Quarterly Column Archive
The Ups and Downs of Writing Contests
Writing contests are a good way for new writers to get published in literary journals, because your submission is guaranteed to be read. Whereas when you send a straight submission to a literary journal, your cover letter is typically read first, alerting the reader to a lack of publications.
A lack of publications doesn't mean your work won't get read (in fact, some journals could care less and state this in their submission guidelines), but a history of success pricks up an editor's ears, which helps since journals receive hundreds to thousands of submissions per reading period.
Since submissions to writing contests are not accompanied by cover letters, your submission is on equal playing ground with the others. And it's usually a blind submission, meaning your manuscript doesn't include your name.
Possible Ups to the Downs
Do Your Homework
Before submitting work to a contest, make sure the literary journal is an appropriate place to send your work. Otherwise, you're throwing money away and holding your work up for no good reason. Many print journals have websites, where you can read a sampling of work that has been published to get a sense of the editors' aesthetics. Some of these websites include the entire contents of past issues.
Sampling of Contests for New and/or Emerging Writers