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With the start of the 2012 Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize reading period, I’ve been thinking a lot about why people submit (or should submit) to literary contests. I recently had a conversation with a friend that went something like this:

Me: Hey friend who is also a poet. You should submit to the 2012 Lois Prize. It’s great. Emily Warn is our judge and she’s, like, amazing.

Poet Friend: Is there a reading fee?

Me: Yep, it’s $15 and 100% of the fee goes to produce our 2012-2013 CALYX Journals. You can be part of the magic!

Poet Friend: $15!! You must think I’m made of money. Only my poems are pure gold! You’re no friend of mine–get lost!

(Okay well the conversation didn’t really end like that, but you get the idea).

Sound familiar? Given the tiny budgets of most literary magazines, recent cuts to arts-related funding, and the fiercly competitive publishing scene today, it probably does. Lost of magazines have contests and they do it both to support themselves and also to promote the work of the best new writers. Lots of writers submit to contests. Lots of them don’t (or can’t).

While it’s true that submitting to contests take an investment on the part of the writer, the benefits are great. Here’s a few that come to mind when I think about CALYX’s prize:

  1. You stand to receive critical attention from a great poet. This is a way that your writing can be taken seriously and your talent can be recognized by someone who knows great writing. In this case, it’s Emily Warn (big time Copper Canyon Press poet and co-founding editor of poetryfoundation.org…don’t tell me you don’t look at that site every day like I do…). If she picks your poem as the winner, I bet you’ll feel pretty great.
  2. You could win $300 cash. It’s true that this isn’t the biggest prize out there today, but we also get fewer submissions than, say, the $1,000 or $10,000 contests that you might hear about. What it comes down to is that someone is going to win that check for their writing—why shouldn’t it be you?
  3. Your reading fee goes to support CALYX’s production costs. This is a way that you can support our mission and our magazine while you get something in return—attention poured lovingly over your poem, the eyes of our judge, and potentially publication and a cash prize.
  4. Every US contestant gets a free issue of the journal in thanks for submitting. That’s a $10 value. And who doesn’t love getting something in the mail?
  5. It’s fun? Haven’t you ever submitted to contests before? I once won a pair of sweet yellow sunglasses just from entering a contest through my favorite cartoon program…contests exist because people like to see if they’ll win something.
  6. It’s a good way to professionalize your writing and take yourself seriously as a poet. Just like sending work out regularly for publication, it’s a good habit to get into the practice of submitting to contests run by journals and presses that you admire.

There you have it. You can even save yourself the paper and stamps by submitting online this year. Thanks for your support of our contest–if you want more information about our contest, you can read more about it here.