It’s writing contest season! Know how I know? Because it’s Writing Contest Judging Season!
I’m a judge in several writing contests each year, and I love it. I see a wide variety of entries in these contests, and a few that would have scored higher if the writer had followed a few simple tips. These tips, if followed, can mean the difference between winning and not.
1. Maximize the Easy Points! – This means reading and following all the contest guidelines. Everything from proper formatting to entering your work in the correct category. Every year I see people lose guaranteed points because they didn’t follow the directions. Contests often dictate the spacing, margins, length of (or whether you need) a synopsis, etc. Don’t throw away points on something that is TOTALLY under your control.
2. Get Help! – If you’re a grammar maven, you have a leg up on a lot of novelists. Frequently, one of the judged areas is: Does the entrant have a good grasp of grammar and punctuation? Sadly, the answer to this is often, no. Hire an editor, swap critiques with a punctuation ninja writer friend, find your old English teacher and offer her flowers and chocolates if she’ll look over and correct your work. Lots of points are lost because of grammar and punctuation mistakes.
3. Check for Balance! – Do you have pages and pages of narrative with no dialogue? Or snappy, on the nose dialogue that reads like a ping-pong match, but no setting or description? Print your entry, spread it on the floor, and stand back. Is it covered in white space, or is there no white space at all? A good story needs a balance of both dialogue and narrative, and if your story is heavy on one or the other, it will lose valuable points in the judging.
4. Know the Basics! – If you don’t understand showing vs. telling or point of view, resisting the urge to explain or the hallmarks of the genre you’re trying to write, your ms isn’t going to fare too well. Find a critique partner or two, take some classes, learn the basics before you waste entry money on a contest, only to hemorrhage points.
I would encourage you to study the guidelines and goals of the writing contests you hope to enter and see if they align with your own. What do you hope to get out of a writing contest? Validation that you’re on the right track? A trophy and bragging rights? Honest feedback that will help you grow as a writer? Each writer has a different reason for entering a writing contest, and if you manage your expectations, and take the time to ensure your content is the best it can be, you will be one step closer to achieving your writing goals. I hope to see your sparkling, shiny, brilliant work in a contest soon!
Erica Vetsch, Best-selling, award-winning author, loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.com where you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at
where she spends way too much time!