Open Readings & Contests
for Poetry Manuscripts
a spreadsheet for finding opportunities and tracking your submissions
Fully updated for 2021 as of January 8, with an important message below. New opportunities added as they're found, with over 125 now listed.
I've been keeping a spreadsheet of publishing opportunities for poetry manuscripts since 2018. It grew alongside my journey with my first poetry manuscript. Eventually, I had a good base of opportunities and a format that felt workable, so I decided to share this resource with fellow poets.
Like anything on the internet, it started to travel more broadly than I originally intended. That's why I'm sharing it on a special page here, with this message, for 2021.
I'd like to reiterate the original purpose of sharing this resource. This list is meant (in some small way) to help remove barriers of time, access, or energy for writers without the privileges of time, access, or energy. I originally shared it with specific folks, such as writers I support at my studio (Voice & Vessel) -- many of whom don't have access to academic/MFA networks or gatherings where "industry knowledge" gets traded.
I also shared this with groups that support women and nonbinary writers, who are underrepresented in publishing and often face unique hurdles to publishing (such as scraping out a writing life in the midst of caretaking). Having opportunities gathered in one, easy-to-use place boosts the chances that more of those writers know what's out there and can spend their energy revising and submitting instead of building a spreadsheet.
There was never going to be a perfect way to be sure this list only made its way to those people. I understand that, and I'm not trying to pull anything back. Instead, I'd like to put the spirit of this list up front, in case you didn't know its roots.
I ask that if you're not part of those groups I mentioned above -- if you have privileges of access, time, or energy, if you have white male privilege (which continues to affect who gets supported, published, and read) -- please do not use this made-with-love resource unless you pay the effort forward. Make a donation to a literary organization, such as VONA, VIDA, or Amherst Writers & Artists.
Here's to more poetry, and to discovering more voices, in 2021. If you're ready to access the list of publishing opportunities, please click here. It's a Google Sheets document that you can make a copy of and use as a personal tracker as you submit your poetry manuscript. Good luck, poets!
After keeping this list for a few years, and as I've made more of my own submissions, some averages, themes, and wonderings have emerged. I've started to gather them below. If you're a poet who is open to sharing your learning, please let me know. If you're a publisher, I hope you might check this out as you consider how your process supports poets and the poetry ecosystem.
Changes with the Pandemic
When I do my annual update in January, I visit every single opportunity, check that links work, verify the contest is still running, update deadlines, and so on. This spreadsheet reflects a complete refresh every year.
In 2021, a lot has changed. A handful of publishers have put submissions on hold in the midst of the pandemic. I also noticed lots of deadline extensions and major changes in timing (e.g., moving the reading period to a different season). This started happening as soon as the summer of 2020, and things continue to shift in 2021.
Generally I try to keep the list updated as the year unfolds. I'll do my best as usual in 2021, but in 2020, there were so many changes I could not keep up. Please always check the links to be sure you're working against the true deadline for any submission.
Submission Fees & Awards (with an invitation)
- Across the 125+ opportunities on this list, the average submission fee is about $22.
- If you submitted to every opportunity shared, you'd pay over $2,700 in submission fees.
- I don't include the prize amounts on this list at this time, but they're typically around $1,000.
- Consider that you'll likely pay taxes on any award. This will be different for every writer. Let's say a U.S. writer whose household doesn't make a living wage wins, and their tax rate is 12% (just in federal). They now have $880 left of their $1,000 prize. At the average submission fee of $22, you've essentially "pre-spent" your winnings once you make 40 submissions.
- Yes, some submission expenses may be tax-deductible along the way. I'm not sharing this to get into tax advice. It's only to offer perspective on the (sobering) financial reality of this process. In just one contest I entered, there were over 800 entries. The fee was $28, meaning there were over $22,000 in submission fees. Two prizes of $1,000 each were given.
- As I share below (and it's not a new thought by any means), this process is not friendly to poets with limited time, access, energy, or money. If submission fees are a barrier for you, please let me know. Drop me a note with where you're submitting and how much it costs. I'd like to cover the fees for at least five fellow poets this year.
