Jendi Reiter, vice president of Winning Writers, talks about how Winning Writers started, their vision for promoting free writing contests, and what’s coming up next for them with Trish Hopkinson in our new Submissions Interview Series. Hear about how to avoid submission pitfalls and all the resources Winning Writers has to offer for new, emerging, and seasoned poets and writers.
[00:00:00] Trish Hopkinson: Welcome back to Tell Tell Poetry submission interview series. I’m so pleased to be interviewing someone I’ve been in touch with online since my early days of seeking publication, Jendi Reiter co-founder of the amazing resource website winning right. Jendi Reiter is vice president of winning writers, editor of the best free literary contest and oversees the winning writers.
Literary contests. Jendi is an award winning author whose recent books include the short story collection and incomplete list of my wishes, the novel to nature. And the poetry collections, bullies, and love, and a talent for sadness, Jendi’s whose work has appeared in poetry. The new criterion, mud fishes, mud mud fish passages, north cutthroat, and many other publications.
Welcome Jendi, and thanks for taking some time to chat with me for the Tell Tell Poetry series interviews.
[00:01:01] Jendi Reiter: Thanks for having me. It’s great to meet you. So to speak after all these years of benefiting from the resources on your website and publishing your publications new as wedding writers, it’s nice to deepen that relationship.
[00:01:13] Trish Hopkinson: Yes, absolutely. And we, I mean, we’ve just been communicating over email for what feels like. Half of my life, but I guess really has, well, it’s been probably five or six years, at least. So it’s, it’s absolutely just a pleasure to meet you in person as it were, uh, for this interview. So thank you so much for taking the time, uh, with me today.
So. I, um, I have, you know, some great questions for you. I hope so. One thing I’m always really curious about is how a project starts. So I’d love to hear a little bit about the original inspiration for creating winning writers and how that all got to.
[00:01:55] Jendi Reiter: Sure willing writers is 20 years old. This year. It’s really hard to believe in internet years.
That’s like a hundred years of, but, uh, I’ve always been a creative writer and I started publishing poetry and magazines when I was in high school entering contests. So that was a world I knew pretty well. My partner, Adam Cohen, my, my life partner and my business partner. Uh, we had just gotten married a couple of years before and lived in New York city. We were both working at different, uh, large publishing organizations. He was circulation director at the Atlantic monthly magazine. And at that time I was working for the educational publisher facts on file new service, where I got a fantastic education and proofreading.
And, um, Didn’t really see ourselves as New York city, you know, big organization executives. So we put our minds together, like what, what is something we both know about? How can we pool our resources? And at the time, uh, having contest information on the web was kind of unusual. You still had to right away to a lot of places to get guidelines or the print magazine and then type the URL into your web browser. So we thought, okay, we’re going to have a database of contests that people can just click on search directly. And that will be like the part of the people pay for. And then the fun part for us will be, you know, running our own contest or curating resources or highlighting links to things on the web.
We think people should read kind of like poets and writers, where people buy the magazine for the. Because they want to enter contests. And then the fun part is, is the editorial part. And so that was our initial vision. Uh, we started out with a database of contests and then we started running our own contest at the same time.
And, um, the thing is people were not really paying for the, um, the full database commensurate with the amount of work it took to eventually maintain a database of complete contest guidelines for over a thousand contests. I don’t think enough people realized that we were doing a lot of legwork for them and it was worth paying for. So maybe five, six years ago, um, any longer, I don’t even remember now a while ago, we switched to just doing free literary contests because that’s a, a subset of maybe 300 to 500 contests as opposed to like 3000 contests. Um, and we would just have that information in the database for free. If you subscribe to our newsletter and we brought on other products that people pay for.
Like more of our own contests. Uh, Adam is the marketing and, uh, internet genius of our operation. He’s the business and technical side. And he’s really good at finding as the web improves. And as things change on the internet, like always going with those trends to find what’s going to make money for us.
How are people making money now with the internet? So like right now we sell sponsored tweets. We do so low mail. Um, so the business has evolved in that way, but, but always the heart of it has been helping people target the contests that are honest, that are a good value for money and that are appropriate for their type of.
