Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The New York Yankees of Writing Competitions - Jacob Appel

Jacob Appel's resume speaks for itself.  However, he was kind enough to share some thoughts about writing competitions with The Competitive Writer. You can get some hints from his responses why he is so successful, not just in what he says, but how he says it.  He talks about his successes, his failures and everything in between.

His debut novel, The Man Who Wouldn't Stand Up, won the 2012 Dundee International Book Prize and was published by Cargo in October 2012.

1. What prompted you to enter your first writing competition?

I remember a fellow writer telling me that in submitting stories to journals, I was competing with writers far more successful than myself—that even Joyce Carol Oates was submitting to literary journals, and if we both submitted compelling stories, any sensible editor would choose hers over mine. And then I realized that famous writers probably didn’t take the time to submit to contests with $10 entry fees…and so, my contest career was born.

2. How do you decide which contest to enter?

As a general rule, I try to enter them all. My only requirement is legitimacy—if a contest charges more than 2% of the total payout (ie. greater than $10 on a $500 prize), I tend to question its merits.

3. What makes a piece of writing contest worthy? (Coulrophobia for example has had multiple successes)

I’ve been trying to figure this out for years. It always amazes me when I submit two stories simultaneously to two different contests, and one performs well in the first venue and the other places in the second. There is no accounting for taste, which in the end, is what usually separates the winner from the finalists. At the same time, submitting widely increases your odds of connecting with a judge who shares your sensibilities. Good luck is also very helpful.

4. What role do you think contests should play in a writer's career?

Winning a contest is both a good confidence builder and an easy way to attract attention from agents and other editors. It gets one’s name out there. So contests are a good launching pad for a career—but one doesn’t want to be seventy-five years old with ten books under one’s belt and still submitting to contests. If I win a Pulitzer, I’ve promised to give up contests for good. Or, at least, for Lent.

5. How does winning a contest affect you personally?

If it’s a big contest, I get to send an email to all of the beautiful women I know socially telling them I won a contest. I’m not sure if this has any impact upon them – for all I know, they erase these messages – but it does wonders for my ego.

6. How has winning contests helped you professionally?

I’ve published in journals that I’d never had had a real shot of publishing in over the transom. I won enough money to call myself a professional writer for nearly a decade without, at the time, having sold a book. And I’ve actually carved out a niche for myself as a writer who wins writing contests. For instance, I’ve won grand prize in the Writer’s Digest competition twice. As a result, they invited me to come to their annual conference to give a talk on submitting writing for publication. Unfortunately, none of these victories has led the City of New York to reduce my subway fare.

7. What are some of your best/worst contest experiences?

I think the best contest out there in terms of the shear warmth and hospitality of the folks that run it is the Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Awards sponsored by the Faulkner Society in New Orleans. And I have to say that the people who run the Dundee International Book Award, which honored my first novel, are truly delightful. Others who stand out for their hospitality are the editors at the Missouri Review, Boston Review, and Arts & Letters, all of whom treated me with great generosity when I won their contests.

At the opposite extreme, the St. Louis Award for Fiction never paid me my winnings. Eventually, I had to file a police report and write a letter to the FBI. The contest operators had the nerve to post my story on their site for over a year as the “winner” without contacting me directly. But they should not rest easy. Life is long. Eventually, I will find out who was behind this scam and I will bring them to justice. Or possibly to a dark cellar equipped with medieval dental equipment.

8. You have seen success in numerous formats (plays, essays, fiction), do you vary your approach for different contests or styles?

I generally don’t submit more than ten pieces to any given contest (with a few exceptions), so I try to choose the ten pieces that most match the sensibilities of the journal or venue to which I’m submitting. I always read a journal before I submit to its contests—and if the past prize winners are published online or easily available, I read these to get a sense of what work has previously won a particular contest. The “business” of entering contests is hard work, although a lot easier than the sort of hard work 99% of the population does to make ends meet. But it’s a lot harder, for example, than being an heiress or Mitt Romney.

9. Is there a writing contest that you would really love to win, but haven't yet?

I don’t want to jinx myself, but the Black Warrior Review’s annual fiction prize and the Mississippi Review prize are two feathers I dream of acquiring for my cap.

10. Any final thoughts or pieces of advice?

Be relentless. And if you’re an editor having a contest, consider inviting me to judge. I’ve done his a few times before and it’s always been a lot of fun.

Short Story Wins:

Writer's Digest Annual Competition 2008, 2009, 2012
Black Lawrence Press's Hudson Prize in 2012.
The Boston Review (1998)
New Millennium Writings (2004, 2007, 2008).
William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for best short story in 2004
Washignton Square Short Fiction Contest 2005
Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award 2005
Arts & Letters (Georgia College & State University)  2005
Southwest Writers Fiction Contest 2005
Phoebe Winter Fiction Contest 2006
The Writer's Place  2006
The Missouri Review Short Fiction Contest 2007
Wabash Prize for Fiction 2007
2009 McGinnis-Ritchie Award for Fiction
North American Review Kurt Vonnegut Fiction Prize

Short Story Short-lists or Placings:

O. Henry Prize (2001)
Best American Short Stories Selected by Stephen King in 2007 and Salman Rushdie in 2008 for 100 Other Distinguished Stories
Best American Nonrequired Reading (2006, 2007)
Best American Mystery Stories (2009)
The Pushcart Prize (2006, 2007, 2011).
The Hackney Literary Awards (Birmingham-Southern College) 2005

He received the Sherwood Anderson Foundation grant in 2005.

Plays and Essay Accomplishments

The Best American Essays series named his nonfiction pieces as "notable essays" in the years 2011 and 2012.
Winner of Briar Cliff Review's annual non-fiction competition 2007
Zarkower Award for Excellence in Playwriting 2007
Hidden River Arts Playwriting Award 2008
Writer's Digest Grand Prize 2010

Other Accolades

He received the Sherwood Anderson Foundation grant in 2005.

Jacob Appel has been published in two hundred fifteen literary journals

1 comment:

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