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Markets Around Us Essay Contests

Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna are among a small group to try this unconventional sales method. In 2015, for example, an innkeeper in Maine dispensed with her bed-and-breakfast through an essay contest; she had acquired it in the same fashion in 1993. Such contests are uncommon largely because they involve serious legwork, with no guarantee of success. Rather than hammer a “for sale” sign into the lawn and wait for the open house, these sellers have to set up and run a contest, generating enough buzz around a single property to convince thousands of people to gamble on it. Already, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna have had to extend their deadline, originally set for Jan. 31.

So far, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna, who live in New Jersey, have spent about $40,000. They hired a lawyer to establish rules and guidelines, judges to read the entries and a publicist to spark interest. They built a website with a promotional video showcasing the property and its surroundings, located in a gated community called the Chapin Estate. They declined to say how many people have submitted essays, as the contest is continuing.

The contest strategy has the potential to appeal to far more potential buyers than might otherwise purchase homes in the area. “I’m absolutely amazed by who enters these contests,” said Sara F. Hawkins, a lawyer in Phoenix, who has handled about five similar competitions, including the one in Bethel. “They’re from all over, all walks of life.”

In the promotional video, set to inspirational music, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna walk hand-in-hand through the wooded property, roast marshmallows at a campfire and play horseshoes with friends. They have been trying to sell the property because they rarely visit it, which is due in part to the fact that they own two bed-and-breakfasts in Cape May, N.J. The house, just steps from a lake, has a log cabin-y feel, with vaulted ceilings and a stone fireplace.

The video makes it all seem so dreamy. But it also poses the question: If no one was willing to buy the property when it was listed for $825,000 in 2015, why would 5,500 people want to bid on it now?

It all comes down to money, Mr. Bares said.

“I do believe that there are at least 5,500 people who would be willing to pay $149 for a vacation house that’s within two hours of one of the great cities of the world,” he said. “I think that the pool is huge.”

But Christine Vande Vrede, a saleswomen at Chapin Sotheby’s International Realty, with offices in the Chapin Estate, doubts that the pool is so vast. “I don’t see this happening in this neck of the woods,” she said. Unlike internationally famous vacation spots like the Hamptons, people who buy homes in this part of the Catskills “have a regional knowledge,” she said. (Unless, of course, you consider Bethel’s claim to fame, as the actual location of the Woodstock festival in 1969.)

The Chapin Estate has sprawling Adirondack lodge-style homes spread across 20,000 acres of forested land with lakes and mountain views. One listing asks $6.75 million for a 14,400-square-foot compound with two homes, a horse stable and riding arena. A more modest one asks $775,000 for a three-bedroom lodge.

By contrast, Ms. Vande Vrede described 391 Woodstone Trail as “basically a three-car garage with a finished apartment above it.” She added that “what that home has to offer might not be what our clients are looking for.”

Mr. Bares paid around $750,000 for the land in 2007, before he met Ms. Lavorgna. He spent another $350,000 building the home. If the essay contest is successful, it will have raised nearly as much as the 2015 list price of $825,000. “They are trying to short circuit the market,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants, who described the contest as “more of a gimmick than a real contest.”

These types of contests are not without problems. A winner might not comprehend the tax implications, and ultimately be unable to afford the cost of owning and maintaining the property. Contestants who don’t win might challenge the results. There are complicated legal issues associated with holding a national contest, as laws vary from state to state. Without enough contestants, sellers would have to return hundreds, if not thousands, of checks, itself a daunting task.

Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna see the contest as not only a way to sell a difficult property, but also as the start of a business venture. In addition to their two bed-and-breakfasts, they also own an interior design company. They have been featured on HGTV, on Caribbean Life and Flea Market Flip, where they won $5,000.

Using the essay contest as a model, they are designing an internet platform where sellers could list homes for sale by contest. Initial setup plans would cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for access to contest rules, legal plans, promotional materials, social media and a judging platform. Mr. Bares anticipates that the seller would ultimately pay about half the price of a broker’s fee, which is usually about six percent of the selling price.

Their hope rests on the notion that if people can turn their homes into ad hoc bed-and-breakfasts using platforms like Airbnb, what’s stopping them from selling their home in a game of skill? If the entry fee costs about the same as a night on the town, buyers just might take a chance. “Everyone seems to be looking for a deal these days,” Ms. Hawkins, the lawyer, said. “Why not this?”

