If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Before I discuss the good side of entering poetry contests, I want to get the basic warnings out of the way:
- Contests offering big money for poems ARE too good to be true
- Any “prize” that requires payment by you is not a prize
- Any gathering of “finalists” is a glorified vacation package
- Contests with “reading” or “entry” fees use that money for the prizes (and keep what’s left over)
- Beware of any contests that “suggests” you use one of their editors or teachers
Most legitimate poetry contests are sponsored by newspapers, magazines, colleges and the occasional corporation. Some foundations also hold contests, but the prize money in any of these contests rarely exceeds a thousand dollars. Â Poet’s Market has a good list of contests, but a listing there does not guarantee legitimacy; always keep the five points from above in mind. A good online source is C. Hope Clark, but the same rules apply.
If you are looking to make a lot of money, poetry contests aren’t going to do it for you. Winning even a small poetry contest is no easy task, and winning a major contest is only slightly easier than winning the lottery, even for truly great poets. Poetry is subjective. Two sets of equally qualified judges could look at 1000 poems and come up with a completely different group of finalists.
The benefits of poetry contests are:
- They give you a reason to send your best work out into the world. Too many people who write poetry never get around to sending it out. They keep their poems in their desk or on their computer and never share. Contests are a way of interacting with the larger world of poetry.
- Publishers do notice winners. If you win a contest that has a good reputation, the people who publish poetry will probably see your work. Again, poetry is no roadmap to riches, but having a publisher show enough faith in you to put out a book is quite an honor. Just remember that there are as many scam publishers as there are scam poetry contests.
- Even second or third prize can offer a lot of encouragement to a poet. The grand prize might be nice, but it feels good to be mentioned at all.
- If you do happen to win some money, that’s always nice too.
Don’t stake all of your hopes and dreams on winning a poetry contest. I encourage you to enter them, but don’t take any losses personally. Just send your poetry out into the world and see what comes back.
Today’s Poetry Prompt
Write a poem about a contest, a win, or a loss.