One Writer’s Journey

September 13, 2018

Entering Contests: Check All the Boxes

I’m almost halfway through another batch of contest entries.  I’m judging not entering, but this has given me some insight into how an editor must feel.  With that in mind, here are four tips that apply to contest entries but also to fiction in general.

  1. Follow the rules.  That doesn’t simply mean entering fiction in a fiction contest and nonfiction in a nonfiction contest.  It also means following instructions where formatting is concerned.  If you entry is being submitted by e-mail, this may not mean double space vs single space but it probably includes something about including your name, contact information and word count.  Do not send in my favorite story thus far and then flaunt the rules.  Do.  Not.
  2. Consider your audience.  Your audience includes not only your readers, God willing, but also the judge or editor who first opens your submission.  Pay attention to the mission of the magazine, website or publisher before deciding on your topic.  Not every topic is suitable for every audience.
  3. Hook your reader . . . but that doesn’t mean you have to lead with gore or physical threat.  Your reader has to care about your character before anything happens to them and it is very hard to pull off a story that leads with a violent situation. I’ve read stories that worked but they are few and far between.  It really doesn’t work with you lead with gore and then pop over to another scene.  What . . . wait . . . you just did that to try to be exciting!
  4. Don’t fail to develop your story.  When you have a low word count, some writers simply don’t include the character’s motivation or what’s at stake.  The protagonist is vague and where is this story set?  Sometimes they run right up to the word count and I know they just ran out of space.  Other times, they have several hundred words left.  Sigh.  Yet again, they are trying to build tension by making things mysterious.  Mysterious is not the same thing as vague.  Really.

I know those all sounded pretty negative, but I open every piece wanting to love it.  The only way to go is down so one of the best ways to succeed is by not losing any points.  And, honestly, those four things are the biggies.  Why not give yourself the best opportunity to succeed?

–SueBE

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