Continue reading the main story
Correction: February 12, 2017

An article last Sunday about an essay contest to win a house in the Catskills misspelled the given name of the lawyer handling the competition. She is Sara F. Hawkins, not Sarah.


From Category: Markets and Contests for Writers

A Winner’s Advice: Jennifer Perrine

Award-winning poet Jennifer Perrine talks about how she prepares her work for publication, and what attracted her to particular contests at different stages of her career. This interview appears on G&A: The Contest Blog, a feature on the Poets & Writers website.

A Woman’s Write

The website A Woman's Write offers writing advice, editing and reviewing services, links to other useful sites for women writers, and an annual Good Read Novel Competition with a $500 prize for unpublished manuscripts. The contest fee includes a critique.

Advice on How to Sell Poetry

Published poet Neile Graham offers a useful basic overview of manuscript formatting, submission etiquette, and researching markets for your work. "Whatever you do, do it because you believe in your work and you love writing. If you're doing it for recognition and glory you'll burn out fast."

Aerogramme Writers’ Studio

Hosted in Melbourne, Australia, Aerogramme Writers' Studio publishes news and resources for emerging and established writers. The site features craft articles, upcoming publication opportunities, book recommendations, and literary humor. Follow them on Twitter @A_WritersStudio for timely announcements of contests and calls for submissions.

Algonkian Writer Conferences

Algonkian Writer Conferences bring together authors, agents, and editors in different locations across the US to help emerging novelists create marketable commercial fiction. Their workshops cover the elements of successful fiction and how to revise and pitch a manuscript. The faculty has included notable authors such as Robert Bausch and Robert Olen Butler.

Allison Amend’s Instructions for a Do-It-Yourself Book Tour

In this article from the Glimmer Train website, literary fiction author Allison Amend shares road-tested practical advice for small press authors. Amend's IPPY Award-winning debut short story collection, 'Things That Pass for Love', was published in October 2008 by OV/Dzanc Books, and her novel, 'Stations West', is due out from Louisiana State University Press's Yellow Shoe Fiction Series.

American Literary Translators Association: Grants and Awards

Contests, fellowships and programs for literary translators, ordered by deadline month. Check for new opportunities every two months or so. Translators may also be interested in a similar list of competitions maintained by The Translators Association of London.

An Economy of Talents

In this essay from Iota Magazine, Paul Maddern (co-winner of the 2009 Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection Competition) surveys the history of poetry chapbook publishing and its current status in the UK. The article includes a list of publishers seeking submissions.

Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris

Comic mystery writer Anne R. Allen publishes weekly posts about publishing and marketing your books in the digital age. Guest columnist Ruth Harris is a New York Times bestselling author and former Big Six editor who contributes a post each month. Popular posts include "Top Ten Questions from New Writers", "Top 10 Self-Sabotaging Mistakes of Author-Bloggers", and "12 Signs Your Novel Isn't Ready to Publish".

Arts Writers Grant Program

The Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program supports individual writers whose work addresses contemporary visual art through grants in the following categories: articles, blogs, books, new and alternative media, and short-form writing. Grants range from $3,000 to $50,000 depending on the needs and scope of the project. Application deadline is typically in early June.

ASBPE Editorial/Magazine Publishing Resources

The American Society of Business Publication Editors' website offers this extensive page of links for journalists, including trade associations, reference sites, job markets and legal basics.

ASCAP Resource Guide to Songwriting Competitions

ASCAP, the rights management agency for songwriters and recording artists, maintains this link directory. (Although we assume that contests listed here are more likely to be reputable, writers should still research each contest online before entering.)

Authors Access

This site features free downloadable podcasts of interviews with people around the world who can help authors better manage their writing careers. Popular guests have included Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of 'The Frugal Book Promoter'; Jo Virgil, a community relations manager for Barnes & Noble; and publicist Maryglenn McCombs.

Between the Lines

Webzine associated with The Editorial Department, a well-established manuscript-editing service, offers original interviews, craft articles, essays, forums and blogs to keep writers and publishing professionals informed about today's book publishing market. The Editorial Department offers a range of editing and marketing services for your prose manuscript or screenplay. We like their transparency with respect to price, which is not always the case with their competitors.

