INTRODUCTIONIf you are a writer, I'm sure you have thought about entering a competition at some point – whether the competition is for a short story, a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a blog post, a play or a novel.
Competitions provide a variety of scope and can offer writers a fantastic freedom of style, tone and genre.
Here's ten top tips to the secret of competition success.
1 Follow the rulesIt sounds basic, but you'd be amazed at how many people don't.
Some competitions are very strict about line spacing, size of font and even the font itself. Then there's the business of actually sending it. Do they want entries via snail mail or e-mail?
If it's e-mail, do you paste it in the body of the e-mail itself or send it via an attachment?
If so, what kind of attachment? PDF? Word? It can be a pretty complex business, and I can recall plenty of times when I've had to call upon my IT expert hubby for help!
Check out if your name (and writing name) is required on the story or if it's preferred without. Entry forms can usually be found on the organiser's website.
Sometimes a cover sheet with your details is all that's required.
Paying the entry fee –there's cheque and paypal. Make sure that the organisers have received your story and payment.
Don't forget the closing date, and the word count must be correct, too.
Also the genre, theme and brief should fit the rules. The judges see it like this – if you can't be bothered to follow the instructions, the judges can't bothered to consider your entry.
Harsh, but true.
2 Be preparedWrite down the closing date of the competition on your calendar.
Give yourself a generous time limit to include re-drafting. For a novel or a play competition, your 'tinkering time' will be obviously be considerably longer. From my experience I've found that for play/novel comps, I already have something in mind. Unless it's for a 15 minute stage/radio sketch!
Pick a length of time you feel comfortable with. The important thing is to prepare.
Remember that novel and play competitions may require a full synopsis, a list of characters, chapter or scene breakdowns, a detailed outline of your theme and a bio, plus a writer's CV and photo. Phew!
Time to get cracking. Write a first draft.
Go back, add and edit, print it out, then leave it to rest. Keep doing this
until you are completely happy with it.
When you've reached the 'completely happy' stage, leave it for a week.
When you return to it, you should be able to spot things you've missed. Run it past a writer friend and ask for their opinion, because you want to give yourself the best possible chance of winning.
3 CritiquesWith some competitions, for stories that didn't reach the long or short-list, there is an opportunity to pay extra for an additional critique.
These critiques can be a bit hit and miss.
I've received good critiques and bad ones. The bad ones have offered me one or two lines only.
The good ones go through each weak point and suggest ways of improvement.
Is the extra expense worth it? It really depends on whether you plan to send that particular piece of work elsewhere after the competition.
4 Don't dump your back catalogueShort stories that have 'done the rounds' are unlikely to win.
Don't think ' That one will do' and desperately re-draft a rejected old stock story to fit the specified genre or theme.
This rarely works, because the judges will see straight through it. It's the lazy writer's tactic. Always try and attempt to create something new.
Surely a fabulous prize and publication is worth the effort?
After all, if you are short- listed (or even if you win) this achievement can be proudly added to your CV.
5 Be aware of rightsSome fiction competitions want to grab all rights, including copyright.
Check the terms and conditions carefully before entering.
There are ones that state that they automatically hold all copyright to all entries.
Simply put - the organisers can use or sell submitted stories any way they like without your permission, because by entering, you have effectively given your work to them.
And if there is an entry fee, you've paid for the privilege too.
That means that your story is not yours anymore, even if it's got your name on it. You'd be forced to ask the organisers for permission if you want to submit your story elsewhere.
Writers often don't mind giving away just one story. Yet what if you're entering two, three or four pieces of work?
It's your call.
6 AnthologiesThe prize for these fiction competitions is publication in an anthology.
Some of these printed books are sold to raise money for charity.
Some, however aren't. The ones I'm talking about are competitions run by private self- publishing companies.
If your story is picked for publication, the publishers may expect you to buy a copy of the anthology that contains your story. The price of this can end up costing you more than the entry fee!
7 The cost of entry feesThe cost of entry fees can quickly mount up, so make sure you keep an eye on your spending. Set up a spreadsheet to track your outgoings.
Comping can be very addictive, especially after achieving short- list status, runner-up success or an actual win!
Competition entry fees for novels and plays can exceed £10.The general rule is, the higher fee, the higher the cash prize on offer.
Bear in mind that the organisers need to cover the cost of advertising the competition, plus there's website costs, and often there is admin staff to pay as well.
Usually, the entry fees cover the cash prize (or prizes). The organisers will often pay a high profile writer judge (or a panel of judges) a fee too.
However, there are several free to enter competitions around. The downside to free ones are that they attract quite a lot of entries.
8 E- magazines, small paper press competitions and online fiction projectsThere are literally hundreds of e-magazines and small paper presses that offer ongoing, open genre short story competitions.
The prizes are small, yet this is reflected in the entry fee, so it's worth giving it a go.
They usually publish more than one issue per year, and late entries are automatically considered for the next edition.
This means that the closing date is not preying on your mind, and with an open genre, you can pick and choose your subject.
The editors are often the judges.
As for online fiction projects - sometimes the prize is simply publication on their website.
9 Where to find competitionsA google search will bring up plenty of opportunities, plus links to hundreds of websites that list fiction competitions.
I have a network of writer friends who tell me about interesting competitions that are posted on their blogs or FB pages.
Please return the favour - I also let them know if I stumble across anything that may interest them, too. Of course, the Writers' Forum monthly magazine comp calendar lists plenty of details and Writing magazine holds a twice yearly comps special pull- out as well.
10 Carry on comping!I love entering fiction competitions.
My entries have been long- listed and short-listed, they've been runner -ups too, and once I was lucky enough to win first place for a short story competition ran by a UK national monthly women's magazine (PRIMA).
It's an incredible feeling of elation and achievement to see your name up there on a website with the results!
The prizes I've received range from a plant (Yes, that's right - a plant) a book of short stories, a year's free magazine subscription to a kobo e-reader – plus cash and publication too, of course.
I relish the challenge, and I try my best to make my entry entertaining, engaging, different and original.
Last year, a writer friend of mine really hit the jackpot. Within the space of a few months, she'd scooped an incredible £900 from winning several high profile fiction competitions!
She told me that she'd treated herself to a beautiful antique desk with the winnings. It was very well deserved.
So work hard and carry on comping, but please - make sure you have fun too!
S.BEE is Sharon Boothroyd, who is the editor of KISHBOO e-magazine. It's FREE to read online. www.kishboo.co.uk