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Contest Tips

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Contest Tips

Contest Tips
Hello, Winnie Griggs here. Today I wanted to do a little "Back To Basics" post and talk about writing contests.

All right, I’ll admit it.  I’m a recovering contest junkie.  In the long years before I made that first sale, I entered dozens and dozens of them.  Now that I’m published, I’ve tried to repay not only the entrants but also all those wonderful,  harried contest coordinators by volunteering to judge when I can.

And as you know, the same things that make a full length novel great, make for a great entry as well. 

First, you want to show a clear understanding of the CRAFT of writing
  • Check, double-check and then triple check your grammar and spelling. Errors in this department may signal to the judge that you just don’t care. And yes I know you can probably point me to dozens of examples in published books that have these kinds of errors, but there are few judges who will give you a pass on this, especially if there are more than one or two errors and/or it’s one of the scoring items.
  • Make it engaging. Your dialog should be conversational and immediate, your narrative on point and pertinent to your scene and your characters recognizable, necessary to the story, and distinct from each other. In addition the story stakes should be clear and something the reader will care about.  The last thing you want is for the reader to shrug and think “so what?”.
Contest Tips


Next, you want to make sure you follow the rules.
All contests have a set of guidelines the entrants are to follow. These are mostly designed to give the entries a uniform feel and to make the job easier for the over-worked, under-appreciate, VOLUNTEER contest coordinators. And it’s also good practice for when you want to submit to a publisher. So make sure you have thoroughly read and understand the contest rules and that you follow them to a T. Don’t expect the harried contest coordinator to make allowances for you.

And as a judge, I find nothing more heartbreaking than discovering a manuscript I absolutely love, yet have to score in the medium to low range because of the framework of the judging criteria.  What makes this especially frustrating for me as a judge is that, in many cases, the entrant could have anticipated this problem and taken steps to mitigate it with just a little extra effort.

How, you ask?  By taking the following two steps:

  • Obtain a copy of the scoresheet the judges will be using.
    Depending on the contest, this task may vary from simple to nearly impossible.  Some contests have the scoresheet included on their website and/or with their printed guidelines.  If not, ask the contest coordinator for a copy.  If all else fails, try to find someone who entered in a prior year to see if they will share a copy with you.  (Though this is a bit iffier, since contests occasionally revise their scoresheets from one year to the next).

    Once you get hold of the scoresheet, then what?
    Pay close attention to the areas in which the manuscript will be judged, and the relative weight given to each.  These will differ greatly from contest to contest.  For example, if the relationship between the h/h is a large part of the score, and your h/h don’t meet within the pages of your entry, this may not be the contest for you.
  • Take full advantage of the page count allotted to you.  
    If a contest has as its guidelines that your entry is to consist of ‘a first chapter, not to exceed 25 pages’, then take a close look at your first chapter.  Again, use this in combination with the scoresheet.  Let’s take our above example, where the h/h relationship is a strong scoring element.  Now, maybe that relationship is not evident in your first chapter.  But your first chapter is only 15 pages long.  Suppose you changed that chapter break to a scene break and included the next 8-10 pages in your first chapter.  Would it now contain the missing element to give the judge something to work with?

    Ah, but suppose you need to pull in the next 12 pages to not only round out your scene but to also give you a really breathtaking ending hook?  What now?  Well, review those 27 pages closely.  Are there scenes or even paragraphs whose purpose is to foreshadow or set up something that will happen later in the story, but can be lifted out and not be missed in the context of this entry?  Then by all means, lift them out. It may surprise you how easy it is to whittle out the extra two pages when you view your opening in this narrower context.

    CAUTION:  Longer is not necessarily better.  If the 15 pages of your first chapter hit all the points it needs to, than stop there.  The contest judge will thank you for not taking up any more of her/his time than necessary.
Contest Tips


And speaking of thanks, there’s one final point I want to make.
No matter if you agree with the feedback you received or not, you should always take a moment to write a gracious thank you note to your judges. No matter what score they awarded you, they took hours out of their own writing schedule to read your entry and give you their feedback. If the feedback was particularly scathing, you may want to take a day or two to deal with it emotionally, mentally thank them for thickening your skin and then write a note thanking them for their time.

