by Jean Roberta

When I was in my last year of high school, I won a major award in a national contest for student writers, and then lost my boyfriend. This was not a coincidence. He accused me of being on the “bad trip” of focusing too much on my writing and not enough on Life, then he promptly found a new girlfriend. (Boyfriend had taken a few “bad trips” that were more chemically-induced.)

He and I had met in a special two-year Fine Arts program, and he had told me that he planned to launch a writing career after graduation. During our two-year relationship, I revised and typed his essays for our English classes; I hoped that he would love me better if I helped him get better grades. (His grammar was shaky, and he implied that this was because he was all about big ideas rather than trivial details).

Soon after our English teacher announced the contest, Boyfriend and I both mailed in our short stories. This time, he didn’t ask for my editorial help, and I didn’t offer it. Weeks later, I won $500 (worth approximately a year of university tuition) and a three-day trip to Toronto, headquarters of the financial company that had sponsored the contest. Boyfriend got nothing. He complained bitterly that the judging had been unfairly biased, and he expected me to agree with him. Even before I learned that he had replaced me, I knew our romance was over.

Why am I recounting this historical episode? Because the race is on. Several major writing contests are still open for a short time, and award-winners will be announced at annual conferences in the spring and summer of 2014. The results remain to be seen.

Let’s start with (arguably) the biggest awards for writers of romance fiction (including erotic romance): the Ritas, sponsored by Romance Writers of America and named after its first president, Rita Clay Estrada. There is an entry fee for members of the organization, and a higher fee for non-members, but the prizes are substantial, not to mention the fame involved. The categories have been controversial, especially when “romance” was defined as a genre that excluded same-gender relationships. That restriction has been lifted, but “romance” as a genre definition is still sufficiently arbitrary to trigger debate. For more contest details, go here: before the deadline: January 2, 2014.

The annual writing awards that especially interest me are the “Lammies,” given by the Lambda Literary Foundation for the best works of the year (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama) featuring lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender content. The deadline for nominations is December 1, 2013, so if you are interested, you have a week to decide. Find “awards” here:

The categories for the “Lammies” are debatable and overlapping, and I am always somewhat surprised to find work I consider erotic entered as “fiction” or “romance.” Of course, the fewer entries in a given category, the more likely it is that a particular title will win.

Then there are the “Eppies” and the “Arianas” (given by EPIC, the organization for e-published writers, for e-books and e-book covers). These annual awards have a summer deadline.

I looked in vain for information about the Rauxa Prize for erotic fiction and poetry, awarded by a Rauxa Foundation (apparently based in Englewood, Colorado) up to 2007. This prize seems to be a thing of the past.

Penthouse magazine used to give annual awards for the kind of sexually-explicit fiction published in its pages. The name of the award, the “Baudelaire,” was hotly debated in the Writers list of ERWA (possibly also in Parlor) on grounds that Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), an innovative French poet, would be appalled to have his name associated with the formulaic stories for which Penthouse was known. Even still, any writing contest which provides cash prizes for writers seems better than nothing to me.

If I have neglected to mention a currently-open contest that will accept sexually-explicit writing, I hope someone will fill in the gap.

Why do writers enter contests? The shocking, immediate side-effect of winning is that other writers (especially contestants who didn’t win) are likely to sneer. (If my ex-boyfriend is still alive and if he ever mentions my name, he probably remembers our art-student romance as one of the disillusioning experiences of his youth.) Before contest results are even announced, the guidelines, the restrictions and the judges can all be accused of bias. The problem here is that literature (published writing) must be subjectively judged, based on criteria which are specific to a certain value system. I can’t imagine how writing contests could be run otherwise.

Do writing awards result in increased sales? I don’t know of any wide-ranging surveys which show a correlation (or not). Common sense tells me that an award is likely to raise interest in a particular title–and to a lesser extent, in everything else the author has written. Experience tells me that winning a writing contest is literally its own reward, since nothing further can be expected. (The award that lost me a boyfriend did not gain me a single publication.)

It has been argued that because the judging of writing contests, like the evaluation of story submissions, is necessarily subjective, winning or acceptance doesn’t prove the merits of the chosen work. We’ve all heard this.

Yet winning, like acceptance for publication (or both combined) feels downright orgasmic. It shows that at least one person (outside the writer’s circle of intimates) read, understood and chose to honour the work. May everyone here whose work is nominated for an award be prepared for the outcome, whatever it is—and may hope and determination never fade.