Nine Simple Truths About Poetry Manuscript Contests

Guest Blog Post by Sonia Greenfield 

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1. The award money, when you are done with the process and have won a contest, will probably not cover the overall cost of repeatedly submitting the manuscript. Some folks are geniuses right out of the box. Most of us have to edit our way in the direction of perfection.

2. For each contest cycle, you will think that the manuscript is done, and you will submit it with an outlay of anywhere from $100 to $300. If you do not win, you may figure out that what you thought was finished has still more room for improvement. That your editorial process was not finished. And this may go on for several seasons, because knowing the fitness of your own poems can be as difficult as assessing one’s own face or body in the mirror.

3. If you keep at it— this process of remaking and investment, your book will win a contest and/or be published, but you have to be down with the evolution and expense. But YOU. CAN. WIN.

4. Some big name publishers like more experimental poetry, some more narrative. Don’t waste your $25 dollars submitting your manuscript to a publishing house just because they’re well known if there’s no way your poetic vision aligns with their catalogue of titles. Better to shoot for a smaller house, because chances are…

5. You’re going to be responsible for most of the PR, touring, marketing, etc. anyway. Get comfortable with the idea that the writing you’ve created, the gift of it, may reach a smaller audience than you had hoped for.

6. But it’s okay if your gift reaches a more intimate audience. Friends, family, poets you admire, etc. These are the people you’re most in conversation with anyway.

7. Because if you were hoping that the publication of a first or second manuscript is going to get you a creative writing teaching job at a small liberal arts school in a charming town on The Hudson— it might, but you have to be fully invested in The Hustle, which means, probably, working the conferences, social media, etc. like you were born to be a Slytherin (not inherently bad; just ambitious).

8. If that sounds exhausting and not invigorating, then remember that your life and career do not have to drive toward that one, narrow goal. That sometimes you can be happy divorcing poetry from professional ambition.

9. Still, it is such that you can put out a beautiful book— a fucking masterpiece that should be seen by the world— but it will be modestly purchased and distributed. And it can feel disheartening. Buy yourself lots of copies and continue to read from them as you travel the world. With poetry, it will never be about the quantitative, but the qualitative, and your writing can continue to affect individuals deeply. Can cut them to the quick ten years down the line, but one or two people at a time. Think of them when you’re fretting over the art that you have made.

This little meditation is dedicated to Pauline Uchmanowicz, my wonderful editor with Codhill Press, who so carefully tended to my first book of poems. I found out yesterday that she passed away suddenly in a tragic accident in her home.

Ultimately, what matters is that you continue chasing down your own poems one at a time and that you keep putting them in the world. Don’t stop creating.

About the Author:

Sonia Greenfield was born and raised in Peekskill, New York, and her book, Boy with a Halo at the Farmer’s Market, won the 2014 Codhill Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of places, including in the 2018 and 2010 Best American Poetry, Antioch Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, and Willow Springs. Her chapbook, American Parable, won the 2017 Autumn House Press/Coal Hill Review prize and her collection of prose poems, Letdown, is forthcoming in 2020 with White Pine Press as part of the Marie Alexander Series. She lives with her husband and son in Hollywood where she edits the Rise Up Review and co-directs the Southern California Poetry Festival.

2 Comments

Filed under Guest Blog Post, Poetry, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Nine Simple Truths About Poetry Manuscript Contests

  1. wordfitz

    Perfect. The financial outlay is onerous.
    And sorry about Pauline!

    Like

  2. Anonymous

    yeppers!

    Like

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