Thursday, January 13, 2011

Request: What Are Your Favorite Contests to Submit your Poetry Manuscript to?

The Emily Dickinson Trophy, Of Course...

Here are some of my favorite poetry book manuscript contests (that require entry fees).

This list was made from the very top of my head and may be forgetting some good contests.  I'll include a note about any specifics about why I like the contest as well.

And a note on entry fees--
I know entry fees aren't fun and they can add up, but I have always viewed entry fees as a donation to my favorite small presses to keep them afloat for another year.

I admit, I didn't always see these fees that way, but now as an editor of a small, indie, non-profit press, I realize our yearly poetry contest helps us stay alive in the world each year, and I'm guessing these contest fees may also play an integral part to helping these presses continue to publish poetry.

This is why I suggest, only submit to presses you love and want to support.  If there's a press that brings you down because they only choose poets from the East coast and you're on the West, or they only choose men and you're a woman, or they don't respond to even let you know you've won (or not won!), etc., etc., don't support them.

Send your money to the presses you feel are doing the best work.

Also, I need to be quite honest about this as well-- I like presses based on their integrity (I realized this as I kept using that adjective to describe their editors).  I like many of these presses people and editors behind them, because of the work they do and their commitment to poetry.

Every press I've listed here may not be the best decision for you if you view poetry as a "career" and are a) looking to make a lot of money  b) want the highest most status-conscious prize available.

I choose these presses because I admire the press, the books, and the people behind the press.  These are people and places I'd want to work with and support (whether I had a book with them or not).  They are the places I'd submit to (and have) because these are presses I'd want to publish my book.  For me, that is what it comes down to.

With that said, here are my top picks, presses, and a few notes why--

White Pine Press Poetry Prize (deadline July-November):  This was the press that chose my book and over the last year and 3 months, my experience with them in publishing my book has been excellent. Dennis Maloney is the editor, who I've found be very supportive of his authors, and to have both integrity and kindness. Based out of Buffalo, New York, will publish poets from all over the US and world.


Pitt Press Agnes Lynch Starlett Poetry Prize (first book - Spring, I think) & Open Submissions for published poets in September/October:  Ed Ochester publishes 5 am (one of my very fav literary journals) and this press publishes so many of my favorite poets.  When I submitted to this press, Ed sent me a personal note saying he liked my work and to submit to 5 am.  This press has always been a favorite of mine.


Tupelo Press Dorset Prize (november):  $3000 cash prize and another favorite press of mine.  They publish Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Lucky Fish & her 2 other books), Ilya Kaminsky Dancing in Odessa, and Megan Snyder-Camp (The Forest of Sure Things), who I just read with. And Megan even had a CD of work that Tupelo did of her reading the whole book.  And their books are beautiful.   Actually, so far, all these presses produce beautiful books!


University of Wisconsin Brittingham and Pollak Poetry Prize - (September) -- Enter once for 2 prizes!  This is another favorite press with an editor I admire.  I have consistently enjoyed the books from this poetry prize, way back to Olena Kalytiak Davis' first book, And Her Soul Out Of Nothing (Brittingham Prize in Poetry).


National Poetry Series (january):   Despite the higher entry fee ($30), I like this contest because one entry gets you 5 chances at publication with 5 different judges.  I was a finalist here (and I can tell you I know absolutely no one who runs this series) and I found the person who contacted me was very helpful and kind, and I was impressed with them.  Now, while I didn't win, I still think it's a good contest because it opens your work up to 5 different judges with 5 different styles/choices/opinions.  And they have some impressive presses that will go on to publish your work if you're chosen (Last years publishers included: Publishers currently include HarperCollins Publishers, Coffee House Press, University of Georgia Press, Penguin Books, and Fence Books)


Crab Orchard Poetry Prize and Open Submissions:  Another favorite press and literary journal.  I've always been impressed with this press and this journal, and find that editors Jon Tribble and Allison Joseph have a lot of integrity and passion for the poetry world.  Some favorite collections from this press are Oliver de la Paz's   Names Above Houses (Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry), Victoria Chang's Circle (Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry), and Julianna Baggott's This Country of Mothers (Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry).


Autumn House Press (June):  Another small press that publishes good books. My favorite being Nancy Pagh's No Sweeter Fat.  Nancy was chosen with no connection to the press or the judge, but based solely on the quality of her work.   I don't know too much about this press personally, but they are one I've been impressed with as an outsider looking in.


