Entering story competitions is a necessary part of any authoring work, but I find that it’s much like marketing a story to a publisher; difficult.

I’m working on Narrative’s Fall 2010 Story competition and the deadline is fast approaching. Based on the winning stories from the past two Narrative comps, my fabulism spec-fic work doesn’t seem to fit but the conventional short fiction does. I have fewer works of the latter, but the few I have are much shorter than the winning past entries. For the $20 entry fee, I can only afford one entry so it’s a dicey crap-shoot, much like publishing altogether. I like submitting with confidence rather than blind, uncertain submitting as competitions often seem to be for me.

It is also frustrating to have to pay-to-play (entry fees) when I’m in between the Fall season and State Cup and tournament play. I have 2-3 month gaps in my Referee income stream which necessarily puts a damper on the cash flow for entry fees. But it’s a fact of life and I have to scrimp and scrape to find some entry fee cash nonetheless.

My internal universal comparison feature of my brain-wiring gets hung-up on the pay-to-play nature of writing. Is writing a dime-a-dozen thing? Sure, to some extent. But really, within the universe of decent or “good” quality writers, the dime-a-dozen context evaporates, in my opinion. Lots of people like to write, and a lot of those do. But that doesn’t mean everyone is a serious writer trying to make, or making a living doing what they love–and as with most career writers, writing is often the “only” thing we can do. So when my wiring compares what ought to be to how things are in a capitalist market-limited universal of competitive fiction writing, I have to ask, why is it that art, commercial or fine, is the only “market” zone is pay-to-play while nearly every other market-limited career sector is not? Would we expect the financial sector to pay-to-play?

Okay, I’ll admit in the increasingly feudal system into which American society is driven deeper pay-to-play is becoming the normal “employment” situation, but that doesn’t make if fair, equitable or “right” either. pay to play should be reserved for event specific circumstances. Apprenticed or journeyman or yeoman persons should not be subjected to pay-to-play. In other words, if you are an artist, or any other type of amateur-professional person, seriously pursuing the path required to make a living as a craftsperson in that vocation, pay-to-play should be considered an ethical breach for the person demanding it, and an insult at least to the person subjected to it.

That said, contests are relatively event-specific in nature. Pay-to-play fees however are unfortunately classist in nature. Fees are a form of event-specific threshold; a competition would like serious work only so it sets a fee structure per entry to limit the amount of entries the panel has to review and judge by means of a minimum bar. However, using a fee amount invokes a class component, and that is what is objectionable. To a $20 fee for a person making $30K+ is peanuts while a competent journeyman/yeoman or transitioning level writer making less than $10K a year, $20 is a steep bar. Should there not be some other means of limiting the entry number and quality of work?

I don’t know what that would look like off the top of my head, but it seems to me with all the creativity out there in the publishing world, someone would have the chutzpah to come up with a better way.

In the meantime, do I risk $20 on a piece I’m confident in but uncertain will fit the competition previous entries? As always it’s a crap-shoot rife with uncertainty.

This is where a mentor would come in awfully handy. And mentors in the early 21st century demand pay-to-play, typically at a premium rate. And therein goes the neighborhood.