[00:05:02] Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, no, that’s excellent. And it’s great to hear that you’ve just continued to evolve over time. I mean, what you said makes perfect sense because now all of those contests that you know are they’re fee-based so it makes sense for them to have their own marketing efforts. They’re all over the internet now.
And the free ones are the ones that have a hard time finding their voice, you know, getting pushed out. I definitely feature a lot of those on my site as well. And love your tweets. I’m so happy to support by re-tweeting as I come across those certainly there there’s a great, uh, writer, community, you know, on Twitter that, that is watching for those.
So it sounds like the perfect business plan. It’ll be. Really cool to see how it continues to evolve. Now that I sort of know more about it. I’ll I’ll be watching a little more closely to see what cool things you guys come up with next, for sure.
[00:05:57] Jendi Reiter: And we’re, we’re branching out right now. One, one of our freelancers, we have a bunch of freelancers who do different parts of the business remotely, as well as the two of us like maintain the whole operation.
And one of our freelancers, who used to live next door to us and now lives in Poland is, and Mila just invaluable. Um, and she’s just recently branched out into Reddit for. Uh, it has a literary contest forum that pulls in, um, you know, some of the same information that we have on our other social media to reach a different demographic.
Uh, I think she’s on Instagram now, putting up our book covers for the self published book contest winners, um, we’re reaching out. To Tic Toc the, to the book talk, teenage girls who are really popular, their cute little book videos and, and, uh, promote some really good literature and very fun bite size way.
So, uh, it’s good to have people at different ages, working for us who can reach out to different media niches that way. So look for us.
[00:06:56] Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, no, that, and that’s a universe. I have not spent a lot of time in all those some occasionally and I have, okay. I’ve been shown some Tic Tocs.
[00:07:08] Jendi Reiter: Yeah. You can watch a lot of Tic Tocs on Twitter.
Really waste your time. You’re doing
[00:07:14] Trish Hopkinson: yeah, no, absolutely. Absolutely. But that’s, that’s all really fascinating stuff. That’s super cool. I appreciate you sharing that. I’ve definitely. We’d like to spend a little bit more time in those spaces too. And that’s inspiring to kind of get me to do that. I did take on Instagram, not that long ago, although it took me a little while to get, you know, figure out how to navigate that.
Um, but I think, I think it’s great that we do well because a lot of the support is for emerging writers for those. Who are new to this game, right? Who don’t really know much about the writing biz or the poetry biz, or how to really get their work out there. They know they love to write, you know, and they have some inclination to maybe share that work, but they don’t really know where to get started.
And I mean, that’s how I originally found winning writers too. Is. You know, late in, late in the game, graduating from college and going, Hey, I’m I want to do this for real. Um, and not really, you know, it wasn’t, it’s not something they encourage it, I would say in university, but they don’t really tell you how to do it.
Uh, you know, my instructor brought in a big stack of like literary magazines. It was like, yeah, you should send your stuff out.
[00:08:20] Jendi Reiter: Yeah, a lot of money. That way you can, you can really lose a lot of money with those kinds of scattershot submissions. And, and we, we see ourselves as serving writers in all levels of experience and especially in the free contest space.
There’s a lot of scams. You know, it used to be those, those anthologies, you know, they used, you would say, oh, you’re a semifinalist. Please give us $50 for a copy of the anthology. And we helped raise awareness about what a rip off that was. Um, now I think there’s other contests that, that have. Really, um, abusive rules in the fine print about how they claim the rights to all of your content, whether you win or not.
So they’re just kind of content mining from unsuspecting applicants. And so we, we always try to, to look out for the newbie as well as have resources that people more advanced will benefit from. And I think that makes us different from some of the other literary. Uh, contest directory type sites and magazines that are a little more niche for particular, um, particular types of writers.
You know, like the writer may be more for commercial fiction and writers more for the MFA crowd. Like we try to serve everybody.
[00:09:31] Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. It’s definitely just, I mean, there’s just a vast amounts of information on your site for sure of those resources. And you’ve, you’ve touched on this maybe, but what would you say you’re most proud of?
[00:09:46] Jendi Reiter: I think it’s hard. It’s hard to just take one, you know, but one of the things that we’re most proud of is our really large archive of winning, uh, poems stories, essays, book excerpts, from our own contests. We started out in 2002, right after nine 11 with the war poetry. Because we wanted to reflect in a more nuanced way about the kinds of political issues that had come to the forefront, uh, things that were very simplistic in the national discourse at that time pro or anti war or so we have about 10 years of, of really moving.
