Getting your poetry chapbook published isn’t easy—most of the traditional publishing houses aren’t interested unless the poet is very well known and has a large fan following. While many poets self-publish their chapbooks, the experts at Writer’s Relief know another available option that many poets overlook: Enter a contest! Along with publication, winners might also receive cash prizes ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. You may also get complimentary copies of your poetry collection or be invited to attend public readings and book launches. Based on our research, here are the 7 best tips to winning a poetry chapbook contest.
Advice And Tips For Winning A Poetry Chapbook Contest
Know what you’re working with: A poetry chapbook is typically twenty to forty pages long, and the poems may fit a theme or be unconnected. Before you submit your chapbook to a contest, be sure to determine if it is organized around a theme or a particular subject. Some contests are open to chapbooks consisting of unrelated poems, but always check the guidelines before making your submission.
Many contests are also open to writers from all backgrounds, but be sure not to submit to a competition that isn’t a fit for you. Some contests want specific content OR they want content from specific authors, such as poets of color, those belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, writers with disabilities, and other demographics. You don’t want to spend money entering a contest you won’t have any chance of winning simply because you (or your chapbook) don’t meet the qualifications.
Include your best poems: Of course, the poetry chapbook you enter into contests should feature your best work. If the contest allows for published poems, be sure to include them; this proves your work appeals to editors and their audiences. You want to put your best foot forward to catch the judges’ eyes.
Follow the guidelines: Submissions that don’t follow the contest guidelines will be eliminated right at the onset. Be sure to thoroughly review the submission guidelines for the chapbook contest you intend to enter. Your entry should have the correct number of pages or poems and should follow the requested formatting. If the contest rules don’t specify any particular formatting, follow the industry standard for poetry. A simple layout with standard margins and standard fonts will be more likely to win over the judges.
Enlist beta readers: It is often difficult to evaluate your own work. Are the poems in the best order? Should some be removed? Have they all been proofread? Ask a professional, your local writing group, or even your friends or family to look over your poetry chapbook to ensure it’s in the best possible shape.
Consider poetry trends: Know what’s currently popular with poetry journal editors and try to avoid any trends that have fallen out of favor. Double spacing, centering, and rhyming are all considered outdated and may negatively impact your chapbook’s odds of winning. (This is, of course, assuming the contest isn’t specifically asking for any of those elements.)
Don’t give up: Poetry is very subjective, so a rejection doesn’t mean your writing isn’t any good. Unlike a literary journal issue that might feature dozens of poems, a chapbook contest will usually only have one winner. Losing the contest might even be a learning experience: If the judges offered any feedback, use this information to improve your chapbook. Then be sure to check Submit Write Now!, our free weekly newsletter, for updated listings of all sorts of writing contests—including chapbook contests you can enter!
Get some of your poems published in a literary journal first. Having some poems published boosts your credentials and gives your chapbook some merit in the eyes of the judges. The research experts at Writer’s Relief can help boost your odds of getting more publication credits by pinpointing the journals best suited for your poetry. In fact, 90 percent of our poetry and short prose clients have gotten published by using our strategies! Learn more about how we can help you get individual poems published, and submit to our Review Board today!
Question: Which poetry chapbook contests have you entered or are planning to enter?