Writing Contest Tips

Preparing a Winning Entry to Writing Contests

Most writing contests involve at least two tiers of judges. Preliminary judges whittle down the stack of applications into a manageable group, usually twenty to fifty applications, for the main judges, who then read the applications carefully. The good news is that most entries eliminate themselves in the preliminary phase, either by failing to follow the rules or by careless writing: only a small percentage make even this most rough cut. What can you do to make that your application makes it? Read on.

Think About Your Title.

It can be the hardest part, but it's also the first thing, after the cover letter, that the preliminary judges see (and in blind contests, it's the first thing the main judges see). That first impression will color the way they view your work, and they way they might feel about passing your manuscript on.

Proof Your Entry.

No matter how many contests you've won or books you've published, have someone else read over your entry. Grammatical mistakes and misspelled words give the impression that you decided to apply yesterday. Maintain a professional image: you never know who is going to see your application.

Don't Be Arrogant.

Include a short bio, stating relevant accomplishments, but don't brag about your writing ability. You want them to like your writing. Don't make them roll their eyes before they even get to your story.

Don't Complain About the Number of Times You've Applied.

It makes you look either desperate or resentful. If you keep getting rejected, then get some feedback on your writing before applying again. And if you're feeling resentful, consider why you're seeking this form of validation. Perhaps it's time to focus on the writing itself.

Follow the Rules.

Can we list this one twice? Why pay money to apply and then give judges a reason to eliminate you on day 1? Or maybe you think your entry is so good you don't have to follow the rules. Please see number 3.

Think Beyond Yourself.

The most impressive entries have something to say about life, society, or history. Think about what your story offers other people. You may get something really important from writing about your personal experiences or your feelings, but as a contest entry, these will pale compared to work that addresses something essential about the human condition.