Have you entered a writing contest and won? If so, congratulations! It’s not easy and a huge accomplishment.
But if you’ve entered contests and not placed in the finals, there could be some simple things you can do to improve your chances.
I recently judged a writing contest and it was so interesting to read these entries; imagining myself an editor, and sympathizing with some of the common mistakes they must see repeatedly. (Note: this was NOT a SCBWI contest, so most entrants were probably new writers).
In this contest, I read only one chapter and a short synopsis. I found some of the synopses really interesting, but often the writing wasn’t strong enough. In one situation, it was the reverse: great writing but weak synopsis. So I started keeping a list of common mistakes in the entries and will share them with you:
9 Things to avoid when entering a fiction writing contest:
1. Telling too much backstory in the first chapter, so it ends up sounding like a long synopsis.
2. Simple grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. Please double space and indent paragraphs.
3. Stereotypes instead of interesting characters, such as saying “popular crowd” with few other details.
4. Of the dozen+ entries, two were vampire books and one a zombie book. If I had three trendy YA topics, I can only imagine how many editors are receiving!
5. Mixing past and present tenses.
6. Opening a book with a dream–this can be overdone.
7. Introducing too many characters in the first chapter.
8. Know the genre you’re entering — middle-grade and YA can be similar but there are differences.
9. Describing a character by having him/her look into a mirror.
In addition I’ll add some reasons why I chose the top two entries:
ENTRY 1: The entry started off with a shocking scene. The following action grew, enhanced by the main character’s inner thoughts and fears. By page 3, something very strange happened. By page 4, a stranger showed up who added even more mystery. The story mixed dialogue, inner thoughts, narrative smoothly. I was curious enough to keep reading if there had been more. Also, this entry was double spaced, with a good synopsis that told the key points in the drama and concluded on an inner plus outer resolution.
ENTRY 2: Loved the title–catchy and perfect for the current YA market. It gave me one of those “wish I’d thought of this!” moments. The synopsis wasn’t spaced exactly right but it told the story with drama and wry humor. The paranormal set-up was not vampires-zombies-werewolves but instead a twist on the genre. The opening line was sharp and intriguing. I immediately connected with the character. The dialogue and inner voice were a great mix of teen angst balanced with humor. I really loved this first chapter and am considering recommending it to my editor (only the contest is anonymous so don’t know who wrote it).
Another note about ENTRY 2–the paragraphs were not indented properly and the spacing was off. But that didn’t stop me from making this my top pick. And I think that’s how editors feel, too. They will forgive small mistakes if they fall in love with a story.
I really recommend judging contests — it’s insightful and a great lesson in writing. I always learn a lot–and it’s very satisfying to know I’m making the winners very happy.
Linda Joy Singleton
(Reproduced from http://lindajsingleton.livejournal.com)