Book Promotion Tips at Blue Light Press

Founded by poet and novelist Diane Frank, Blue Light Press is a well-established independent publisher of poetry books, chapbooks, and anthologies. This page on their website provides a long list of ideas for promoting your forthcoming book via readings, reviews, launch parties, media interviews, and more.

Book Review Directory

Launched in 2015, the Book Review Directory is a growing list of bloggers who review books in various fiction and nonfiction genres. The site has three goals: to match authors with reviewers, to raise the profile of book review blogs, and to help readers find new books in their areas of interest.

Book That Poet

State-by-state directory of poets available for readings aims to match them with local libraries, bookstores and historical societies looking for speakers. Most listings are in Wisconsin at present, but site owner hopes to expand its reach. Poets pay $12 per year to be listed.


Post a press release about your book or announce an upcoming reading (free registration required). Browse articles about book marketing in their Reading Room.


BookPrizeInfo.com is a source of information on book prizes, literary awards and prizewinning books. You can look up a particular prize to find winners and shortlists, look up a particular book to see which prizes it has won, or look up an author to see what prizewinning books they have written. A brief description of each book is given, with links to reviews. This site focuses on the major literary awards for published books in the US and UK, some of which are by nomination only, such as the Pulitzer Prize and the Man Booker Prize. 


BookRix is an online community where authors of poetry and prose can upload their work and receive feedback. Membership is free. The site is based in Germany but has an English-language section. BookRix offers several free contests throughout the year, with prizes up to $1,000; winners are decided by members' votes.

Boston Globe List of 100 New England Literary Journals

This list of names and addresses for 100 literary journals, from the Boston Globe's "Off the Shelf" column, is a useful starting place for poets local and otherwise. Keep in mind that this list was compiled in August 2008 and is not updated as contact information changes.

Brilliant Flash Fiction

Based in Ireland, the online journal Brilliant Flash Fiction is published quarterly and accepts submissions of unpublished short stories under 1,000 words. See website for rules for their quarterly free contests with prizes up to 50 euros. No simultaneous submissions.

Catholic Writers Conference Online

This site offers a free online writers' conference featuring live chats with experienced writers and editors, pitch sessions with Christian publishers, writing workshops, and more. Registration typically begins in October and the conference is offered in March.

Cathy’s Comps and Calls

Award-winning poet and fiction writer Cathy Bryant curates this writing resources site, which specializes in free-to-enter contests and calls for submissions that can be entered online. Her book How to Win Writing Competitions (and Make Money) collects the knowledge she has gained from editing this site and publishing her work.

Christopher Fielden’s Writing Advice and Competitions Listings

The blog of Christopher Fielden, author of the thriller Wicked Game and numerous short stories, includes several pages of useful resources for fiction writers. In addition to Fielden's writing advice and editorial services, there are links to the top English-language competitions for short stories, unpublished novels, and published and self-published books.

Colossal Directory of Children’s Publishers

Links to hundreds of children's book and magazine publishers. In many cases, the submission guidelines page is broken out as well. It's wise to read the advice columns before sending out your manuscript. They will multiply your chances and save you much wasted effort.

Creative Writers Opportunities List

Allison Joseph, award-winning poet and moderator of the late Conpo list, is back. Get well-screened notices about literary contests, calls for submissions from literary journals and anthologies, and  opportunities such as residencies and fellowships. Listings are posted without comment. Join free. 

Creative Writing Contests Blog

Frequently updated blog maintained by Oliver Abrahim Khan posts listings of literary contests, fellowships, residencies, and calls for submissions. Site is searchable by category.

Cultured Vultures

Cultured Vultures is an online journal of contemporary writing, literary and entertainment reviews, and articles on politics and culture. Their free poetry contest offers web publication to the top three unpublished poems submitted each week.

Dream of Things

Founded in 2009, Dream of Things publishes anthologies of creative nonfiction on a variety of themes: stories of forgiveness, coffee shop stories, travel writing, life in the modern workplace, Internet dating, and others. Their first anthology was 'Saying Goodbye', released in October 2010. Their books seek to fill the gap between popular anthologies that publish stories that are "short and sweet" (sometimes so saccharine-sweet they are hard to swallow), and the Best American Essays series, which are typically quite a bit longer. The goal for Dream of Things anthologies is to publish writing that is not short and sweet, but short and deep. The result is stories that are easier to swallow because they are authentic, and easier to digest because they average 1,250 words in length. See website for submission guidelines and special offers.