Uh, a lot of them from veterans or people whose families have been touched by war, who might not consider them those part of the same literary community, but have fairly compelling things to say. Um, so I’m really proud of those archives. And now we have the, the four contests that we currently have. Or the humor poetry contest, which has been running for 20 years.
And, you know, if you like, high-quality tasteless writing, that is the place to
[00:10:46] Trish Hopkinson: go. It’s so great. I will
[00:10:50] Jendi Reiter: publish anything that, you know, doesn’t punch down at marginalized people, but it can be. You know, blast MIS have seen disgusting, you know, as long as it’s well written, we will, we will be interested. So I think we make a home for that kind of edgy stuff.
Um, but try to be sensitive also to the fact of it. So, um, I’m proud of how we walk that line. And so we have the fiction essay contest and the poetry contest archives on there as well. Those are just sort of general interest topics, some really great stuff there. And the north street book prize, which is like, I guess our flagship contest right now for self published books of poetry, fiction, memoir, uh, graphic novels, art books, and children’s picture books.
I think that’s just adding stuff. And that is pretty much what I do all through November through January is read those books and I’m proud of the work we put into discriminating, uh, you know, through, you know, 2000, 2000. Me and Ellen love flesh, our fearless code judge, uh, and our screeners of course work very hard at that.
And I think we have given a platform to a lot of people who feel shut out of the regular publishing world and whose work is just as good, if not better. So check out our contest archives. If you want to get a flavor for our values and our tastes and opportunities.
[00:12:15] Trish Hopkinson: Now that’s so great. The self-published contest world is.
So microscopic it’s, it’s so fantastic that you guys, I mean, you’ve, you’ve obviously done a great job of finding those gaps, right. Of the things that are missing from the writing community and ways to support writers out. You know, the plethora of, you know, there’s a whole lot of certain types of contests and opportunities, but there’s, there’s these segments that are just have been missing that you’re filling.
And I’ve, I’ve recently done a lot of research on self-publishing opportunities. It’s still sparse. I hope people watching this will look for opportunities to add to that because there’s some really, really great writing out there. And some authors and poets who have really created businesses and communities around self publishing that nurture, you know, a broader group, then maybe you get, you know, from a traditional published book.
So I’m really encouraged about everything that I’m seeing happening in the self-publish publishing world. Um, especially with poetry, just cause that’s my thing. But speaking of that, um, what would you like to see more of in the literary community? Are you seeing other gaps that maybe you’re targeting in on or that, that maybe don’t make sense for you to add to your platform that you hope other people would take?
[00:13:39] Jendi Reiter: That’s a really good segue. Cause I feel like the, the second class treatment of self-published and indie books is something that really irks me as a small press writer. All my books have been through contests or other small literary presses and the publishers have done a great job and. You know, their lists are a lot of writers that I am happy to be in the company of, but it’s really hard financially for them to break into the big review outlets.
They can’t afford to give away lots of copies on that galley or good reads. They can’t afford to advertise and shelf awareness. And even if they did. The economics of small press publishing are often print on demand and there’s unreasonable exclusions of print on demand books from a lot of these, um, a lot of these more respected and larger as larger outreach review outlets and publicity outlets.
And. I’ve been reading self published books, uh, very intensively for six years now. And I think the quality is, uh, definitely the same as a lot of books that I have bought from mainstream publishers. The prejudice against them is not founded. Uh, and I wish that the literary community was stopped gatekeeping in this really arbitrary way.
Um, another, another thing that I feel could be improved is the definition of emerging, right. It’s often just an arbitrary age or number of books you’ve published. Uh, there’s a, as one of my notes, I wrote down the name of the Twitter site. It’s it is at no entry. Underscore arts is a really great Twitter feed.
Looks at like, why are there age cutoffs for emerging writers for a contest and they’ll sign petitions and I’ll try and get those rules changed. And I think that’s a really important issue to, to bring awareness to. So those are some things I’d like to see changed. And in the writing world is like, let’s move beyond these really mechanical ways of determining who’s worthy and who gets.
