Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tips to Help You Win Writing Contests

At the in-between stage of ending one writing contest and starting two others, I decided it might be a good idea to share a few thoughts about entering contests, and provide a few tips on making the most use of your time, talents, and money. Competition is good for everyone, but by following these tips, your chances of success increase dramatically.

Contests offer writers an opportunity to hone their skills: skills of the actual craft of writing, of course, but also on your skills as a professional writer. I'll divide my tips into these two categories.

Writing Craft Tips to Help You Win Contests

  • Read your entire contest entry aloud to someone - anyone, even if it's the dog, hamster, parakeet, or blank wall. Reading it aloud gives you an opportunity to insert missing words, correct verb tenses, or complete sentences that you left hanging. Be sure to read your cover letter, synopsis, sample chapters, bio, blurbs - whatever elements are required read them all, then read them again.

Professional Writing Tips to Help You Win Contests

  • Follow the contest directions. It truly surprises me how many writers shoot themselves in the foot by not following directions. The competition is fierce and when some writers follow directions precisely and others do not, it makes me wonder what part they didn't understand, or even bother to read. Yes, some folks submit without even reading the rules. Judges notice and disqualify those who don't follow directions, to keep it fair for the ones who did.

  • Ask questions if you don't understand, but check the FAQs first.

  • Study the publisher's guidelines. You'll usually get an idea of what kinds of stories they want to publish, and maybe even what they don't want to publish. Sending us a  paranormal vampire werewolf princess erotica story would be a waste of your entry fee - we don't publish those kinds of stories, contest or not.

  • Follow the contest directions. Yes, it bears repeating a few times, because it costs people a chance to get their work read. Someone told me our contest had too many instructions - yet daily, I answered e-mails asking for more. Winning a writing contest is not done by random drawing. Most writers work tirelessly to polish their entries and most appreciate having specific instructions. 

  • Show passion and enthusiasm for your story. Some of the most delightful entries in the Books of Hope contest were submitted by writers who were passionate about their submission and it rang through loud and clear from the first word of their cover letter. Publishers like writers who believe in their own work.

  • Unless the directions state otherwise, put all elements of your entry into one document. The Books of Hope contest asked for four elements - the cover letter, synopsis, blurbs, and first chapter. Sending those as four separate files didn't disqualify anyone - because we didn't specify in our rules - but it sure makes sharing the entries with judges more cumbersome.

  • I hesitate to state this next tip, because it could label me as being harsh. But after receiving more than one entry that left me shaking my head, I must share this one final tip. Please use common sense when entering contests. Seriously. For example, even though our guidelines state that final manuscripts will be a certain word length, I had one writer ask if she could submit a 2,000 word essay, and another writer actually submitted a 250,000 word finished manuscript. Other folks thought the publisher might be the one person who could teach them the mechanics of Word. I'm not kidding.

I'm not sharing these tips because I'm heartless, cruel, or a perfectionist. I WANT writers to succeed - my goal in life is to help others achieve their dreams. But I can't help them without a little cooperation.

Read and follow the directions and you may end up a finalist in the next contest!

1 comment:

Kristi Butler said...

Thank you for your words of wisdom and valuable resources!