There you have it.  A few simple tips, but they can make all the difference in the score your entry receives.

Best of luck and above all, believe in yourself!
Contest Tips

Do you have any other tips or thoughts on this subject?  Leave a comment to be entered for your chance to receive your choice of any book from my backlist. 
You can find a list of those titles HERE.

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36 Comments on Seekerville: The Journey Continues: Contest Tips

  • Angeline
    on March 20, 2020 | 01:09 Angelinesaid :
    "This comment has been removed by the author."
  • Angeline
    on March 20, 2020 | 01:10 Angelinesaid :
    "Thank you for the post, these are great tips and I will have to remember them if I ever enter a writing contest."
  • Vince
    on March 20, 2020 | 01:30 Vincesaid :
    "Hi Winnie:

    Thank you, this is very helpful information. I've seen tips here I've not seen before.

    I do have this question: if a 15 page entry has all the requirements checked and a 25 page entry also has all the requirements checked, will the 25 page entry be favored by the judges?

    The full 25 pages gives the writer more time to sparkle and surprise the reader. Isn't submitting only 15 pages in a 25 page contest a little like submitting a 150 page book to an publisher who wants 220 pages?

    Also, it seems to me that in the past there were notices of upcoming contests on Seekerville every month. Are there less contests now? If not, do you know of a website devoted to information on upcoming romance writing contests?

    Vince
    "
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 04:02 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "You're welcome Angeline and thanks for dropping by"
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 08:39 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Good morning Vince. I'm so glad I was able to provide some new tips for you.
    To answer one of you questions, in the example you used, I'd say it's a matter of writer discretion. IF the 15 pages provide a real punch and checks all the boxes, it may suffice. But the longer entry does give you more opportunity to engage the judge and show where your story is headed.
    On your second question about notices of upcoming contests, I'll check around and see what I can find out."
  • Glynis
    on March 20, 2020 | 09:01 Glynissaid :
    "I haven't entered a contest in several years. I know I should, but I think it's fear that keeps me from doing it. These are great tips and yes, I know I need to get out there and just do it!!"
  • kaybee
    on March 20, 2020 | 09:20 kaybeesaid :
    "Contests have opened a number of doors for me, plus they look good on a resume. The feedback is beneficial and you soon learn to recognize when a criticism is correct and when the judge didn't have his/her morning coffee. You learn to work around the "snark attacks." It's another version of iron sharpening iron.
    Contests are also beneficial to the emerging writer because they show you that yes, you have the stuff, and you should keep on trying. For years I kept an "encouragement" file of contest wins, finals and positive comments. I especially loved things like "keep at it, you're almost there."
    Contests also connected me to Seekerville. Mary C. reached out to me one time from behind her judge's mask to encourage me, and I ended up stopping by often and becoming a Villager. BTW, the book she judged became my debut.
    Entering "published" contests now. Because I can.
    Off to do a couple errands, back later.
    Your Kaybee
    Making it work in New Hampshire"
  • kaybee
    on March 20, 2020 | 09:21 kaybeesaid :
    "Vince, Tina Radcliffe has a contest section in her newsletter and it's pretty comprehensive. That's where I'm getting my contest info right now.
    Best,
    KB"
  • Missy Tippens
    on March 20, 2020 | 09:42 Missy Tippenssaid :
    "Vince, Tina was the main one who would keep up with listing contest info. When she retired from the blog, she started a newsletter that Kathy just mentioned. She's really good about having contest info listed in her newsletter. So I've just been sending people to her. You can go to her website and sign up for the newsletter for writers."
  • Missy Tippens
    on March 20, 2020 | 09:52 Missy Tippenssaid :
    "These are great tips, Winnie!! I can't count how many contests I entered! Like you, it was probably dozens. I started out doing terrible, with very painful feedback. I would sometimes cry and get stalled writing after getting the entries back! But that was not a good way to react. Nothing should stop the writing. After joining a critique group, and my writing improved, I started entering again. I finally began placing and winning. I sold my first book through a contest! So I will aways be grateful for that. :)"
  • Missy Tippens
    on March 20, 2020 | 09:53 Missy Tippenssaid :
    "BTW I love those quotes!!"
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 10:58 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Hello Glynis. Appears to me you've said it all! :)"
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 11:01 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Hello kaybee. Those are all great reasons to enter contests! And best of luck to you as you enter those published author contests!"
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 11:05 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Hi Missy. It sounds like your writing journey was similar to mine, except I landed my first agent, who eventually sold my book, via a contest. It's so cool that you sold because of a contest."
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 11:06 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Glad you like them!!"
  • kaybee
    on March 20, 2020 | 11:52 kaybeesaid :
    "Vince, it is a good newsletter. KB"
  • kaybee
    on March 20, 2020 | 11:54 kaybeesaid :
    "Glynis, what can you lose? if you've got good judges, the feedback is worth the entry fee. If you don't...well, it's a gamble like everything else. But God is in it."
  • kaybee
    on March 20, 2020 | 11:55 kaybeesaid :
    ""Mary reached out from behind her judge's mask." Sounds like a Fifties game show."
  • Jan Drexler
    on March 20, 2020 | 12:14 Jan Drexlersaid :
    "This is a great post, Winnie! It's filled with all the things I wish I had known when I entered my first contest.