Uh, and you’re going to get a more diverse, more interesting literary community that way. So as far as other niches, we might want to move into there’s. So many, Adam is always the one who’s finding these, these ideas. He’s the marketing man. And he’ll say to me, Danny, why don’t we do this or that? And then I’ll be like, I don’t have the time to add another category.
I think I absorb information visually and through, through reading so much better than through video and audio. Like I don’t, I don’t really listen to podcasts. I don’t have time. So we would like to offer at some point, like video and audio type prizes, the way like the Missouri review has the Miller audio prize, for example, uh, we’d have to figure out who’s going to judge that because I think it would take me way too long to be able to absorb those and discriminate, you know, among them, the way I can do very quickly with reader. So that’s a, that’s an area where a sort of, we need staff and money to be able to do that. Uh, and beyond that, I guess just as the internet and literary landscape changes are always looking out for those, those opportunities.
[00:16:46] Trish Hopkinson: Well, and I think that speaks to, I mean, that’s why you’ve, that’s why you’ve got your longevity, right. Is because we’re willing to pivot and move and like, Come to those places where, you know, you’re needed most and do it in a very effective way and be consistent and just keep it going, which is also so, so, so important with everything in the writing community.
I mean, there are some really great platforms and, and journals and magazines and other things that, you know, we’ll get a really good momentum and then, you know, support. Falls away for one reason or another, the main person, you know, has to attend to other things in their life. And sometimes those things don’t transition to anyone else and it’s sad.
So it’s really amazing to see, see winning writers really flourishing and just continuing to change with the environment. I just think of.
[00:17:39] Jendi Reiter: Well, thank you. I think it helps that we’ve been around for awhile. It, uh, it establishes credibility. And when people see that we, we give good customer service with our contest.
We’re very transparent repair prices on time. We announced our winners on time. And our rules are right up there. We’re open to feedback. We refund entries. If they’re not eligible, they don’t just fall into the void of, I think over time that that will build, that builds up Goodwill and that’s been helpful for us.
[00:18:09] Trish Hopkinson: It really sets an example, right. For, you know, as you’re going through. I mean, being listed means. You know, being part of a winning writers database is a big compliment. And if you’re, if you’re following, you know, those best practices, it is setting the stage for some of the things that you would like to see changed, you know, to show, Hey, we’re doing this and it’s working for us, you know, is probably the best way for you to impact that space.
So that’s awesome.
[00:18:38] Jendi Reiter: Um, you don’t, you don’t just get to be in the database, offering a contest. I mean, we do have some, we have some standards about. What your rules are. Is it fair to writers? Are you claiming too much intellectual property rights? Like I mentioned before and, and people’s entries, um, and is the fee price ratio?
I mean, the database is now free, but to tweet about a contest or to advertise in the newsletter, which is one of our, our main revenue sources right now. Is the ads in our free newsletter from sponsors and publishers and workshops and so forth, you know, Adam will send it to me. He was like, is this person acceptable for us to advertise?
Like, no, they’re charging $50 for a hundred dollar prize.
[00:19:19] Trish Hopkinson: No. Right, right. No, I love that. I love that. I mean, I do similar things with my site too, you know, I want to make sure. And I’ve given plenty of feedback, you know, especially to some of the new. Where, you know, I have to let him know, Hey, you don’t have enough contrast on your website and they’re going to be some people who can’t even read your guidelines because it’s white font on a light pink background.
You know? I mean, there are little things like that. Yeah. You have to be mindful about. Right. There’s some things. And what I really love about that engagement is, and I think part of it is because I’m starting to get fairly establishment, you know, working with my site for six or so years. Well about when we started.
Um, so. People respond really well to that kind of feedback if it’s given in a constructive way. And, and I love to see them just get excited about, oh, oh, and we added this and we changed that is that better? You know? And then they, then they really get a taste for, you know, what they can do to improve and, and they get passionate about it.
So it’s usually a very positive outcome. Actually. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a negative outcome, you know, giving somebody feedback. So. The writing community in general is I think is a great community. At least that’s been my experience for the most. I think. So
[00:20:32] Jendi Reiter: I think it’s great that you are focusing on accessible design as well as attractive design.
