Improve Your Winning Chances In Writing Contests
As long as there are aspiring writers, writing contests will never go out of style. These guidelines will help you make sure your online entry has a better chance of winning.
- Read the contest requirements carefully. Some writing contests accept submissions in only one genre. Adherence to the theme is often a major judging criterion, so make sure all of your entries address the theme clearly. A writing contest is not the time to experiment with a sci-fi fantasy riff or a humour essay. Being careless or rebellious might mean disqualification of your entry.
- Research the history of the contest and read the previous winning works. It often helps to know what a winning entry looks like, so you’ll have something tangible with which to compare your own entries. If the judges seem to prefer a certain writing style historically, would you be able to meet that expectation? Find out what motivates the sponsors in general so you can tailor your entry to match their values and philosophy. They’re the ones who will have to live with the results of their writing contest, even after the winners have received their own recognition. If you really want to win the competition, try your best to resemble the sponsor’s idea of a winner.
- Start with flair. Impress the readers and the judges with a complicated situation, page-turning sequence, or unsolved mysteries. If you cannot convince them to flip the pages for more, you are in trouble. Writing contests mean numerous entries so judges tend to weed out losing entries by discarding those where the first page does not compel them to read on.
- Make your characters believable. Whether fictional or non-fictional, your characters should be authentic. Their dialogue should be relevant and move the story along. They should talk as you and I, not stilted or awkward, but natural and convincingly.
- Go for a unique storyline. A well-written entry with originality will stand out. Use an unusual setting, create offbeat characters, or find an original angle or unusual twist. The judges are looking for something new, not the same old plots – so take that as a hint, grab the opportunity, and give them a reason to notice your work.
- Be organized. Your entry should have a beginning, middle and end – with a clear central theme that is followed throughout the story or article. You should be able to define your theme in one sentence. Judges do not have the patience to deduce for themselves what you are up to all along.
- Proofread your entry (or have someone else do this for you) before you submit it. Check for errors in spelling, grammar, sentence construction, and story structure. Neatness is also of the utmost importance. Whether you have been published before or not, your entry should identify you as professional and capable.
- Enter your story early on. Because being in the bottom of a long list of entries might mean that judges won’t apply the same enthusiasm or curiosity that they have for entries submitted far before the closing dates. Many judges also read entries as they come in and early submissions will certainly have them more engaged than they will be after they have already read hundreds of submissions.
- This is not the time to be adventurous in style and layout. Superfluous cover letters, unusual fonts, and decorated envelopes are a no-no. You want your entries to be as readable as possible. Trying so hard to appear clever in front of judges you don’t personally know might make you lose valuable points. Including personal information not allowed under the rules can also make you appear too desperate. Let your work speak for itself.
- Increase the odds! If the guidelines state that more than one entry is acceptable, by all means increase your odds of attracting a judges eye and enter as many times as allowed.