Why I Don’t Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees

Why I Don't Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees: Star LaBranche

All writers have seen them. Especially lately. Ads for writing contests. All you have to do is shell out $10, $15, even $25 for the submission fee or reading fee and you could win BIG. $3,000 for a single poem? $20,000 for a short story? This sounds like a dream for so many unrecognized writers. Unfortunately, like all things that sound too good, I don’t believe these contests to be a good investment. Here’s why.

Why I Don't Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees: Star LaBranche

The Odds Are Against You

Because so many people enter these competitions, the chances of winning become smaller and smaller until they shrink to a fraction of a percent. When it comes to large contests, and the ones with high dollar amounts always are large, they attract huge volumes of people.

To lay it out even more clearly: Imagine you enter a competition with only 25,000 entrants, including yourself. If the quality of the manuscripts isn’t taken into consideration at all, and the winner is selected randomly, your chances of winning would be 0.004%. Which means your odds of walking away with a rejection email would be 99.996%. These odds aren’t quite as bad as the lottery, but keep in mind, a lot of competitions have plenty more than 25,000 entrants.

But wait! You say, I am highly talented, trained, and educated! I would fare better than the average person! Then okay, let’s take a look at our next point.

Why I Don't Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees: Star LaBranche

There’s Usually Little or No Transparency

I have yet to see a competition announce exactly how they will be examining manuscripts and determining winners. It would seem natural that every manuscript would be read in full, but is that actually happening? Moreover, who is tasked with culling the herd before the finalists are handed to whatever celebrity judge the organizers hired? Sometimes I wonder if it’s not like job applications for a popular position: half of the applications are thrown out and never even glanced at. People who go to the next round are in the lucky half that made the cut.

Some competitions offer feedback options, but those usually incur an extra cost on top of the submission fee. Of course, there also usually isn’t a guarantee regarding who the feedback would be coming from or what their qualifications are. In the end, paying exorbitant fees for only feedback, not editing or even proofreading, is ridiculous.

There are plenty of editors out there who are eager to work with up and coming writers, who will ultimately charge less and provide more helpful advice. There are also writing groups on social media and forums that can provide feedback for free. If someone is just starting out and looking to improve their craft, they’re better off starting out small with free feedback, instead of thinking feedback from someone in a competition has more importance.

Why I Don't Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees: Star LaBranche

Taking Advantage of Beginning Writers

The writing world is intimidating, that’s for sure. There’s some elitism and classism, mixed in with a lot of uncertainty, and a dedication to master a very difficult craft. Because writing is so widely ignored and dismissed when it comes anyone other than literary gods penning it, beginning writers often want validation for their progress. Winning a competition is, of course, a great way to accomplish this.

Unfortunately, what most beginning writers don’t realize is that when these calls for submission go out, it’s almost always to everyone, including professional writers. Because the beginners don’t know who they are competing against or what the level of competition is, the organizers can plan on gleefully taking beginners’ hard-earned cash along with everyone else’s while the beginners stand little chance of making it through the first round of competition.

Although being rejected is something a writer will have to become accustomed to, paying other people money for writing is something they should not have to deal with. Even if writing is a hobby and spending money here and there is not something a beginner minds, spending money on contests just means there will be more of them. Which brings me to my next point:

Why I Don't Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees: Star LaBranche

It All Adds Up

Say you decide to enter 12 competitions a year, or one every month. Not really a lot, when you think about. At $25 per entry, and keep in mind some are even more expensive, this adds up to $300 a year. Which is great for organizers of these competitions, because you are guaranteed to spend money, but your chance of earning it is very slim.

Imagine if you won one contest with a couple hundred dollars as a prize in your year of contest entries. You would still be $100 in the hole because of all the other entry fees. When you get started with a submission fee contest, you are already behind.

Why I Don't Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees: Star LaBranche

What Will You Have Gained?

If you look at the most likely scenario (you don’t place in the competition) and all you have to show for it is $25 less in your bank account, what exactly is entering the competition going to accomplish? It’s true that somebody wins these things and they probably have entries from past winners available to read. But when a competition boasts of 500,000 entries the previous year, it takes a lot of brashness on a writer’s part to assume they’ve got this.