That is something we try to advise people about. When we write critiques of the north street books, for example, or rewrite the judges essay every year with every contest, we’ll write a little overview essay. And that’s often something that we point out is like your typeface is too small. This book designed.
You know, these big blocks of texts are not accessible. Um, these are things that I also see in mainstream publishers, honestly, but especially if you’re a self-published author, I really recommend that folks check out our useful resources page. You can just link to the resources on the main website, just pull that up.
There’s there’s links to the resources and there’s a page for self publishing resources and there’s lots of. Uh, book designers and design advice sites that we’ve looked at that we think are good. And the articles about what to look for when you’re designing something and, you know, and designing your website as well as an author, because having a good website is very important.
So definitely look at those resources and the business and technical resources set sites. If, uh, if you’re thinking of creating any kind of a journal or, or anything like that.
[00:21:48] Trish Hopkinson: And you don’t have to be an expert. A lot of this stuff is really just things. Maybe you didn’t think of, you know, maybe, um, you haven’t had exposure to.
Someone with visual impairment or maybe you don’t, you know, maybe there are other communities that you just haven’t engaged with and you want to make sure that whatever you’re putting out there is accessible to everybody. And it really is, you know, some of this stuff is, it’s not that any of it’s difficult, it’s just being aware, like you said, and then there’s all kinds of tips and tools and so much stuff.
That’s just really easy to access now. So yeah, no, I love that. That’s I think that’s really, really great advice. So I do want to ask you, um, what else has helped you the most as a writer kind of from your personal writing journey outside of wa well, I mean, of course everything that you’ve done with winning writers I’m sure has contributed, but are there specific things that, you know, really helped you grow as a writer?
[00:22:49] Jendi Reiter: I think a lot of what makes a writing life work is not writing related. It has a lot more to do with work, at least for me has a lot more do with working on myself as a person, making sure that the relationships in my life are good and that I’m surrounding myself with people who support me as a person and with whom it’s safe to be vulnerable and to change and to push boundaries of who I’m becoming.
And that really. Contiguous with writing life and life, life, uh, having, having a healthy psyche, working on my spiritual development, working on my therapy. Um, cause I think a lot of the problems with writing, like there’s technical problems and then there’s like soul level problems and technical problems.
Don’t seem so big once you’ve overcome the emotional blocks. So I think the most important thing that we can do for ourselves as writers is to make sure, you know, do the best we can ensure our lives, support, healthy, safe, creative, self knowledge, and, and speaking, honestly, And read a lot of books.
[00:23:59] Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:24:02] Jendi Reiter: Stop reading books if they’re not enjoyable to you because life is short.
[00:24:06] Trish Hopkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean that a place to a lot of things, right. I mean, I think giving ourselves permission for that personal space and also. Pick the things that truly give us the most joy and are going to help us move forward emotionally and in our lives as a whole.
That’s so key and I mean, Done a lot of that type of soul searching. Um, I took June off from my website specifically to ask myself what’s most important. Where am I going to devote my time? Because I scrambled after every opportunity possible for four years and the poetry and writing community, because there was just so much and I wanted to do everything and then realized I had to take a step back that I couldn’t do.
Everything. So it really is. It’s so true. It’s just a major, what is most important to you and I, a hundred percent. I love what you said about yeah. If the book’s not working for you, put it down, grab another. Maybe you’ll go back to it. Maybe. Well, there’ve been plenty that, you know, I’ve picked up and I’ve enjoyed to some degree.
And then I went, I think I got it. I’ve had enough of that one. Yeah, time to pick up the next thing and see what, see what I can get from it. So that’s really lovely, lovely advice.
[00:25:24] Jendi Reiter: Uh, one more thing. One more thing I would say, I guess, is that for me anyway, writing reveals what I really am and what I really believe, and that could be, uh, something that can disrupt one’s life or change one’s life.
And so, um, I guess be. Be aware of that and make the space for that to happen and let the writing show you where you’re growing and where you’re changing and what you actually think and feel even if that turns out to be something that is challenging to you. Uh, The reason you’re writing for a reason, like it’s going to come out, not writing is not going to stop.
It’s not going to help, like, whatever the address it’s gonna, it’s going to show up. So write your way through it. And something interesting will happen. Uh, and there was something else I was going to say about that. I’m trying to remember what it. Well it will come to me, but yeah, that’s enough advice. I know.
