An interview with Adam Cohen and Jendi Reiter of Winning Writers
Published: February 20, 2007
|Want first hand, detailed information about entering writing contests? The site Winning Writers is an increasingly popular resource.|
Visitors may opt for a free registration to receive the e-newsletter, access to The Best Free Poetry Contests database, and a chance to submit poems for critique in the e-newsletter. A modest fee of $6.95 for three months adds The Poetry Contest Insider database, in-depth editorial content like interviews with contest judges and links to poems that have won prizes, and guidelines for contests that charge fees.
The site also includes information about prose contests.
Reiter serves as vice president and her husband Adam is president. Both play an equal part in maintaining and growing the site. The couple agreed to answer questions by email.
|Q.: What motivated you to create Winning Writers?|
Reiter: Back in 2001, we were both working in the publishing industry in New York City, and felt a growing desire to start a venture of our own where we could have creative control. We're both independent-minded people with strong ideas about the kind of writing we like, the issues that we wish the intelligentsia would address, and how to run an honest and efficient publishing business. I had been winning poetry contests since high school, and always dreamed of combining "my avocation and my vocation," as Robert Frost put it. Adam's decade of experience in consumer marketing for The Atlantic Monthly gave him a good understanding of the advertising and circulation aspects of the business, and also convinced us both that online publishing was much more financially viable than a traditional print magazine or directory.
Winning Writers was born from the questions: What is the fun part of this business? and How are we going to get people to pay for it? The passion with which I began WW, and which I've carried over into the editorial features we now offer (the war and humor poetry contests, interviews with contest judges, and critiques of subscriber poems), was to find new writers I admired and promote them. But people are drowning in editorial content. We also had to offer subscribers something they would perceive as immediately useful. That's why our first product was Poetry Contest Insider, our subscription database of contest guidelines, which has grown to over 750 active listings. The online format allowed us to provide the complete rules as well as background information on the sponsor, winners and judges - something unique in the contest directory market.
Cohen: One of the key parts of our plan was to identify a niche we knew a lot about, and create a superior offering for that niche. We instinctively avoided creating a general-interest publication that would spread our efforts thin. We also wanted to avoid competing with large, well-established publishers. We wanted to create a business where two people would have a chance of holding their own. Poetry, and specifically poetry contests, fit the bill. In some ways, our small size is a strength. We can exercise independent judgment. We don't have to achieve consensus across a large organization or committee. Internal politics are less of a factor in our decisions. We can reward work that, because of its style, subject matter or 'heretical nature', might be problematic for a large enterprise that has to answer to a variety of constituencies.
|Q.: Does managing the site tap you into a network of other writers? Do you get a lot of email from subscribers? |
Reiter: Yes, definitely. I've been writing since childhood and never before felt so connected to an international community of writers. We've been able to talk (or more often e-mail) with major publishers and learn about the writing scene from their perspectives, an opportunity that most poets don't get. I have regular correspondents from all over the world, from college students in Nigeria to prisoners in California. We do our best to answer every query personally, no matter how elementary.
|Q.: Do you have a job, other than as poet and writer? Do you speak at book and literary events frequently? |
Reiter: WW is our only full-time job, though I do some freelance proofreading. Also, we've both become quite busy with local political activism. I would like to speak at literary events more frequently than I do, but opportunities haven't yet presented themselves. I do give a few readings a year at bookstores and libraries.
Cohen: One of our goals at Winning Writers is to shine light on subjects that we'd like to see get more attention. These include the phenomena of vanity contests, humor poetry, and the poetry of war. The Web allows us to attract a tremendous amount of attention at a low cost relative to print publishing. Our Web site served over 1.48 million page views in 2006. We advertise on search engines like Google and publicize our winners with press releases. We also do some print advertising, but the bulk of our promotion dollars are spent online. New media offer writers tremendous opportunities for publicity and exposure, especially for subjects that, for whatever reason, traditional media tend to ignore.
|Q.: What advice would you offer to poets about entering contests? |
Reiter: Invest time and money to research the publications before submitting to them. The Internet makes this much easier than it used to be. Even if the journal in question doesn't have sample work online, look at the list of their regular contributors and do a Net search for them. If their style is consistently very different from yours, maybe you shouldn't spend entry fees on that contest because your chances are low.
Avoid contests where you have to buy a copy of the publication in which your work appears; contests that don't guarantee a top prize amount (authors should not have to bear the risk that the sponsor can't break even); and contests where the fee is more than 10% of the top prize, unless the prestige of the contest warrants it. I'd also say you should be wary of contests that fail to pick a winner and don't refund the fees.
Read the rules.
Cohen: One of the major objectives of our contest database is to help give authors the information they need to decide which contests are right for them. To sift through 750-plus contests can seem daunting. We try to make this process as speedy, painless and effective as possible through our search mechanism, our detailed contest profiles, our contest rankings and our links to the work of winners and judges. Besides helping authors pick contests, we also hope that our presenting a large array of prize-winning work--a feast of great contemporary writing--will be enjoyable and instructive in itself.
Visit Winning Writers on the Net.
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--Posted Feb 20, 2007
Kay B. Day is a poet and freelance correspondent living in Jacksonville, Fla. Her articles and poems appear in The Christian Science Monitor and The Florida Times Union. She is a stringer for UPI. Her collection A Poetry Break won several awards, including top poetry book from the Florida Writers' Association. Web: www.kayday.com.
The next Poetry Beat takes you on a visit with Shoshauna Shy, widely published poet and founder of Book That Poet.
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