Friday, 2 February 2018

Things I've learned ...

Recently I was talking to my writing buddy Sheila Crosby about things I'd learned from judging writing competitions. It occurred to me that some of my blog readers might find the information useful.

Some items on this list might seem quite trivial, but getting them wrong means the judge is less likely to have confidence in the author. That means they'll be less able to suspend disbelief and more likely to find fault.

 - Set it out nicely and use decent paper and fresh ink if subbing hard copy. Don't send in something which is really hard to read, looks as though you didn’t think the story deserved new paper, or is formatted so badly it seems you've never read a magazine or book in your life.

- Still set it out nicely if submitting electronically. I’ve seen daft things such as randomly varying size indents (on the same entry I mean – it doesn’t matter if they vary from entry to entry).

- Don’t do weird stuff, such as ‘interesting’ fonts or random bold and italics all over it. The judge will be so distracted by this, they'll pay less attention to your story.

- If you notice a mistake after printing, don’t cross it out in red pen. 

- Do pick a title that’s not the same as, or similar to, the theme. (In a potential tie that can be a deciding factor.)

- Don’t use lots of names etc that you’ve made up and the judge can’t pronounce in their head.

- A lot of these come down to ‘don’t do stuff which could stop the judge eagerly reading your story straight through’. It’s the story which should make the decision for them. If they’re distracted by other issues, you'll lose marks.

- Do get as close to the maximum word count as possible without padding. A shorter story is likely to lack the depth and substance of a longer one.

- Don’t be overly grim. Serious themes are OK, but only be as horrible to the characters and kill as many as the story demands. That doesn't mean all characters must live happily ever after, but do include some lightness or a touch of hope wherever possible.

- If there’s a theme or something else to include, don’t be too subtle about using it. If the judge can't see you've stuck to the rules, you may get disqualified.

- Always follow the rules. In almost every competition I’ve been involved with, there were some entries which are excluded even before they were read, because the author had failed to follow the instructions.

Anyone willing to admit to having made any avoidable mistakes when entering a competition? (I *may* have done once or twice.)

Do you have any more tips to add?


Annalisa Crawford said...

Great tips. I judged a local competition last year, and several of them used the theme as the title.

I always read the rules several times, running through each point with the document open to double check it fully meets the criteria. And then when I send it, I worry I've missed something!

alyson faye said...

useful and timely post Patsy as I am judging shortlist for Saltaire writers flash fiction comp currently

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patsy - essential to follow requirements and to adhere as best possible to the judges' needs - giving yourself as much leeway towards the success pile as possible. Great tips - thanks - cheers Hilary

Fay Knowles said...

Sound advice, Patsy! I could add, regarding names, don't give characters similar names, like starting more than one character's name with the same letter, e.g. Sally and Susan. Readers can get confused and may have to keep going back over the story to see who is who!

Keith Havers said...

Thanks for the tips, Patsy. I've been asked to judge a few competitions since I started getting published in magazines and I still don't feel very confident about it. It annoys me when people haven't bothered to check spelling and punctuation.

Rosemary Johnson said...

My worst mistake was entering a boy-girl love story to a LGBT site! Not what they wanted at all.

Thank you, Sheila, for all these comp tips. As the Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers, I endorse every one of them a hundred-fold. And I would mention two others:

1. Check the format required. If the comp asks for play-script or poem, don't enter a short story on default, as, I'm afraid, a lot of entrants do.
2. Check the file type required. Most comps ask for .doc or .docx (ie Word formats). Me, I'm a nice helpful competition manager, and I will try and rescue works in other formats, but not every comp manager is like me. It is possible to convert from Mac formats and OpenOffice formats to Word format, but not always straightforward. If you can't work it out, query the email address for submissions.

Patsy said...

Good idea to have the document open as you check, Annalisa. It's easy to think we've done stuff when we haven't.

Patsy said...

Good luck, Alyson - judging is harder than entering!

Patsy said...

I hope they'll be helpful, Hilary.

Patsy said...

Avoiding reader confusion is indeed a good tip, Fay.

Patsy said...

If it's a case of not bothering, then you're right to be annoyed, Keith.

Patsy said...

You're right, checking the details is important - as is subbing the right genre!