Steak-n-Shake in Holland MI, thank you very much, on our way to see the next play at the Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. I mentioned that I was working on having a panel on Writing Contests for New Writers at ConFusion in January 2008. The rationale is that while anyone can submit to any market most any time (they DO have to be accepting submissions, of course), it is very hard for new writers to part with any of their work. Contests offer deadlines and limits -- word count, genre, themes. Writing to a deadline is a good way to become more organized about one's writing.
At any rate, Mrs. Dr. Phil commented that when I first started submitting things was just at a point when the web made such things a lot easier. I suppose it's true. Mrs. Dr. Phil had a friend mention a contest a new publisher was putting together, SF stories on space stations, 5000 word limit. Gee, I had a story which took place on a space station. It finished up at 4999 words. It was easy to look up the publisher and the contest on the Internet and make sure I had the particulars correct. Ship it.
And then I looked around for something else to do. A Google search on "science fiction writing contest" produced a number of results and eventually I stumbled on the Writers of the Future. If there was ever anything which might motivate a new author to actually send stories out into the cold, cruel world, this is it. Four contests a year, serious prize money, even more serious Grand Prize money for the year, a wildly generous 17,000 word limit and judged by Big Name Authors. This really is the 800 lb. gorilla of SF writing contests.
And then there were the blogs. Blogs by writers trying to win, by those who had won, by those winners who'd gone on to become published authors.
This was May-June of 2002.
Not Just The Web
I was, of course, already aware of some of the commercial markets, and had bought issues of some of the magazines. Much more useful, on the advice of one of Mrs. Dr. Phil's cousins, I had a subscription to Locus magazine, and so was learning about some of the players in the SF publishing world, as well as info on cons and WorldCons, etc.
But look, it's obvious that publishing, contests and writing have been going on a long time before there was an Internet. The information is out there. You just have to look for it, read it, talk to people, hit a few cons -- any or all is good.
On The Other Hand
With computers and printers and the Internet, it's never been easier to have the tools to write a story and find a place to submit it. Doesn't mean it's any good. Doesn't mean you'll ever win a contest or sell a story. No one may ever read your epic SF novel. And one does have to watch out for crooks, who will prey on your vanity.
Which is why one has panels and "experts" on hand to tell stories, swap lies and hand out lots of useful information to new writers.
Where was I again? Oh yeah.