In the end, if you’re left with a rejection email and little else, what did you actually gain? Even if someone wants to be super Pollyanna and say that now you have a piece of work you can submit to other places, this is true. But if it didn’t place in competition, and you received no feedback on it, how exactly will you be able to better it for another submission?

Why I Don't Enter Writing Competitions with Submission Fees: Star LaBranche

The Bottom Line

In the end, there are lots of places to submit to that don’t charge. Most of them don’t pay, but at least you wouldn’t find yourself out money and unpublished. There’s also a lot of resources available such as writing classes, groups, forums, etc. if someone wants to find community, improve their craft, or seek validation.

Trish Hopkinson’s website often features lists of journals and online magazines that don’t charge for submissions.

Why Do I Feel Like I Don’t Deserve Happiness?

Why Do I Feel Like I Don't Deserve Happiness?

I had an unsettling realization several months ago: I am happy. This turned into a domino effect of wondering why I’ve never felt as though I could say I was happy before now. Why I try to dismiss my happiness when I talk to people. Why I feel embarrassed to admit that I have reached a point in my life where I am no longer surviving, no longer just getting by, but thriving. Even why I could only admit to myself that I was happy after I ran down a list of things in my life that aren’t completely perfect.

As if everyday annoyances matter in a discussion about happiness.

Why Do I Feel Like I Don't Deserve Happiness?

Double Depression Baseline Limbo

Double depression occurs when someone who experiences persistent, chronic low-level depression, has an episode of major depression. In a sense, there is a baseline depression that is always there, mainly lurking in the background. Then a major depression happens and there are essentially two depressions happening at the same time.

For me, this means I have constant low-level depression and then experience bipolar depression on top of it on occasion. It’s about as much fun as it sounds.

I realize part of my problem with contentment is that I have long viewed the world through a veil of mental illness. I don’t know what baseline, just feeling okay, looks like. I also tend to associate feelings of happiness with my other extreme: mania. It’s hard to feel joy when you’re suspicious what you’re feeling is actually a warning sign of a bipolar episode taking hold.

For years, I have been on a roller coaster of medications, treatments, and therapies. Stability was a foreign concept for me and now that I have it, I spend most of my time looking for cracks in the walls that keep intruders at bay. Being happy has been my goal for as long as I can remember, but survival has been my mission for so long it seems like I don’t know anything else.

Why Do I Feel Like I Don't Deserve Happiness?

I Didn’t Earn That… Did I?

I don’t understand quite why this is the case, but I feel I have not earned happiness. I feel embarrassed by it. Like I’m hogging all the prosperity for myself and there are more deserving people out there. I feel ashamed to say I’m happy. Confronting these feelings makes me want to panic.

I keep telling myself over and over again that my privilege has afforded me this happiness. To a certain extent, that is true. However, if no one was allowed to be happy if they held a modicum of privilege almost everyone would have to be miserable.

It doesn’t seem fair to say only someone with absolutely no advantages whatsoever in their entire lives gets to claim happiness. In all the ways an identity can intersect, there are those who end up with more detriments than benefits.

But also when held under a microscope, does my life as a fat, mentally ill, pansexual, atheist woman, really make me so insanely favored that nothing I could do on my own would ever matter? Of course not.

Why Do I Feel Like I Don't Deserve Happiness?

The Problem With “Earning” Happy

Sometimes I talk about bliss as if it is located on a map and I found my way there with my backpack and my hiking boots. But happiness is an emotion. I feel it without really wanting to, and it surprises me how much I don’t want to. My argument devolves into thoughtcrime if I press it hard enough.

And I press it until it swells like a balloon.

It also occurs that I challenge every feeling of happiness that appears inside me, yet the insistence I need to feel shame and stigma, is never questioned. I fight against my own discomfort to insist I am allowed to feel what I feel, no matter what my brain’s fabricated criteria for happiness was supposed to be.

Why Do I Feel Like I Don't Deserve Happiness?

Is Happy My Ending?

I always looked at happiness as the end. I didn’t know what I would do when I got here. When I got to happy, I would simply be and I would be so well, it would never be a problem.

Perhaps that’s why I squirm so much about it now. I never let myself think about what happy would be like if I got to where I am now. All I could focus on was getting there. Which was fine, at least some of the time. But now I find myself in this strange place with no idea what I’m supposed to do while I’m here.

