By Catina Noble
I often hear writers talk about whether or not it is a good idea to submit to different types of contests. This includes flash fiction, short stories (fiction and non-fiction), poetry etc. Many writers like to submit in many places, thinking that if they are consistent and persistent, their submissions might just pay off. If their work were to get their work published or win a prize, it would help boost their writing career and self-confidence.
But many writing contests require a submission fee. The amount of money used for submission can add up quickly.
This is where the debate comes in. Is it worth it to submit to contests?
Each writer must decide for themselves. I can only talk about my own experience. Just over a decade ago I decided that I wanted to share my writing with the world. I started with poetry, and then slowly I started working on a few books and short stories. I was skeptical about entering my work, especially since I was a “starving artist.” I had to think about paying fees to enter a contest. And I had my doubts. My biggest question was: Did I have a hope of placing anywhere in a contest, even on a long list where at least my name would be mentioned?
It didn’t make sense for me to enter a lot of contests, because there were just too many. I decided my best option was to limit myself to four to six contests a year. That way I would be getting my writing out there, but it would not break me financially.
In 2014 I started by entering my poetry. One of the contests I entered was the Canadian Authors Association National Capital Writing Contest. I entered my poem “You Can’t See Me.”
Several months passed and I completely forgot it. Then one day I received an email from the Canadian Authors Association–NCR. The message included the announcement of the short lists for the poetry and the short story categories.
When I saw the title “You Can’t See Me,” my first thought was that someone had copied the title of my poem. I was a little bit upset but continued to read. Imagine my surprise when beside the title was my name. I had done it. I had at least made it to the short list.
I attended the awards ceremony a few months later. I sat in the front row to the very side in case I needed a quick exit. There were six names on the list. Three poets would receive honourable mentions and the other three would receive, third, second or first place. I held my partner’s hand as they announced the three honourable mentions. My name was not called. My partner looked at me in awe. I had placed. I couldn’t believe it. Third place was called. Second place was called. First place was called, and it was my name. I was in such shock that I didn’t move. My partner nudged me toward the stage.
That night changed things for me as a writer. It boosted my self-confidence. Since that night, I have kept writing, and I still enter contests every year—usually three or four. Since then I have received more honourable mentions for my poetry, published three chapbooks of poetry and nine books.
Entering the Canadian Authors Association National Capital Writing Contest changed my writing career. It set the foundation on which I’m grounded to this day.