[00:26:25] Trish Hopkinson: That’s, that’s also very, very great advice. And I mean, I think I do recognize the most about myself in some of the metaphors that come out of my poems, you know, in trying to address a specific topic or something that’s affected me and getting a metaphor down again. Oh, that’s what that is. And it being able to address it, you know, personally recognizing some of those, something that was bothering me that I maybe couldn’t put into words until.
It’s suddenly reared its head as a metaphor and a poem. So I completely relate to that so much. And I do think that’s, you know, we are so as writers, we’re attentive, we’re always looking to be inspired. What’s that next thing that catches our eye, that detail that we want to include in our writing. And I think what you’re suggesting is that, you know, We give our writing that same attention, you know, as far as how it relates to us as human beings. So I really love that.
[00:27:23] Jendi Reiter: And I remember the thing I was going to say during, during the pandemic last year, I have a nine year old son and he didn’t have school for a few months and we ended up doing a lot of art together and I really rediscovered the childlike pleasure. Physical art-making I started doing jigsaw puzzles at coloring making collage, and I really think that some kind of non-verbal creativity is really nice as a writer.
Uh, cause I’m so much in my head and I’m finding that it really feeds my soul to be making things I don’t have ambition about that. I just do for pleasure. That’s creative and embody go out there and finger paint. It will make your writing.
[00:28:10] Trish Hopkinson: Sure. No, that’s awesome. I think that’s yeah, no, that’s terrific. I know my daughter through the pandemic tried a variety of different things and her latest is crocheting.
She somehow has an incredible knack for it and has done some brilliant things. Um, and who knew that crocheting was, was so creative, I guess I never treated it that way myself, but yeah, I mean, and that, that similarly that the having something tactile to work with in your hands, you know, is such a different experience.
Really, really great, really great advice. Thank you so much, Jendi that was meaningful for me too, and I’m sure for our listeners, and honestly, I could just probably talk to you for hours. Um, but uh, I think we had some really great information shared here and thank you so much for so many, you know, really of your, your personal life.
Touches, uh, advice and information for all the work you’ve done for writers with running, winning writers over the years. I mean, really just incredible. And I’m very proud to know you and to have interacted, uh, with you. And I know it’s been very valuable for me, for sure. So most importantly, how can viewers sign up to get your free newsletter and other updates?
Where can they find you?
[00:29:35] Jendi Reiter: to winningwriters.com. And at the top of the screen, there’s a grayish black bar that has different options on it, different words, and click on the best free literary contests. And you’ll see a dropdown menu that says free winning writers newsletter, and just click on that page and you can sign up for the free winning writers newsletter.
Which comes once a month on the 15th of the month. And it has all the contests and opportunities and so forth. And then you get to be on our email list and you get announcements about our contests. And, uh, Adam is very careful about not sending out too many emails. So we try not to bother you too many times.
Uh, but we will let you know when our conscious have deadlines and occasionally send out a curated mailing from some sponsor that we think is worthwhile because that helps keep the lights on. So they pay our share that. And we always make sure that it’s something that we ourselves would recommend and use.
So go to winningwriters.com look for best free literary contests, free winning writers newsletter. Give us your email address and we never sell your. And we will just give you lots of good info and go and read some of our past winners online and, uh, see what, what you think of them. And if you think your work is a good fit, please, please send it along.
[00:30:51] Trish Hopkinson: Awesome. Thank you so much for directing us that way. I will say you’re also on social media, so I believe, uh, within Twitter. Yep. Perfect. Perfect. So, so easy to find. I will attest that the emails are not obtrusive. I have stayed signed up, uh, all these years and have never been, uh, have always been pleased with what I get from winning writers in my mailbox.
So I would definitely encourage everyone to do that. If you’re not signed up already. And thank you again. This has been so great and so wonderful to get to know you a little bit better outside of, you know, our email conversations and other things that we’ve done in the past. So thank you again for your time today and it really, it truly was such a pleasure.
[00:31:37] Jendi Reiter: Thank you so much, Trish. Your site is a great resource too, so it’s really nice to connect with you.
[00:31:43] Trish Hopkinson: All right. Thank you so much. And we will see you for our next interview series
[00:31:48] Jendi Reiter: Bye.