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  • Chen Chen

horsemanship: poetry chapbook contests

How’s your Excel spreadsheet looking? Every year there are new journals, contests, residencies, grants, fellowships. Abundance of opportunity is one way to characterize this. Confusion and anxiety is another way. In this post, I will suggest setting aside the spreadsheet and picking up the bow and arrow. Two targets: the Button Poetry Chapbook Contest and the Two of Cups Poetry Chapbook Contest (plus one bonus round related to the image here). I was a finalist for both, and while many such contests offer their finalists a lovely little mention on their social media, being a finalist for these two has counted for much more.

Aim: Button Poetry – Deadline fast approaching (August 31st, 2015)

I was one of ten finalists. A poem by each finalist was featured on the Button Poetry tumblr, a site that receives many enthusiastic visitors, many of them younger, socially conscious, and active in the slam poetry community. This means a smart, passionate audience who will share and re-share your work online. Within a week of my poem going up, it had been liked or reblogged almost a hundred times. Now, eight months later, the poem has over three hundred likes or reblogs. I didn’t win the contest nor was I the finalist Button also chose to publish (they regularly do this), but I got exposure, which led to solicitations from other places and wonderful new readers messaging me. You can check out poems by last year’s finalists here.

Aim: Two of Cups Press – Contest will reopen next spring

I was one of two finalists. In this case, even better: the press likes to publish both their finalists in addition to their winner. As a finalist, I don’t receive the prize money, but my collection Kissing the Sphinx will get to be published (in 2016) by a press that makes beautiful books; I’ll learn more about the publication process, and build relationships with editors and my new press-mates. I can go on a mini-tour with the book and get over (some of) my imposter syndrome, read from some nicely bound pages instead of a manila folder for once.

Bonus Round: Porkbelly Press - Open reading period for chapbooks will reopen in January

This is the press that is doing my first chapbook Set the Garden on Fire (set to be released next month) and their artwork is fabulous (the image for this post is a preview of the cover they've made). Instead of a contest, they have an open reading period, usually for one month in the winter. They publish 6-10 chapbooks a year, so your chances of acceptance may be higher, though it looks like the chapbook is increasingly the first type of collection for poets and some prose writers, too.

Basically, submit to presses that really care about their finalists, about everyone who submits to them. Sometimes the editors at a press love your work, but the final judge can only pick one manuscript. It means so much when the editors take the time to support your work in another way. I hope this post was helpful—and encouraging. I look forward to sharing more tips about sending work out for publication.


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