More on winning novel contests
Published: February 29, 2008
|In the April 2008 issue of The Writer, authors Lenore Hart and David Poyer, both veteran judges of writing contests, offered their tips on how to win a novel-writing competition. In this sidebar, another contest judge offers additional tips.|
How to absolutely not enter a writing contest: 7 mistakes to avoid
When I founded the Mona Schreiber Prize for Humorous Fiction and Nonfiction (www.brashcyber.com) in 2000, I did it to honor my mother, who wrote articles for magazines and newspapers and taught writing in San Mateo County in Northern California. As I formulated the contest rules, I never thought I'd have a problem with any entries; writers would simply read the rules and that would be that.
What planet was I living on? Based on my administering this prize, as well as judging other prose, screenwriting and playwriting contests, here is a checklist for how to ruin your chances at winning anything in a writing contest--irrespective of your talent:
1. Don't provide contact information. Imagine someone wants to give you a prize and doesn't have your address, e-mail or phone number. I ask the entrants for my contest for an e-mail address because it's faster and means they don't have to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. But if a contest asks for a specific way to contact you, provide it.
2. Don't include the proper entry fee. As you wait to hear how your entry has done, you may not know it's been trashed because you forgot to include the entry fee. Or, you wrote your check in the wrong currency. My contest is international and I do get folks who, unfortunately, send foreign checks and currency. Occasionally, too, I've received a U.S. check that bounced, even though my entry fee is a mere $5. How sad is that, bouncing a check for five bucks? I contact the entrants, figuring that if they don't have $5 in their checking account, they're a lot worse off than me. But not all contest administrators will take the time.
3. Write in a style or genre other than the contest's emphasis. I know humor is subjective. But I can safely say this: Most people will get no chuckles from a straightforward piece about a relative dying of a disease. And yet my humor contest has received entries that seemed to have nothing to do with humor. I allow all forms, so that is not a problem. I'll take a humorous grocery list. But if a contest asks for poetry, don't send a monologue or essay and assume the contest will reconsider the definition of its literary form. And if you're entering a humor contest and writing about someone dying, make it a funny disease, will you?
4. Ignore formatting requests. I would agree that it is a cranky, miserable contest administrator who would rule out your work because you've put your name and address on the manuscript when you were asked not to. But remember: Those of us who run literary contests look at hundreds of entries. It saves us a great deal of time if you use staples instead of paper clips, or use 12-point Courier or Times New Roman instead of 8-point Eyestrain American. While a good contest administrator should never throw out your submission just for not following directions, you don't want a judge to be disgusted with you before even reading your opening sentence.
5. Don't bother proofreading. Talent speaks for itself, they say. But stupid mistakes, such as not proofreading your work, can sing loudly off-key and drown out your talent. If a contest likes your piece and a second one but yours is the one with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, which one has a better chance of winning? It's what I call the Annoyance Factor. It can sway a reader, even unconsciously, away from your work, regardless of your writing ability.
And speaking of proofing, do try to get the name of the administrator and contest right, too. I can live with being referred to as Barry, Bret or Brian. I've been called worse. But others may take offense at being called by the wrong name, especially if a contest administrator opens a cover letter to "Dear Bob" and her name is Bonnie.
6. Keep bugging them over and over until they reply. In my experience, some writing contests are not very good at notifying entrants that an entry has been received. As frustrating as this is, it does not give you permission to call or send frequent e-mails of increasing hostility, requesting receipt confirmation. You might consider including a stamped postcard for notification of receipt. Always try to ascertain how and when the results of the judging will be announced, before you submit.
7. Submit to any old contest anywhere. Look at how long a contest has been in operation, how much money is awarded, who does the judging, and how you think it will look on your resume if you win. Fees tend to be more for screenplay contests versus prose contests, but the prize money should be more, too. Does the contest include more than just prize money? Access to influential people? Publication in hard copy or online? Or are they just paying you $25 and giving you a paperweight?
Brad Schreiber's five books include the humor-writing how-to title What Are You Laughing At? He has also written for stage, film, television and radio and is vice president of Storytech Literary Consulting (at www.TheWritersJourney.com).
--Posted Feb. 29, 2008