How do you be happy when happy isn’t the summary sentence at the end of the story?

Why Do I Feel Like I Don't Deserve Happiness?

Isn’t This All Just So Silly?

I imagine my husband shouting up to me while I’m writing in my office. He asks me what I’m doing. I shout back, “I’m upset because I’m happy!” He responds, “….. What?”

This might be a silly problem to have. But it’s also a problem that I have. One which doesn’t seem to be fading into backdrops for me to remember years later with a bemused smile.

But dismissing the problem like that also seems to be part of the issue. If I never feel comfortable being happy, what kind of life am I agreeing to lead? The easiest thing to do would be to assure myself I’m just being ridiculous and continue feeling awful.

But if I’m going to be happy, I want to do happy right.

Why Do I Feel Like I Don't Deserve Happiness?

Where Do I Go From Here?

I don’t know.

But I’m going to find out.

To help me along my way, I’m going to be writing some poems, examining long-held beliefs, and making a difference in my own life and hopefully someone else’s, too.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

I am constantly besieged by ads for products and gift ideas intended for writers. Some of them are cute, some of them are interesting, but most of them are rather useless when it comes to what I actually need as a writer. As much as a sweatshirt with a quill on it will keep me warm, it won’t help me reach my writing goals.

Let’s take a look at some gifts you could give an self-published, or aspiring self-published writer, that can actually be used in their writing journey. Also, you might get a shout out in the acknowledgements of their book and that’s always awesome.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

Before You Select a Gift

You need to start by learning more about the writer you’re buying for. You might know little to nothing about the self-publishing industry or even what kind of writing your friend or family member does. Go deeper than a product with a funny label about how hard writing is and talk to them about their craft.

Believe me, they will probably be more than happy to share their work with you.

I cannot stress just how important this step is. If you don’t talk to your author, you will never know what they actually need, and probably will not be able to get them a gift they can use. This is essential and it’s also easy. Asking someone to talk about their passion is takes one well-placed sentence and then you sit back while they do the work for you.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

Gift Ideas for Writers

1. Read and Review

If your loved one has already been published and has a book out, buy that book and leave them a review. It’s really that simple. All of the sweatshirts in the world can’t make up for the helpfulness of a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Barnes & Noble. Also, while the book will cost money, and it probably will be less than you were going to spend originally. Not to mention, writing a review is completely free.

2. Hire a Professional

Self-publishing does not just require being able to write. It can involve graphic design, formatting, blurbs, editing, proofreading, marketing, website design, email lists, and so much more it’s slightly ridiculous. If your writer is a fantastic author, but uses MS Paint to make their cover designs, think about gifting them a certificate for a graphic artist (and you probably already know one), or just giving them the gift of cash to use towards finding one themselves.

Note: Websites like Fivver can be useful for finding professionals who work at low price points, but be sure to independently verify their credentials. A quick post on your local Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List often turns up dozens of people who could help a writer work on their book.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

3. Classes and Further Education

I know what you’re thinking:

Hold on, Star, wouldn’t that kind of gift be insulting?

The answer is that everyone can work to improve their writing, whether they’re just starting out or they’ve even published a book before. If your writer friend regularly teaches classes like these, then yes, consider another gift. But there is nothing wrong with helping someone find insight and community through a class or seminar.

Also, the class doesn’t have to be for writing only. It could be for social media management for authors, submitting books to agents or publishers, networking in the writing world, or even how to put together a writing resume.

Remember were I talked about writers having to do much more than write? This could be a chance to help them improve something other than writing, that will help them with their writing goals.

Caveat: Although you’ve probably seen a billion flashy ads for writing seminars and this kind of class or that kind of class online, be very careful when selecting which one is right for your writer friend. While anyone with an internet connection seems to be offering a class on this, that, or whatever, you want to make sure to check out reviews for this class.

Pay careful attention to what the reviews say the writers are taught, how they are evaluated, if they are evaluated at all, or what they can reasonably expect to leave this class or seminar with. This could be a great time to find local workshops or writing centers where you could find quality instruction and real life connection for your favorite writer.

Check out The Muse Writers Center, based out of Norfolk, VA, for quality online classes on everything writing. They offer tuition assistance and classes at a variety of price points. From one-day seminars to 8-week workshops. I’ve taken classes with them for over 5 years and have never been disappointed.