Duotrope’s Digest (Markets for Writers)

Free searchable database of over 875 print and online periodicals that publish fiction and poetry. Profiles can be sorted by genre, submission policies, pay scale and more. Mainly for fiction writers, but poets will also find it useful. (Search for poetry markets in the "length" field, not "genre".) Unlike many link directories, this site is updated daily and fact-checked every week. You can sign up for their Weekly Wire e-newsletter to receive new listings in your inbox.

Duotrope’s Digest: Editor Interviews

Duotrope's Digest, a directory of literary magazine submission guidelines, includes this extensive archive of brief and informative interviews with magazine editors about the unique characteristics of their publication. Featured journals range from heavy hitters (American Poetry Journal, Bellingham Review) to the quirky and obscure (Untied Shoelaces of the Mind).

Editorial Freelancers Association

National nonprofit professional association of self-employed workers in the publishing and communications industries. The EFA works to improve conditions for freelancers and match them up with clients. Employers can post jobs for free.

Emerge-Surface-Be: The Poetry Project’s Fellowship Program

Launched in 2013, Emerge-Surface-Be is a fellowship program sponsored by the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, a well-known center of literary culture in New York City. Each year, three NYC-based poets will receive a stipend and mentoring by an established writer to complete a new project. Eligible authors must not have published more than one full-length collection and three chapbooks, excluding self-published books. See website for rules and deadline.

Experiences With Editors

In this series on the Emerging Writers Network blog, published authors share the best and worst of their experiences with editors (the comments have been mostly kudos so far) and what they learned from them.

Fiction Fast-Track at Apostrophe Books

British publisher Apostrophe Books Ltd. will publish a new fiction e-book every month, chosen by popular vote. Authors should submit the complete manuscript of an unpublished novel or story collection. The first 2,500 words will be posted on the website. The entry that receives the most votes from Apostrophe's website visitors and Facebook and Twitter followers will be published as an e-book and distributed through major digital retailers.


Fictuary hosts monthly short fiction contests with $50 prizes. They publish the monthly e-zine Feed Me Fiction, available as an app on Apple iOS or Android devices.


Excellent resources for writers, with special attention to science fiction, fantasy, horror and speculative fiction. Links to markets, publishers, contests, agents, writers groups, author sites, writing resources and conferences. Active discussion forum.

Freedom With Writing: The Paid Publishing Guidebook

Freedom With Writing connects freelance writers with jobs and opportunities. Sign up for their free e-newsletter to receive this PDF directory (100+ pages) of magazines and websites that pay for writing in various genres including news, entertainment, sports, travel, education, philosophy, and religion.

From Page to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals

In this article from the May/June 2009 Poets & Writers Magazine, award-winning poet Sandra Beasley discusses the growing prestige of online publication and the advantages it offers for disseminating your work. Recommended journals include Blackbird, Coconut, and Drunken Boat.

Funds for Writers

Grants, contests and markets for writers. Resource-packed online newsletters include TOTAL FundsforWriters, FFW Small Markets, and WritingKid (young writers). Editor C. Hope Clark also offers ebooks with specialized marketing resources for poets, fiction writers and more.

Gather.com Short-Form Writing Competition with Amazon Shorts

Members of Gather.com, an online content-sharing and discussion forum, can enter this monthly free contest and vote for the winners. Writers post their short-form work and compete to sell their writing on Amazon.com. Monthly winners will be the 3 entries with the highest number of votes and average rating, along with 1 editors' pick. 

Get Published Now: Molli Nickell, Publishing Consultant

Molli Nickell, a former Time-Life editor and journalist, now teaches writers to create marketing documents and make effective pitches to agents and editors. She also guides writers through the pros and cons of self-publishing. Her website features monthly contests with the prize of a free consultation. Based on the sample pitches and manuscript excerpts on the site, this service seems most appropriate for writers of genre fiction or commercial nonfiction.

GLA Blog “Dear Lucky Agent” Contests

Writer's Digest columnist Chuck Sambuchino hosts this recurring free contest at his Guide to Literary Agents (GLA) blog. Each contest is focused on a different genre, e.g. contemporary middle-grade fiction. Entrants should submit the first 150-200 words of their manuscript via email. No entry fee, but to be eligible for consideration, you must mention the contest twice through any social media. Contest is judged by literary agents who are seeking new authors to represent. Winners receive critique and subscription to WritersMarket.com.

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