While not currently accepting submissions, a smaller indie press I'd recommend is Steel Toe Books.  My two biggest reasons are that I was an undergrad with Tom Hunley and he is  kind, honest, has much integrity, plus he has always carried a huge passion for poetry.  They've also published three favorite books of mine:  Jeannine Hall Gailey's Becoming the Villainess, Martha Silano's Blue Positive and Mary Biddinger's Prairie Fever.


Hope this helps if you decide to go the contest route.

My next blog request post will be for those of you who don't want to submit to poetry contests and will offer ideas on submitting to presses that don't have reading/contest/entry fees (or really discounted ones) as well as some info I've learned from Jeannine Hall Gailey on micro-presses.

Thanks for reading!  I'm hoping you're finding this info useful.



  1. thanks for this post, this is really useful!

  2. can tupelo really be described by "integrity"?

    some aspects of the press tempt me, but then their pay for play scandal from not too long ago makes me doubt their integrity still

  3. Thanks for the list! I hope to have my 2nd book complete by May and am looking for some places to send it.

  4. Dear Anon

    I'm not familiar with their "pay for play" scandal and would be interested in hearing more (also, pls let us know where your info is from). Are you/ were you a poet with them?

    My like of the press comes from their books and that Aimee is publishing her third book with them. But if you have info that might help people submitting, I'd be interested in hearing more.

    Thanks for your comment. I do want to make sure my recommendations are in sync with my values.

  5. Great question (favorite contests).

    And as a poet just starting to send my work out (for the last couple of years), I appreciate not only the list, but also your reasons behind the choices, because they align closely with my inclinations.

    Just as when I buy books, I always try to support my local, independent bookstore rather than buying online, because I want them to "stay alive in the world," too. Same thing with farmers' markets and vegetables. I'm not a fanatic about this, but I do believe we have a voice as consumers and can "vote with our forks," as Michael Pollan likes to say. Or our dollars.

    Another way to approach it would be to look at your favorite poets and see who their publisher is. Until I read Susan Rich's books, I wasn't familiar with White Pine Press. Now I want to read everything in their catalog and would be thrilled to be published by them.


  6. To all,

    A friend just reminded me about the "tupelo scandal" that happened a few years back -- I had completely forgotten about it.

    If we're remembering correctly, Tupelo offered to consider your mss for publication and I believe, send a letter with comments about your mss. The letters seemed to be personal, but I think there were maybe 10-12 form letters for various mss. And with that, a note for a couple hundred dollars they'd help proof/edit your mss.

    Maybe I can find it detailed online. Or you can google it. Anyway, I had completely forgotten about that, and was basing my recommendation on the quality of their books and that they publish many of my favorite poets.

    But if the above concerns you or you want to learn more about it, you might want to google it. I have such a terrible memory, my apologies for completely forgetting this. I don't think they actually did anything wrong, but I think some people felt as if they were mislead by what was being offered and felt more as if they were just a target to market a "bigger" product too. That was my take on it.

    Anon-- if you're out there, was that it? Please let me know.

    Thanks for bringing that up.

  7. Kelli,

    Yes, the faux-manuscript critque was what I had in mind. But besides the packaging of generic remarks as if they were personal, what bothered me most was the deal that paying for the $295 manuscript "review" would guarantee that the manuscript would automatically advance to some sort of semi-finalist round in the next contest. As a complete outsider not paying that high fee and with no personal connections or name of note, it seemed I would have little chance of my manuscript advancing when those slots have already been reserved for others.

    You can read about the details here and there, but I haven't found a single clear succinct account of the controversy.

    I enjoy some tupelo writers, and the press often seems to say the right things about integrity, but the above episode makes me doubt too much. It's a small protest and maybe tupelo doesn't notice, but I still won't buy their books or submit to their contests.

    Thanks for your always interesting blog and especially your helpful remarks on manuscripts and publishing.

  8. Anon--

    Thanks for the follow-up. Yes, I'm remembering it much better now. I do remember the $295 part, though I didn't fully remember the part about advancing to the a higher round in the next contest - yes, that doesn't feel right as what it's saying is that $$ can buy you a better chance.

    BTW, I think small protests are good. We each need to follow our values.

    Thanks for the follow-up. I appreciate you taking the time to write out the details. I think it's important for others to know when making choices on where to submit to.

  9. Kelli, I appreciate all you do to support the small press & poetry world.

    I wasn't working for Tupelo then, and I'm not writing as a Tupelo representative here, but I do want to say that Jeffrey cares deeply for the authors and books he publishes, and working with him and the rest of the Tupelo team continues to be a joy and privilege.

    Thanks, Kelli. I've been on a big of a blog/Facebook vacation myself, else I'd have seen this sooner.

    All best,


Always love to hear from you...and the anonymous option is open for those feeling shy.

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