Submission Sunday #1: Writing Markets and Contests

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This writer didn’t always kill his darlings, but there is a humorous fiction-writing contest in his honor, called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Sometimes the first step in becoming a published writer can seem like deliberately jumping into quicksand; when you hang your darlings out there in the world, others can (and often will) step forward and disembowel them. Similes as familiar as siblings, favorite phrases, precious passages, cherished chapters . . . all could fall under the editor’s, agent’s, reviewer’s, or reader’s guillotine.

Does that mean you never submit your work? For some, yes. And yet, others seek out the challenge. If you are the latter (or the former), this post is for you.

Today I’d like to begin a weekly feature I’ll call Submission Sunday. Each weekend, I will share some markets or contests (or both) that you might like to consider if you’re a writer. I hope to bring you at least a couple every Sunday (North American time zones) in further hopes that you will consider putting your work out there for critique or, if no feedback is given, for the experience of having gone through the machinations of submitting to an editor, publisher, or agent. Best-case scenarios apply, too, of course, so hitch your writing wagon to a star: write furiously, edit mercilessly, and aim to win, place, or show.

Although I cannot personally vouch for these sites, contests, publishers, or markets, in some cases I have submitted to them—or intend to do so again—and I’ll indicate this where called-for. If you have any suggestions at all, please consider leaving them in the comments. For this, I thank you in advance.

So, without further finger-dragging, here are some online and print markets.

  1. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest: This yearly humor-writing contest, where “wretched writers” are welcome, suggests that even an inkless pen is mightier than the sword. It highlights the work of nineteenth-century British novelist, poet, and politician Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose work you likely know, even if only through Snoopy, of Peanuts cartoon fame. Submit one horrifically bad sentence—there are several genre categories in this contest, such as science-fiction, crime, fantasy, and romance—and keep it under about 60 words. In general, don’t use puns in your submission (though they do have a “vile puns” category). Have fun writing the worst opening line to a novel that you can think of and you never know what might happen. I’ve submitted to this contest in the past, placed in one category, and plan to submit again. On the basis of the 2013 winners, it looks like they accept international submissions, all written in English. Deadline, June 30, but submissions are accepted every day of the year.
  2. Another humor-based writing contest, this time for the versifiers among us, is the yearly Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest. Held by Winning Writers, which also has a handy free database of more than 200 “quality poetry and prose contests with no entry fees” (you need only sign up for their e-newsletter, also free), the Wergle Flomp is a big ball of fluffy literary fun. It boasted thousands of entries in 2013, and 2014 marks its thirteenth year. If you win or place, this free contest actually has prize money. I’ve written several poems, mostly parodies, for this contest; several I’ve gone ahead and submitted, and several I haven’t. Either way, I always learn a lot about writing humor and poetry, self-critique, and the musicality of language, even when language fails. Poems can be of any length and should be humorous; one submission per person, per year. Deadline April 1.
  3. The final market I will share today is called The First Line. TFL is a magazine offering print and electronic editions. In addition to “critical essays about your favorite first line from a literary work,” they also offer a fiction component. Each season, they offer a prompt wherein you must begin a short story with the first line they provide, verbatim. They write, “the story should be between 300 and 5,000 words (this is more like a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule . . .) . . . The sentences can be found on the home page of The First Line’s Web site, as well as in the prior issue. Note: We are open to all genres.” The upcoming deadline for the summer prompt is May 1, 2014.

Now, get writing—and good luck!

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