Members of Writers International Network Zimbabwe (WINZ) who are on Whatsapp had a fantastic online session with US-based accomplished writer Professor Emmanuel Sigauke. The almost two hour-long session touched on 'the importance of writing contests for aspiring and emerging authors'.
Prof Sigauke focused on the English short story which he said was one of his earliest judging assignments back in 1996 at the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ). He urged authors to participate in writing contests and said winning a prize boosts a writer's productivity and exposes their work to publishers and readers.
Having been involved in different stages of the short story competition such as mentoring, screening submissions, judging, editing and publishing, Prof Sigauke encouraged the new writers 'to make occasional searches for contests that they can participate in, particularly those serving African writers such as Writivism and Short Story Day Africa'.
"Besides challenging yourself, participating in contests helps with an awareness of what the market is looking for. Some contests are driven by specific themes or issues," he said.
It is common that new writers take submission rules for granted and you find stories with impressive plots losing prizes simply because of a shoddy copy or wrong formatting.
"The organisers are often clear on how the manuscript must be formatted. Many writers, because they are in a hurry to submit the work or because of impatience with such instructions, will turn in sloppy, unprofessional work. Such entries will not be taken seriously," said the Professor.
Prof Sigauke added that not all competitions are created equal though.
"There are many categories to consider but it is important to locate competitions for various reasons such as ease of submission. It is important sometimes to focus on more local contests even though they may not give a lot in terms of prize money," he said.
The session also discussed "free entries" versus "paid submissions". Prof Sigauke told the new writers that some are benefiting from contests that do not require submission fees but he said most American writing contests require a non-refundable submission fee of between $10 and $25 per story.
However, Prof Sigauke defended the payment of submission fees, saying most contests are run by nonprofit organisations or small presses which require entry fees to cover costs such as paying the judge, building the prize money and other costs.
The good part of the Whatsapp lecture was when the writers engaged the Professor with their various concerns which included how to guard against vanity publishers and copyright loss in some of these contests.
In terms of copyright, Prof Sigauke said often these contests lead to the publication of the top entries and at that point the writers will be made aware of the conditions of publication.
"There are predators and scammers out there but legitimate contests are easy to verify too. Most are announced in reputable magazines like 'Poets and Writers'", said Prof Sigauke.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) is now getting ready to hold this year's edition of the book fair next month under the theme "The Book: Creating the Future!"
The ZIBF office in Harare has said the book fair will be running from September 24 to 29, starting with the two-day Indaba Conference at the Monomotapa Hotel. ZIBF is also expected to hold its provincial book fair under the same theme in Mutare in October.
And perhaps the Harare book fair will provide a chance to meet an author whom we have not known yet he lives in Zimbabwe! PJ Odendaal is a Zimbabwean born writer with a latest novel titled "The Rise of The Vaesons", a novel that has been described by Footprints Zimbabwe as a "modern tale of courage and bravery".