Emerging Writer Awards

by Victoria Strauss

This week I’ve gotten several questions aWriter Bewarebout something called the Emerging Writer Awards. Writers of poetry, short stories, and unpublished book length fiction may enter to compete for two grand prizes: $2,000 and a possible publishing contract from Triom Publishing for book manuscripts, $1,000 for short subjects. Both prizes include “national promotion through Emerging Writer Magazine.” The deadline for entries is August 31, 2009.

(Obligatory pedantic aside: “emerging writer,” a term that is often used instead of or interchangeably with the odious “pre-published,” is one of my euphemism pet peeves. You are an emerging writer if you’ve published a couple of books and are getting increasing sales and attention. You are not an emerging writer if you merely aspire to publication–just an unpublished one.)

Why wouldn’t you want to enter this contest? Sure, you’ve never heard of Triom Publishing or Emerging Writer Magazine, but the prizes are rich and the website is slick (well, sort of). The Awards even have their own logo. What’s not to like?

For a start, the entry fee. It’s $40. That’s steep even for a book manuscript contest. For short stories or poems, it’s way too high. Check out the number of eligible categories, also. There are more than 50 of them. Granted, the fees must fund the prizes–but if there were just two entries in each category, the contest sponsor would make a cool $1,000 profit.

There’s also the fine print of the rules. Accepted entrants must grant “one-time serial rights” (for book manuscripts–defined, not quite accurately, as “rights to print excerpts of a book before publication”) and “one-time publication rights” (for short works) to the Award’s sponsors, Emerging Writer Magazine and Triom Publishing. These entities are “under no obligation” to publish, yet there are no provisions for releasing the rights of works they don’t use. While an active claim on serial rights by an obscure publisher and ezine is unlikely to prevent you from marketing your book manuscript elsewhere, the grant of one-time publication rights for short works takes other publication off the table. In other words, if you enter your short story or poem in this competition, you won’t be able to sell it elsewhere.

Let’s take a closer look at the Awards’ two sponsors. Emerging Writer Magazine doesn’t seem to have yet published any issues. In fact, it’s so new that it doesn’t have its own website, merely a placeholder on the website of its parent company, Triom Publishing–which makes one wonder how effective that “national promotion” will actually be. Triom also seems very new–as yet, it has published just one book, Children of the Anunnaki, the start of a fantasy series by author Mark Barnette. Who is Mark Barnette? Well, for one thing, he’s the owner of Triom’s URL–which strongly suggests that Triom is an expansion of a self-publishing endeavor, and raises the question of how much of a prize a publishing contract from this company would be.

Whether the Emerging Writer Awards are a moneymaking venture, an effort to promote a brand-new micropress, or a genuine attempt to establish a writers’ award, a win is unlikely to carry any prestige for future publishing purposes. And while the cash prizes would certainly be nice, you must also factor in the size of the entry fee, and the less-than-desirable provisions of the contest rules.

Just another example of why I believe that in most cases, writers’ time is better spent submitting for publication than contest-chasing.

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