There it is again: the Siren’s call of a writing contest. This time it’s for the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize. The announcement arrived in my inbox a few days ago: “The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, which awards the winner $1,000 and possible publication in The Thomas Wolfe Review, is now open for submissions…. The competition is open to all writers regardless of geographical location or prior publication.”
Tempting, huh? It’s a prestigious prize, it offers a nice cash award, and it comes with the possibility of publication. And the entry fee isn’t too steep, just $15. The only problem is that entering would violate a code I adopted early in my writing journey:
Don’t Pay for Rejection.
Since I started writing seriously, I’ve entered one, and only one, writing contest. It was offered by [leading industry magazine] and came with a decent cash prize, “national exposure” for the winner, and free admission to [leading industry magazine’s] conference. I slaved over a short story and submitted it, paying $25 to do so. And then I didn’t win. But I was in good company: more than 6,000 other desperate writers who entered also didn’t win.
And that’s when I developed my mantra: Don’t Pay for Rejection. Don’t pay because I can’t know the odds of winning a contest until the contest is over and the entries are tallied. Don’t pay because between conferences, workshops, and classes, writing is already a pretty expensive activity. But mostly, don’t pay because there is plenty of rejection to be had at absolutely no cost in the field of fiction writing.
Over the past seven months, I’ve submitted four short stories to 65 different literary journals (that’s 65 submissions in total, not 65 submissions per story!). What I’ve gotten back so far is 34 rejections: 34 painful, horrible, doubt-inducing rejections (ok, there were a few personal and encouraging ones mixed in, but still…). It has been a wretched process, with the primary benefit of my developing an increasingly thick skin. The other benefit, of course, is that I can take comfort in the fact that I didn’t PAY to be treated like this! That’s right. I may have been rejected, and I may still have 31 rejections headed my way, but at least they cost me NOTHING.
Don’t get me wrong: I support my writer friends who enter contests. The dream of winning is lovely, and with so much angst and rejection in a writing life, moments of loveliness are well worth having. I too would love to win a few prizes and feel vindicated in my decision to dedicate my life to writing, but with odds like 1/6,000, I’ll hold off on entering any fee-based contests until I’ve gained some traction with a few publications. Until then, I’ll save my money and take my rejection the way it comes best: plentiful, blunt, and free!