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What Are the Best Tips for Entering Poetry Contests?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 23, 2024
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Writers can increase their chances of winning or placing in poetry contests by checking out a variety of contests, entering those with familiar formats, and following all submission guidelines. Since some writing contests are moneymaking or plagiarizing scams, writers should research the hosting organization before entering a contest. Of course, giving himself plenty of time to perfect his submission is beneficial, too.

Entering poetry contests for money is a great way to become published as well as earn some spending cash. Still, writers shouldn’t rule out contests that offer other kinds of prizes, such as writing classes and books, free entries to seminars, and simple publication in online or print poetry magazines. Breaking into traditional poetry publishing isn’t easy, and writers can increase their chances of winning and becoming published by entering a variety of contests.

Similar to other kinds of writing contests, some of the most common poetry contests are those that allow contestants to submit poetry via e-mail or regular postal mail. Others, however, focus on poetry readings or poetry slams, during which the writers read their poems aloud. Writers should search for poetry contests seeking submissions in the format with which they’re most comfortable. If the writer prefers reading poetry aloud, he should practice in front of an audience before the reading. When an audience isn’t available, the writer can record the performance and then listen to himself.

All poetry contests have submission guidelines, and each writer can increase his chances of keeping his poem in the running by making sure his entry meets all requirements. Examples of common guidelines include meeting a certain line or page count and writing about a particular topic or avoiding certain themes. Other guidelines are more technical, including those that state whether the poem can be previously published, whether the poetry judges accept e-mail attachments, and whether more than one poem is allowed. Contestants should also pay attention to where they’re supposed to include their names, as some contests only allow names on the cover sheet, first page, or within the body of an e-mail. Of course, meeting any required entry fee and the deadline is crucial, too.

As they’re reading the submission guidelines, contestants should look for and be wary of poetry contests that request personally identifying information beyond a name, address, and telephone number. For example, contests that ask for a Social Security number or require a physical address instead of allowing a post office box should be avoided. There is absolutely no reason poetry judges need that kind of information.

Many times, contestants will be familiar with the organization hosting the poetry contests. These might be print or online poetry magazines, or they might be poetry books or journals. When a writer isn’t familiar with the organization, it’s important for him to research it. Unfortunately, many calls for submissions are scams designed to either take the contestants’ entry fees, plagiarize their work, or simply publish poetry anthologies containing each submission. Potential contestants can protect themselves from scams by considering how long the organization has been around, looking for reviews or testimonies of past contestants, and avoiding contests that encourage all contestants to purchase their poetry journals.

Once a writer chooses a contest he’s not only interested in but also trusts, he can begin writing his poem. Every contestant should give himself plenty of time to write, receive feedback on, and revise his submissions to poetry contests. This isn’t to say it takes every poet weeks or months to write a winning poem. Still, it’s often beneficial to work on a poem in stages to allow the creative process to foster and be able to view the poem with fresh eyes. The more attention a writer pays to writing a poem that adheres to the submission guidelines, the more he may increase his chances of doing well in the contest.

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