Contests and cash flow

What do you get out of writing contests?

Several contest deadlines approach, and I’ll send my manuscript out to most–if not all–of them, knowing that it’s a crapshoot. I look at the press’s webpage and I consider who’s judging before I submit (although I allow that a judge might enjoy work that’s completely different from what he or she writes; I allow that, because I enjoy reading work that pushes me in new directions).

But until last September, I’d managed to stay naively oblivious to the reality of the readers who screen the manuscripts and choose which ones get sent to that final judge. No matter how much consideration I put into choosing where I’ll enter, I don’t know who my manuscript has to get past. Now I realize it’s even more of a crapshoot.

So why enter? Why pay the $20-30 fee? I realize I’m really paying for hope. Entering the contest gives me a measure of hope that my manuscript will win and get published. The fee is the cost of that hope.

That makes me think more about giving hope. It’s the year-end giving season, and I asked myself what would happen if I skipped the contests entirely and sent all that money to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders to give hope to people who really need it.

My manuscript probably reach the light of day, but that money would likely do a lot more good. The problem is that I want the manuscript to get published.

It comes to balance–maybe like tithing. But instead of a percentage of what I earn, can I find a formula for giving a percentage of what I spend–and spread the hope around?

Do you send out to the contests? Do you contact presses directly instead? Or both?

Follow-up: On Dec. 31 I sent my contest tithing donation to Doctors Without Borders. That felt good.