December 11, 2013 Leave a comment
Lenore Myka, winner of the 2013 Cream City Review Fiction Contest and the 2013 Booth Story Prize, was considerate enough to sit down with one of our interns at Leapfrog Press to discuss the ins and outs of submitting to short story contests. Here she shares her process of reviewing work, sending it off, and advice to writers old and new.
Why did you enter a writing contest?
I enter writing contests for a variety of reasons. Besides the financial incentive (which lots of standard submissions aren’t able to provide), my sense is that writing contests provide an alternative in terms of how works are assessed. Oftentimes, journals have thematic focuses or a specific esthetic they are seeking which might automatically exclude my work from publication. My impression (rightly or wrongly) is that contests are less concerned with theme and esthetic, thus giving works a more objective review. Of course, in the end it still feels as arbitrary as anything else because it is the tastes of sometimes a single judge that determine the results. But I’ve had good luck so far…
Where did you hear about the contest you entered?
It is likewise my perspective that contests draw attention to you as a writer, especially if the journals do a good job of promoting the contest. With the case of the Booth Journal prize, this was certainly true for me. In addition to publishing the story in print, Booth posted it to their website and made announcements on New Pages, FB, etc. As a result, I received a message from an agent interested in seeing more of my work and received a couple of lovely emails from readers, which is always encouraging.
Have you ever submitted the same work to more than one contest at the same time?
I submit to contests the same way I submit standard submissions: a lot and with abandon. This may raise the hackles of some editors, but I do simultaneously submit. Writing is too long, slow, and arduous a process to add waiting for upwards of a year (or forever!) for a response (rejection) from an editor. There have been contests I’ve submitted to and never received a notification announcing the winners; instead I had to do my own sleuthing. I’ve gotten comfortable being aggressive about it, but am also aware this approach isn’t for everyone.
How did you decide which contests to submit work to?
I have a standard list of “target” contests just as I do “target” journals, but I’m always adding new names to both lists. Booth had been on my radar for a short while but Cream City Review came to me through my MFA alumni list; I was happy to be introduced to it not only because of my success but because I think it’s a compelling journal putting some good work out there.
About how long after you submitted work did you hear back from the contest?
In the cases of both Cream City and Booth, I heard within a couple of months that I was a winner. Booth had the added bonus of notifying me that I was a finalist first and providing information detailing when the winner would be awarded. I’m big on communication–the more the better–so I loved this aspect of Booth’s process. In both instances they provided the judge’s feedback and Booth made a personal telephone call to me to give me the good news–a nice added touch in this age electronic communication.
What should one do after they send a submission? Keep writing, take a break, revise their work, etc.?
As with all of my writing, I write first, submit later. My writing isn’t driven by the desire to submit to a specific journal or contest; it’s after I’ve written something that I make decisions about where I might want to submit it. Likewise, writing and submitting (and revising, etc. etc.) happen simultaneously. When my agent began to submit my collection to publishers, a mentor of mine warned me against putting the rest of my writing life on hold lest I get mired in the inevitable rejection of the process and lose sight of why I started writing in the first place. It was sage advice. It’s important for me to keep writing regardless of external validation. While it’s always rejuvenating to get that vote of confidence, and can certainly be a strong motivator (momentum always is), it wasn’t the reason why I put pencil to paper thirty years ago when I first started writing stories. I think it’s dangerous for artists of any kind to hang their hats solely on external validation; ultimately you need to believe in your own work, even when it seems no one else does.
Did you prepare your work months ahead of time with this specific contest in mind, or did you submit closer to the deadline? Do you think it makes a difference?
I don’t think it matters when you submit to contests. I think I just got in under the wire with Cream City’s contest while Booth I submitted well in advance. What matters is what you submit. Is it your strongest work? Have you gone over it again and again, revised and rewritten, edited and rewritten, proofread and rewritten? What people say is true: Submit your best work. Period.
Should one respond to a rejection letter or e-mail?
If you get a personal letter or email of rejection, if there is a name attached, a smidge of encouragement in its contents: Jump on it! The first story I ever had published was the result of such an exchange–an editor rejecting my work but asking me to send more. My guess is editors wouldn’t bother if they didn’t mean it; I know I wouldn’t.
What advice would you give to writers who have never submitted work to a contest before?
Advice I’d give to writers who have never submitted to contests: I think this is true for contests and standard submissions alike: choose places you admire and would be proud to be a part of. Also: Aim high. You just never know.
Lenore Myka’s fiction was selected as a notable short story by The Best American Non-Required Reading of 2013 and a distinguished story by The Best American Short Stories of 2008. She was the winner of the 2013 Cream City Review and Booth Journal Fiction Contests, a finalist for the 2013 Glimmer Train Open Short Story Contest, and a semi-finalist for the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Iowa Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, Booth Journal, West Branch, Massachusetts Review, H.O.W. Journal, Upstreet Magazine, Talking River Review, and the anthology Further Fenway Fiction.