|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.