contests, novel, publishing, TSKW, writing

Want to Finish? Enter a Contest!

Lately, after many years of refusing, I have started to send my writing out again, looking for publication.


I have a writing buddy who absolutely will not enter any contest with a fee attached. I get it.  Many contests are scams, a way of playing on the publishing dreams of discouraged hopefuls. But many are not. Some finance other activities, often a magazine they’re publishing. Many toss in a year’s subscription, or a print edition of the winning entries (like I want to be reminded that I didn’t make the cut.)

Initially it may feel like winning the new luggage in a TV game show after losing the car and dream vacation of a lifetime.But you can’t win em all, it’s a numbers game.  So I look for free, reputable contests or those where someone I know has gotten published. Someone who writes a lot like me!

Also, if I believe in the magazine, like Crazyhorse, it’s not a bad way to support the organization, and I get to read great pieces which is often as close to a win/win as not being chosen can get.

I subscribe to Poets & Writers, print and online magazine and use the calendar of awards, grants and contests at the back of the magazine. You don’t have to have a magazine subscription to sign up for their free newsletter advising of deadlines to writing programs, contests and events.

The chief benefit of entering contest is really about the deadline it imposes. I really think it’s about polishing work and getting it ready to be read.  I started this blog post a while ago, before I went on this jaunt and have now logged five writing contests, three of which have not yet come in and two that have have and one that actually paid off.

I submitted a poem to The Robert Frost contest at TSKW, and didn’t place, let alone win it. That cost me $10.

Next I submitted two Flash Fiction pieces to Fish Publishing, Cork County Ireland.  This contest is endorsed by Roddy Doyle and Frank McCourt, so worth the entry fee of fourteen pounds for the first piece and eight pounds for the second. They received a total of 1407 submissions for this contest. Had I known how many there were I may not have submitted my work. But this one paid off.  Both were longlisted, one shortlisted, good enough for bragging rights and a decent line for the bio.


These pieces were written as exercises to break through writer’s block. I had to winnow them down from six to three-hundred words, without losing the voice or breaking the central idea. I love Flash Fiction and am thrilled (and relieved) that I made the shortlist.

I have also submitted the first 3000 words of No Name Key to Debut Dagger, UK. I forked over 25 pounds for the privilege. This contest is where Louise Penny received her start. She received a “highly commended” endorsement for her 2004 entry Still Life and has since won Agatha and Anthony awards and is a regular on NY Times bestsellers list. The deadline for this prestigious contest occurred before I changed the first chapter of my novel. Oh well. Maybe it’s a better opening than I think.

The good news is that entering my work forced me to write a synopsis, something I have never done before. I searched around for the best advice and description of what a synopsis is and is not and Publishing Crawl walked me through the process. Beautifully written, so thank you, Susan Dennard for this great post!

Inkubate – Literary Blockbuster Challenge came next. For this contest I submitted the entire novel, complete with new opening chapter, a synopsis and a sample passage. The great news is that this contest is FREE!

My contest tally over the past two months is $81.98 and I consider it all money well spent! Let’s see if I still feel the same way a month from now.

Here’s the 300 word piece that made the Fish Flash Fiction shortlist:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Gertrude Stein?   by Jessica Argyle

I brought the cookies over in the box that plays Christmas tunes when the lid is opened. And the thing is that you never thanked me. Disappointing, considering Alice’s reputation as a great cook. Maybe the two of you were going through a rocky phase, I can only imagine. I sent boxes to seven others and all thanked me profusely. Some were even moved to give me things in return but not a peep from you. For all I know you threw the whole mess out, stomping on the box with your heavy oxfords, crushing the larynx to make it shut up. Were you in the parlour writing a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose or something more important that saying thank you? From the look of you I was certain you would enjoy those cookies. Not everyone got my Linzer window cookies, but you received a dozen. Complex, laborious and delicate, in August I make jam to put inside them. Imagining everyone’s excited cries when they open their boxes pushed me forward when I too could have been composing a masterpiece for the world to envy.

Tonight I will make Osso Bucco, a complex, detailed dish with a high failure rate and you will never have any of it. First I braise the meat, a lingering single syllable word that sounds like two with an orchestra behind it, trombone, bass and guitar and this is what it will taste like: it will taste like heaven.  For dessert, a jaunty little strawberry fool that no one can ever resist– a dessert that absolves overeating and entices conversation. I will have that small dinner party on the pink deck under the jacaranda tree and guess who is not invited. Alice is coming, or didn’t she tell you?

One thought on “Want to Finish? Enter a Contest!”

  1. Susannah says:

    Jessica, You are so generous. AND I love the Flash fiction, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner… So creative. It should win the prize.

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