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Writing contests

One goal of mine is to win a writing contest.  That’s hard to do if I don’t enter them.  I must have a dozen half-completed pieces for various contests that I intended to enter but never did.  I don’t know what my problem is, but I’d guess it’s just too overwhelming to follow all the intricate instructions in the contest guidelines.  Nothing is standardized, so each contest has its own unique set of rules.  And the instructions are not written clearly.  It’s as if they want you to fail because you did not comply with the rules.  Despite your award-winning entry, you forgot to type “The End” and thus were disqualified.  Although writers are readers, it’s not always easy to decipher the cryptic guidelines, and whoever wrote the rules is obviously not a writer.

Then of course, there is the entry fee.  I read somewhere that you should never pay to enter a contest.  Clearly, the folks who hold the contests did not read that bit of advice.  Entry fees from $5 to $35 are the norm.  Of course, some fees include a subscription to their magazines.  Whoopee!  Spending $20 for an opportunity to win $150 isn’t a good return on my investment.  Also, the contest explanations do not discloses the anticipated number of contestants vying for the meager cash prizes, so my entry might have a 10% shot at winning or a 1/10,000  chance or worse.  Heck, the lottery probably has better odds.

Finally, there is the long wait for the results.  Oh, wait a minute, that sometimes changes.  How many times have I read, “Contest extended through . . .” and know those hard and fast rules I tried to obey suddenly have been changed?  You’re lucky if you see a list of the winners.  Sometimes, the contest just fades away (like your entry fee).  If the results are announced and the winning entries posted, I’m shocked reading the stories, which are, in my opinion, abundantly inferior to my work.  I understand humor is subjective, but I often fail to smile or snicker reading a winning humor piece.  Are the judges on par with the rule writers?

Despite the rules, fees, and questionable results, I do enter an occasional contest, hoping to win a grand prize.  It hasn’t happened, yet, but last month, I won an honorable mention in the Rosalie Fleming Memorial Humor Prize of the Soul-Making Literary Competition sponsored by the Nob Hill Branch of the National League of American Pen Women.  Whew!  It was my first contest-winning acknowledgment.  Although I didn’t win any money, I was invited to San Francisco to read my work.  (Of course on my dime.)  To their credit, I was informed by e-mail of the contest results, and later, to my surprise, I received a pamphlet listing the winners in all contest categories.  Bravo!  I guess receiving an honorable mention was worth the $5 entry fee.

So, my advice: let the contestant beware.  If you’ve won big money (or decent money) in a writing contest, congratulations on your achievement.  If you are still in that honorable mention category like me, keep trying.  We might hit the jackpot one day.

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