The announcement for this year's New Letters contest arrived in my mailbox today. I haven't entered a fee-based writing contest in years, so I'm surprised that I continue receiving these mailings.
Still, I took a look at the journal's online guidelines and discovered that, for the most part, they are friendly toward writers.
--"Current students and employees of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and current volunteer members of the New Letters and BkMk Press staffs, are not eligible."
--An entrant receives something in return for his/her fee: "Entry fee [$15.00] includes the cost of a one-year subscription, renewal, or gift subscription to New Letters, shipped to any address within the United States. (Subscriptions mailed outside the U.S. require a $12 postal surcharge [This is a fair charge, given the expensive nature of sending magazines overseas])."
--Simultaneous submissions allowed--fantastic!
--One entry: up to six poems may be submitted--very generous.
--One fiction/prose entry: up to 8,000 words--again, very generous.
--The guidelines are clear on submission expectations and deadlines.
--The First Prize is generous.
--Not naming the final judge in advance. I don't buy into the argument that judges will be "harassed" by toadying writers. There is an email delete button for a reason. What happens if the entrant knows the judge and the judge recognizes the entrant's submission (blind or no blind)? In that case, would the entrant's submission be disqualified? If so, would the entrant receive a refund of fees (minus the subscription fee)? In this case, it seems unfair to not offer a refund, given that the entrant has no idea who's doing the final judging. Also, such secrecy almost guarantees that such information will leak out anyway and/or rumors would circulate.
--"Friends of the screeners/judge ineligible" not specified (related to the non-transparency of the above "thumbs down").
--Not clear if there is Second or Third Prize: "Judges have the option to select work for second runner-up and honorable mentions" is a bit nebulous.
--No statement regarding what would occur if a First Prize isn't awarded at all. If this happens, would entrants receive a refund?
We have posted some Ideal Guidelines for both entrants and contest administrators to consider.
By posting a "thumbs down" section for a contest, we are not addressing the issue of honesty or dishonesty; we are simply noting that some red flags exist and that entrants should email the administrator of the contest for further questions.
If you are comfortable with the contest guidelines, by all means enter.
What is your past experience with this contest? Feel free to post your comments in this thread.