    But entering contests is where you learn this kind of stuff - either the easy way (i.e. having an experienced author as a guide) or the hard way (i.e. figuring it out by failure.)

    I'd much rather be guided by someone with some experience, like you!"
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 13:09 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Thanks Jan. :)"
  • Vince
    on March 20, 2020 | 13:33 Vincesaid :
    "Does Tina have more than one newsletter?

    I get a Tina newsletter, "Tina Radcliffe Author Newsletter," and I just checked four back issues and I did not find any mention of contests. Is it possible that Tina another newsletter? Winnie has got me interested in entering some more contests. If the spirit is going to move me, I really need to jump!
    "
  • Holly Ison
    on March 20, 2020 | 13:50 Holly Isonsaid :
    "Thank you for the great advice! It's been several years since I've tried writing. I loved writing stories in high school/college, but I never had the courage to submit anything to a contest. My writing has fallen on a back burner since I had my two boys. I'm hoping I will get back into writing once they're a bit older and I have more time. In the meantime, it is fun to tell funny stories to my boys."
  • Vince
    on March 20, 2020 | 15:02 Vincesaid :
    " Please: Don't Fear Entering Contests!

    Don't let fear hold you back. A contest is mostly anonymous. No one has to know how you did unless you tell them. You don't know who the judges are. (When you send a thank you card to a judge, it is addressed to a number not the judge's name. I always thank judges as I want to encourage them to keep at it. Contests provide a very inexpensive way to get really good writing critiques...especially if you get three detailed evaluations from experienced writers.)

    Judges can be frank with you like no one else can be. In one contest I got an A, C, and F from three different judges. The A judge got what I was doing and loved it. (It was metafiction in which the characters were self-aware that they were characters in a romance.)

    The C judge didn't really get what I was doing but thought it had some good writing in it. The F judge took what I was doing the wrong way and really hated it. (She thought I was making fun of the romance genre and was very upset that I'd even entered the contest.)

    I learned the most from the F judge! You can't be too clever or there will be readers who may misunderstand what you were doing and may even hate your work! Not good for reviews.

    "Dogs Who Make the Most Mistakes the Soonest, Learn the Fastest"

    Here's something to consider: When I was training K9 sentry dogs in the military I was at first surprised to hear the instructor say, "Encourage your dog to make mistakes. The dogs that make the most mistakes the soonest learn the fastest". Sometimes a dog will do the right thing when told simply because he feels like it at the time. As such they have not learned anything. The next time they may not obey the command. The dog that makes mistakes and has been corrected will know to do the right action when ordered.

