I’ve been bombarded with notices about writing contests lately. I’ve judged both writing contests and book award competitions and here are some tips to help you if you’re thinking about entering.
- Have a reason for entering. Do you want to be published? Do you want writing credentials? Ask yourself why you’re entering the contest.
- Select the right contest to meet your needs. Are you looking for feedback? Do you want to get an editor’s or agent’s attention? Are you looking for a cash prize? You need to decide which contest(s) meet your needs.
- Follow submission guidelines. Be sure you understand the contest rules and follow them completely. Be sure you don’t exceed the page limit, for example. Check the basics like grammar, punctuation, spelling. Double-space your entry. Trust me on that one. I teach college courses and my students get points deducted if their papers aren’t double-spaced. There are always some who try 1.5 spaces so they fit within the assignment page length requirements, but it jumps out when everyone else submits double-spaced. If no font size is stated, go with a 12 pt. serif font (one with the little tails on the letters). The serifs allow for easier eye flow in reading.
- Once you’ve proofread your submission and sent it out, forget about it. You’ll hear something in time. In the interim, don’t waste precious writing time thinking about what’s out of your control. Move on to something else because contest judging can take months to complete.
- Consider what the judges say in their feedback. You’ll probably get score sheets with critiques/feedback when the judging is completed. If more than one judge offers similar feedback, consider listening to it. Judging is subjective. What one judge hates, another may love. (By the way, editors are subjective too.) If you don’t agree with a judge, fine. But at least consider what the judges say.
- Thank the judges if you know who they are. You may not know them by name, but if they use a number or other code identifier, you have enough information to send a thank-you note. Granted, you paid for the privilege of entering the contest. Granted, you may not agree with the results or feedback. But sending a note that simply says, “Thank you for taking the time to judge my entry,” is a courteous thing to do. Your judge may be involved in another contest, may be an editor, may be an agent. You will stand out from the crowd if you extend a little professional courtesy. Write one thank-you note per judge. Address the envelope with just the judge’s identifier, stamp the envelope, put all the envelopes in one larger envelope and mail to the contest coordinator. The coordinator can fill in the blank address on your card , then drop your note in the mail.
If you decide to plunk down the money and enter some writing contests during your career, I wish you all the best. These tips should help.