This morning I was cruising my blog list and ran into a good discussion over at TaniaWrites (worth reading). Who exactly are we competing against when we enter writing contests? THE ANSWER: Everybody and their mothers plus writers who are established. One example Tania gives is a writer who won a recent Narrative Magazine competition, Gina Ochsner.
Tania poses a provocative question. "Now, Gina Ochsner, a very fine writer, has published two short story collections and I see her name in many literary magazines, including the New Yorker. I don't doubt that her prize-winning story is worthy of the prize - but my questions would be, Should she still be entering these comps, given that she doesn't need the exposure/fame as much as some of us?"
Here is my comment left at Tania's Blog:
Provocative discussion, as always, Tania. As a writer with only a small sprinkling of publications, I find it disheartening to hear that those who have achieved what I consider a terrific amount of success--the New Yorker,for goodness sake--should feel inclined to enter competitions, especially if the competitions aren't blind ones. Knowing the identity of a entrant must influence the selection process, even if an editor tries to submerge that urge. Who you are and where you've been in print certainly matters in mainstream publishing.
The New Yorker is one of the most difficult mags to get into. The editors seem to go back to the same known ( and admittedly wonderful)authors time and time again. I don't blame them for this. Ellery Queen does the same thing in its field too, making it really difficult for newer writers, lesser known writers particularly to break in. Also there are very few venues for publication at the commercial level. So if one wants to write a story and publish a piece to a larger audience than say THEMA, that person is already competing against many, many already established writers.
Yes, new writers need to pay their dues. One must earn the right by developing strong craft and inspired content to appear in the best publications. I know because it's taken me a long time to learn exactly what all the goes into a great story and I haven't actually gotten there yet. So I look to contests for the exposure to editors, the deadlines they provide, and the occasional feedback that's offered.
Contests have always offered an opportunity to new and emerging writers. They get the juices flowing, the butt in the chair, the close look at craft out of the writer. "Here is my chance!"
But I've always assumed that in a competition I have been competing against writers like myself, not the Joyce Carol Oates of the world.
I suppose it IS fair in the sense that the world isn't divided up by degree of effort, talent, work ethic, and genius. And there are occasional contests specifically designed for the unpublished.
I suppose, too, I need to work on getting to the next level so people can start complaining about ME!