So when you find a contest that has both a tolerable entry fee and a reasonable payoff, you can enter. You may need to look at several contests before you decide on one that is right for you in terms of style. It is important to read the work of previous winners online if possible.
If the contest is sponsored by a university publication or a literary journal, you should pick up a copy or two of this journal to see what type of poetry appeals to the editors. Pay attention to the theme of the issue as it could affect the kind of poetry you read for that month. Try reading another theme to see if the style is similar even if the subject matter has changed. Then when you find a place that seems to publish work that is similar in style and tone to yours, check out the guidelines.
This is probably the best thing you can do, besides have natural talent, to win a poetry contest: follow the guidelines. It is not impressive to editors or contest judges if you try to be unique by straying from these rules. They are in place for a reason. Usually, this reason is to make the job of the editors and judges easier. They will be inundated with entries. If all the pages are uniform and the type is big enough to read, their lives will be much less stressful. If you are the one with the odd sized paper and blue font, you will make a bad impression rather than a memorable one.
So stick to the guidelines about page size, usually a standard eight by ten sheet of printer paper. Also use a font that is readable, at least an eleven or twelve point in something like New Courier, Arial, or Times New Roman. Also be sure that you follow guidelines about having you name and contact information on the page. Some people want a copy of your poem with no name on it so that judging is not biased by previously published work.
Remember to note whether or not you can go over one page for your poem. If they want you to stick to one page, this is not license to create two columns of stanzas on one sheet of paper, nor is it appropriate to shrink your type to a size that will fit a too-long poem on a single page. If your poem is too long, pick another one to enter or find another contest.
Finally, use the editor’s name in your cover letter and double check spelling. Be professional rather than artistic in your presentation.
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