Poetry Writing Contests: Make Money from Poetry

POETRY WRITING CONTESTS“More people write poetry than read it.”

– George Carlin

“There ain’t no money it.” It’s been a cliché repeated so often to hear how poetry doesn’t make any money. Let me be the first to burst that bubble. There are plenty of opportunities for those with a penchant for poems to monetize their work.

How do you do it? If you’re an astute reader, you’ve probably read the damn title to this article by this point in time, so let’s cut the BS: poetry writing contests. Poetry is often a personal endeavor but if you want to make some skrilla, it’s time to test your haikus against the masses.

We’ve mentioned making money by entering your writing into contests before but this time, we’ll look specifically at all of the opportunities and tips for putting your poetry to the test. Let’s begin!

Where to Find Poetry Writing Contests?

The internet makes it easy to find poetry writing contests, but the best online resource I’ve found is the aptly-titled Poets & Writers website. Besides offering a wealth of information on just about every writing topic available, they also have an online submission calendar. Instead of jockeying between every website that comes up on your search engine, their online submission calendar makes your job easy—they even provide concise details relating to every contest.

Another great resource is a current version of Writer’s Market. In this ever-useful tome, there’s plenty of contests, from the Concrete Wolf Poetry Chapbook Contest (see next section)

Poets and your local community go together like peaches and cream, so don’t be afraid to poke around and see if there are awards granted to those who can encapsulate just what it’s like to live in Anytown, USA. Similarly, your poems can be submitted to contests held by local organizations (i.e. libraries, Rotary, Elks/BPOE) that typically feature less competition than nationally-held contests.

Also, contests to include your work on public transportation do exist. The plus side is that your name and work can be seen by more eyes than just a literary-oriented audience.

Different Types of Poetry Writing Contests

Just like there’s a difference between calming haikus and visceral slam poetry, there’s a lot of variation between what a typical poetry contest actually requires to enter. Some require only previously unpublished works, while others are written to a form of the organizer’s choosing. For instance, this contest not only has strict guidelines for form, but also prefers poems written about angels. Alas, there’s no money in this particular example—however, there’s Glory!

Pay particular attention the submission guidelines, as they are as variable as snowflakes. The aforementioned Concrete Wolf Poetry Chapbook Contest demands the following criteria:

“We prefer chapbooks that have a theme, either obvious (i.e., chapbook about a divorce) or understated (i.e., all the poems mention the color blue). We like a collection that feels more like a whole than a sampling of work. We have no preference as to formal or free verse. We probably slightly favor lyric and narrative poetry to language and concrete, but excellent examples of any style get our attention.”

However, that’s just what they’re looking for—you still have to follow the guidelines posted on their website; some purposely only accept SASE to weed out applicants, while others offer email submissions.

Open to All?

While most contests are open to everyone that can string together a couplet, other contests are only open to certain types of poets. The Naomi Long Madgett Poetry contest only accepts submissions from African-American poets; African poets can apply for The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets; the Dancing Poetry Contest [www.dancingpoetry.com] only accepts poets who write in English.

Again, read the submission guidelines and you can save yourself some disappointment (unless that fuels your writing; then I say, “submit away!”).


The bigger and more national a poetry contest is, the more the poetry contest will pay out. Here’$ just a quick rundown of $ome that may pique your intere$t:

  • Colorado Prize for Poetry
    Prize: $2,000 and a publication of a book-length manuscript.
  • Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award
    Prize: $3,500 ($2,000 prize plus $1,500 honorarium for a reading at Southern Illinois University Carbondale) and publication.
  • Robert Dana Anhinga Prize For Poetry
    Prize: $2,000, a reading tour of selected Florida colleges and universities, and the winning manuscript will be published.

Not bad for writing a few verses, eh? Of course, there’s quite a few that only pay $50, but that’s still money that can giving you bragging rights. After all, how many poets do you know that get paid to write it? That’s what I thought…

Final Note: Beware of the Scam

For any competitive endeavor, you should be aware that organizers don’t always have the most altruistic motives beforehand. Poetry is no exception to this—in fact, I’d wager that a large portion of them are set up solely to line the pockets (and increase the clout) of the organizers.

How does it work? Basically, you pay an entry fee to enter the contest. If your poetry is selected (there’s usually no guarantee they’ve actually read your poem), you pay more money to have your published work in print. Or, they throw you a bone and give you a “free” copy in an anthology. It’s essentially “pay-to-play.”

For a fee of $50 with even just 10 entrants, that’s $500 to the organizers minus expenses. There might even be a token payment to avoid negative feedback—poets do have a way with words—but you can see why these things are held in the first place. Even if these contests offer a podium and opportunity to read your work in front of an audience, compensation is usually non-existent. It’s usually for the exposure; and like cold weather, you can die of exposure!

So, use your discretion beforehand.

* * *

That about wraps up our quick guide to entering poetry writing contests and avoiding a few bad apples. The next time I take the bus, I’ll be on the lookout for your work.

I’ll leave you with my earth-shattering verse:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Make some cash with poetry contests,
but don’t plagiarize—you’ll get sued.


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