The Process, Feedback & Publishing Approaches
The journey of publishing a poetry manuscript asks for a kind of patience and persistence unlike anything else I've done in the writing life. If you're just getting started, consider sharing the journey with a fellow poet or a group you trust... not necessarily for feedback on your work, but for companionship in the process. For having a space to ask, "Is this normal?" or "What should I try next?"
After dozens of submissions, my manuscript has gotten everything from form rejections to semi-finalist nods or finalists placements in contests with 500+ entries. I thought once I started placing higher (especially in big contest pools), I'd receive even a line or two of feedback on my work. I thought a pattern might emerge of what's working or not. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case.
In fact, the presses that did offer comments were the ones who hosted open reading periods -- and with no submission fees. I want to especially recognize Green Writers Press and Acre Books. These two presses have a process that's more like the querying approach used for fiction and nonfiction books. Acre Books in particular has a smart approach, I think, with writers submitting a sample from their full manuscript. It's more like exploring a relationship together, instead of dropping your book into the contest void.
To me, all this raises questions about how relationships and stewardship of new poetry are valued in the world of poetry publishing. For so many poets, especially those working toward a first book, contests are the only way in. If they aren't given any meaningful response, even after placing as a finalist and paying $20+ for the privilege, how can we expect poets with limited time, resources, or energy to stay with it?
I know this is disheartening stuff to think about, and for poets who have been at this awhile, I'm not saying anything new here. But I think it's important to keep sharing... if publishers won't be transparent about their process, we are left to crowdsource transparency as fellow poets.
My wish is that any publishers reading this ask themselves how their process reflects their values (or not) in practice. Especially if you've shared messages in the spirit of equity, inclusion, and anti-racism work (as so many have in the past year), how are you making that real in your submissions process this year?
How might feedback in your rejections send some energy and support to emerging voices? How might reduced or free submissions periods create equity? What if you offered a live session with your editor, where you shared honest insight into your process and fielded questions from hopeful poets?
The (Nonsensical?) Pursuit of "Legitimacy"
I have a non-writer friend who checks in from time to time on how this process is going. He loses his mind when I share the numbers or the updates on form rejections. He's one of a few who has asked why I don't just self-publish. With the money I've spent on submission fees and my skillset (I used to work in branding/marketing), self-publishing seems like an obvious and even more cost-effective path.
This usually leads to a tailspin that I'm guessing many of us know: "Well, see, I don't want to feel beholden to the poetry establishment... but then, I guess, the thing is, self-published poetry books just aren't accepted in the same way other self-published books have come to be... and you know, I'd like to be eligible for post-publication awards, but then I have to publish traditionally... but first I have to win the prize that lets me publish at all... well, I don't know..."
No matter how much I question the so-called authority of the poetry establishment, I also find myself wanting my work to be received as "legitimate." I'm realizing that's the prize at this point, for me. I want the book to be taken seriously. I feel poetry is lagging behind other self-published niches in terms of legitimacy. If you publish an intense, metaphorical ride of a book with a traditional publisher, the very cover of their name, access to reviews, etc. might mean your work is considered "urgent" and "essential" and "challenging."
Take that same book and self-publish it, and you might find it's tougher to get it reviewed, taken seriously, or viewed as anything more than a personal manifesto or public confession (especially as a woman).
I don't blame the poets who have self-published for that. This is not to disparage them. It's to be honest about what they're up against. I think it reflects more of an unwillingness in the poetry world to soften its edges. Even as we ask for other ways of publishing, outside of expensive contests, we are slow to legitimize options outside the academic and the traditional.
I'd like to reflect on this more in 2021. I get uncomfortable even writing about it now without having some possibilities or ideas to share. But I want to put it out there, in case others are also feeling this tension in the process.
Hi there! I'm Emily Stoddard, a fellow writer and the founder of Voice & Vessel. It's been great to connect with more poets through the sharing of this list. If you know of an opportunity that's not on this list, please say hello. I update it seasonally.
And if you'd like the company of a fellow poet as you create new raw material and poems, I'd love to write with you. I regularly host the Hummingbird Sessions. This is a simple and steady space for beginnings. The sessions are free and 15 minutes long (with closed captions and recordings for folks who can't join live). I guide with us prompts and a closing practice to help you dig a little deeper into what's showing up on the page.