Concerning Cringeworthy Competition Clangers

Many times before, I’ve talked about submitting prose and poetry to publishers and competitions. I haven’t submitted anything for a while because I’ve been working on longer-form pieces.

But I was taken back to those days last week after reading a post from the point of view of a poetry competition judge.

It’s a largely personal list, but the more I looked down the list, the more I nodded at what John McCullough was saying: the difficulty of reading a handwriting font, poets covering the same old topics, and disappointing last lines. He adds that there are non-winners who have still moved him in some way, poets who successfully connect two unrelated concepts, and how he reads each entry twice at different times to give a fair hearing to every entrant.

When I was submitting regularly, I always preferred doing so to publishers rather than competitions, with a few select exceptions like New Writing Scotland. There’s almost never a fee to pay, they usually reply to you even if it’s a rejection, and the rules for entries are often simpler. In fact, I was left baffled by a few smaller competitions with rules that were difficult to interpret or were even self-contradictory.

Still, as someone who has dealt with the public for many years, I’ve seen how people have a tendency to ignore or make up rules on a selective basis, and it rarely leaves a good impression on the receiving party.

So when the rules tell you to use Times New Roman, don’t resort to the aforementioned handwriting font, even if you think it looks nicer. Certain topics might also be wanted or not wanted, so don’t be tempted to send an inappropriate piece ‘just in case they like it’; it’ll only signal that you haven’t followed the requirements.

There’s no formula for winning a writing competition, but there are plenty of avoidable ways to lose one.

And now we wait.

Between my MLitt essay and the EP, my submissions to publishers had been put on hold. Now I have the time to submit material, I’m sharply reminded of how slow the process can often be, and it’s the exceptions that prove the rule.

I submitted to two places that said they would give a response within approximately two days, and they both kept their respective promises. But because they’ve been so quick, it makes the other two seem painfully slow as I won’t hear from them for between two and six months.

It’s common to find publishers that use Submittable, a website that provides a semi-standard way of submitting work and tracking your correspondence. I rather like doing it this way.

Where paper reincarnation happens
Where paper reincarnation happens

For instance, I’ve had to send in a query to an editor as two of my pieces have been outstanding for six months with nothing more than an acknowledgement. However, if I don’t receive a response in a reasonable timescale, Submittable allows you to withdraw your work.

I also like the ability to attach Word or PDF documents, or whichever format the publisher wants. It’s a personal view, but I dislike having to paste my work into the body of an e-mail. Many writers use Word or Scrivener, or a number of other programs. Whenever you copy from a program, the formatting often goes pear-shaped after pasting. When pasting into Gmail, I sometimes find the line spacing changes to 1.5 and can’t be altered, or the font changes and can’t be harmonised. Ctrl+Shift+V will paste the text without formatting, but you then have to reinsert any bold or italics, or unusual spacing.

Another pet hate is a requirement to submit by post. The cost of postage is an irritation, although my main concern is how much paper must be wasted in the process, as editors select only a fraction of the material submitted. It seems an archaic practice in the age of electronic communication. If I ever have to print a document and notice a mistake, I keep it in a folder so I can print on the blank side in the future. Any paper that can’t be reused goes into the house recycling bin.

While I’m waiting for responses, I would like to know why publishers ask for copy-and-paste or postal submissions. Is there a compelling reason why these practices still happen?

Game over. Try again?

Over the last three weeks, I’ve received two similar e-mails from two completely different publishers. They were both rejections, but each invited me to submit another piece for their respective next issues.

The first of these was a bulk message, but sent only to selected writers. This group invite experimental and unclassifiable work, so while I’m particularly pleased they liked what they saw, I’m unsure if I’ll have anything else quite so nonconformist. The other place sent a personal thanks, and as it’s more mainstream, it shouldn’t be too difficult to resubmit.

I’m reminded of when I submitted one of my novels to a publisher. They liked the first three chapters enough to ask for the rest of it. They ultimately turned me down as they felt the plot didn’t place the character in enough peril. But they did it in such a constructive manner that I felt I could raise my game and resubmit it, even when I thought it couldn’t be improved upon.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting before a second chance comes along, although James Jones didn’t live to see his reprieve. In 1951, he fought to keep the swearing and gay content in his novel From Here to Eternity, but his publishers wouldn’t allow it. By 2011, times and attitudes had changed, and the uncensored book was finally made available.