4. Be a Reader for Them

One thing you could do for your writer friend or family member is read the project they’re working on yourself and provide feedback. You don’t have to be a professional in order to tell the writer what you enjoyed, what questions you had, and what you think they might want to work on.

Your feedback, whether it’s praise or criticism, is valuable to a writer. After all, most people who read the book will be everyday readers, just like yourself. If you didn’t understand why Princess Tylia used the Sword of Acorn and not the more powerful Dagger of Vengar to save the day, neither with the other people who read it. It could be very helpful for the finished project to be vetted by readers.

5. Writing Ritual Items They Will Actually Use

A lot of writers have rituals that come with sitting down to write. They might like to listen to a particular kind of music, prefer to drink their favorite coffee or tea, or even use a certain kind of pen to write with, if they write longhand. These are often the items subscription box companies try to tell you are contained in their products.

However, if your writer friend uses a pen, they have an exact pen or style of pen they probably like. You simply can’t hand them a pen you got for free from your dentist’s office and expect it to strike the same chord.

Do your research. As I said before, most writers will be delighted to share this information with you. If you want to keep them from catching on to the fact that you’re getting them a gift, just say you’re curious about their craft or wonder why they always seem to be drinking the same kind of tea or carrying the same fountain pen.

6. Low on Cash? No Problem!

There are other ways to help out an indie author that doesn’t even have to involve opening your wallet. If they have kids, offer to look after them one afternoon so they can get some quality writing time in. Bring them a meal so they can write away instead of losing their evening to meal preparation and clean up.

Once you know their genre, you can also scour thrift shops, library sales, or your own book shelves for books that they might find inspiring or helpful. Buying a poet a well-loved volume you thought they’d connect with is the stuff poems are made of.

Ask your writer what keeps them from writing and see if there’s a way for you to fill that gap. Sometimes presents can be acts of service and for writers, that’s sometimes exactly what we need.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

Are You Sure I Can’t Just Order a Writer Subscription Box?

You can. If you think that’s exactly what your writer wants and needs. I’m not the boss of you.

However, from an insider’s perspective, the self-publishing industry is vast and complex. Anyone involved in it knows how difficult and sometimes heartbreaking it can be to be an indie writer. While a candle called “Writer Tears” might elicit a chuckle when unwrapped, there’s so many more concrete ways you could be helpful and supportive of your loved one.

Besides, they probably already have that candle.

Here It Comes Again…

Today I learned that a young person named An is doing god’s work. They have recreated MySpace and have named it SpaceHey. Filling out my profile brought about the feeling of replaying a video game you loved a decade later: Everything’s there, but you’re still looking around for it.

Earlier this morning I emailed my manuscript for my memoir, moon lost her memory, which yes, is all in lowercase, to the proofreader. Writing this book has been a difficult task. It’s one thing for me to experience all of these thoughts, most of them negative, bumping around in my head all day, but it’s another to see them all written out.

The good thing about writing this book was that I seem to have taken some power away from the memories. Purging things I’ve never told anyone else in my life onto a page has alleviated the shame surrounding what happened, and allowed me to feel lighter. As if I have just gotten a lifetime of pain and embarrassment off my chest.

I’ve also had a few panic attacks and dissociative moments, but I’m still chalking this up as a win. Sometimes I would have trouble sleeping because memories kept plaguing me. My brain would offer up a rotating selection of every time I said something stupid, or someone didn’t like me, or when past traumas unfolded. Ever since I hit the midpoint in the book, I have slept without a single issue. I’m not sure how long this will last, but it’s a welcomed change from the usual.

The process of writing a memoir, because they are by definition so deeply personal, is different for everyone, I’m sure. I feel as though putting my life on a page in a way I’ve never done before, and it has been a great experience.

When I finished filling out my profile on SpaceHey I saw I had eight friend requests waiting and hesitated before looking at them. What if they were trolls? What if they left rude comments on my blog? What if they messaged me even more hate? I accepted every single request.

Not because I am now bulletproof.

But because there is more to this world than the trolls, who always seem to appear. For entirely too long I let the people who couldn’t stand me give me life advice and that’s over now. Right now, I feel like I’m a new person and nothing is going to keep me from enjoying the nostalgia of SpaceHey or getting to sleep at night.