    True story: One airman would not let his dog make a mistake. So when heeling at the handler's side, the handler forcefully kept pulling the straying dog back against his leg as they marched forward. It looked like the dog was obeying the command to 'heel' but the dog was being taught that he could stray all he wanted to if he was strong enough. Well, after two weeks of doing this the poor dog had almost all the hair around his neck worn off down to the skin. That was the end of that handler's K9 career. If he'd just let the dog stray and then corrected him with a 'bust', the dog would have quickly learned how to heel and thus not hurt himself.

    I know people are not dogs but the principle is the same. Enter a contest without fear. Don't expect to do well. Learn your mistakes. Fix the mistakes to the best of your ability. Then enter the improved version of the entry in the next contest which has similar requirements. This can really speed up the learning process. Think of contests as stepping stones taking you off the island and over to the published mainland. Of course, you have the choice of trying to swim to the mainland but that is not often very successful.

    Now I need to find a contest to enter.

    Vince
    "
  • Mindy Obenhaus
    on March 20, 2020 | 15:44 Mindy Obenhaussaid :
    "Winnie, this is a great post. Contests are such a good way to get honest, unbiased feedback on an unpublished manuscript. And those thank you notes to the judges are always a nice touch and should be done in a professional manner. That judge took time from their busy schedule to look over your work, so even if they may not have cared for your work, be gracious and thank them for their time. "
  • Mary Connealy
    on March 20, 2020 | 18:32 Mary Connealysaid :
    "The Harper Lee quote is golden, Winnie.
    Grow a Rhino Hide.
    Learn to take the rejection and not let it destroy you. BECAUSE...if it hurts too much, then you just need to get out. Do something less public, less soul-baring.
    You think a contest judges critical comments hurt?
    That's at least private.
    The one star reviews on Amazon are pubic and they can really hurt if you're not tough!"
  • Sandy Smith
    on March 20, 2020 | 18:46 Sandy Smithsaid :
    "Vince, the newsletter you need is Tina's Writer's Inside Edition newsletter. That is the one with contest listings. Here is a link for signing up for it. https://www.tinaradcliffe.com/inside-edition.

    "
  • Sandy Smith
    on March 20, 2020 | 18:49 Sandy Smithsaid :
    "I hope to get the book I'm revising ready one of these days to start entering a contest. I need to get that feedback."
  • Erica Vetsch
    on March 20, 2020 | 19:09 Erica Vetschsaid :
    "Wonderful advice, Winnie! As a contest judge, I see so many manuscripts that could be rated higher if the contestant had only read and followed the rules for formatting."
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 20:41 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Hi Holly. I can sympathize with the hectic life of a mother of young children - I raised 4 of my own.
    But a wise mentor once told me that there will always be something tugging at you for time and attention. If you wait until you have more time, you'll never get started.
    I've taken those words to heart ever since."
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 20:53 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Thanks Mindy! I'v judged dozens of contests and it always does my heart good when I get a thank you note, especially when they mention some way, however small, that a particular bit of feedback helped them."
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 20:54 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Thanks Mary. That quote resonated with me as well :)"
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 20:56 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "You're right Sandy, that feedback can be a mega help in pinpointing both your strengths and weaknesses"
  • Winnie Griggs
    on March 20, 2020 | 20:58 Winnie Griggssaid :
    "Thanks Erica! And I'm right there with you - thus this article :)"
  • Glynis
    on March 21, 2020 | 09:30 Glynissaid :
    "That's good advice, Vince. Thanks for that!"
  • Vince
    on March 21, 2020 | 11:01 Vincesaid :
    "Sandy: Thank you. I signed up and that newsletter seems like the best one ever. Wow! "
  • Linda Goodnight
    on March 21, 2020 | 16:19 Linda Goodnightsaid :
    "Such great info, Winnie. I, too, was once a contest junkie and I learned so, so much from entering, especially the contests with some sort of feedback. I had no idea what POV was until a contest judge clued me in. Though my early work was not good (though I thought it was), judges were incredibly helpful and pointed me in the right direction."
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