said rings true. For many of us, rather than celebrating when other writers’ achieve a success, we utilize it as an opportunity to deride. Some writers will even extend this into their own circles of friends, turning against any writer who starts to amass a degree of success. This practice is not only in bad form, but it can also hinder a writer’s career.
Here are a few reasons why writers should celebrate other writers’ successes:
- The literary world is vast. There are many literary journals, publishing houses, contests, grants, and awards. You have a wideness of options as you go forward in your literary career and thus there’s no need to perceive any other writer as your competition.
- Bad reputations become known. Writers talk amongst each other. So do editors and other literary figures. If you have a reputation as someone looking to bring enmity into the literary community, there is a possibility that your writing will be blacklisted, regardless of its quality.
- Successful writers can become valuable resources. In writing, like in anything else in life, successful individuals have far more power to influence and bring about the success of others. It is not wise to alienate people who can help you in your own literary career.
- It feels good. The simplest and most important reason is this – it makes the world a better place when you spread positivity rather than negativity. You will feel better when you make others feel good and this will lead to more creativity and productivity.
How do you feel about this topic? Do you think that within the literary community there is a significant amount of tension between writers? Leave a comment below to start this discussion.
I hope that you enjoy Jazz, a poem that I published with The Galway Review. Thanks for checking it out!
I am going to tell you a secret: As a general rule, I do not read independent writers.
Perhaps I am biased. I have seen a handful of talented figures who are not publishing with literary journals or publishing houses through the blogosphere and through various publishing operations. They are the exceptions.
I was weaned on weighty writers who wrote heavy, simple, and philosophical fiction: Raymond Carver; Flannery O’Connor; Carson McCullers; Kent Haruf; etc. The intelligence and humanity of these writers doesn’t appear on indies much at all. Hell, that kind of intelligence and humanity doesn’t appear much even on the Big 5 or anywhere outside of the University of Iowa.
Indie writers can call me a conservative or wrong or whatever, but instead of calling me and those of my ilk names, what they ought to consider doing is concentrate on getting reviews.
I know an excellent website called Indie-Pendent Steam. The site is operated by Virginia Arthur. Virginia does not pull any punches in her reviews. If your writing needs work, even though you paid her for a review, she will still call it as it is. The good news for budding writers though is that Virginia will not post bad reviews, instead she will default to proofreading such work instead. Even with caring professionals like Virginia who take steps to protect the reputation of independent writers, many do not have the mental toughness to handle bad reviews, even if no one sees them. That’s a horrible character trait in any writer. Still, if you are an indie writer and want to prove people wrong and get people reading your stuff, you need to obtain some reviews to build that initial traction and pique readers’ interest.
As an editor, I am as tough as possible on my writers because to flatter with kind words will not serve any aspiring writer intent on crafting excellent fiction. As a book reviewer, Virginia takes a similar approach. If you’re an independent writer, you should seriously consider working with Virginia. Her book reviews are fair and unbiased. Her reviews actually hold weight with readers because there’s a quality attached to her opinion.
“Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery.
Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.” – Patti Smith, Free Money
This is probably going to be the shortest post ever on The Literary Game. Writers, by all means, start applying for grants. If you receive one, it may not be equivalent to winning the lottery, yet I cannot imagine any writer (OK, maybe James Patterson, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling) not needing a little extra money while chasing their literary dreams.
p.s. Sharing this post helps other writers find out about an amazing resource to obtain grants. Just sayin’ 🙂