There are two ways to score an agent – be the hunter or be hunted. You can follow the traditional route of submitting your work to a list of literary agents – target them well, following the submission guidelines and be sure to always check for spelling mistakes. Or you can be discovered – you can create your own platforms and get agents pursuing you. So where do creative writing competitions come into this?
Writing competitions are important to writers for the following reasons:
1/You get writing – nothing like a competition to focus your writing and to give you a deadline.
2/You get noticed – the judges are often publishers, agents and industry professionals. You might just catch the eye of an agent – even if you don’t win. Also, the winners are often listed on websites/industry magazines and those listings will be followed by agents and publishers on the look out for new talent.
3/You can become part of the writing community – immerse yourself in the writing community and you will feel supported by your fellow writers. Network and feel inspired.
4/You will get used to sharing your work – too often writers feel timid about showing their work to others – by entering competitions you will begin to lose this insecurity.
5/You will get used to deadlines and guidelines – this is great practice for the real world of publishing. It will also help you with your novel writing. By setting daily word counts and deadlines, you will become more focused and professional about your writing.
So how do you win a contest?
1/Check out the contest – make sure it’s legit – if there is an entry fee ensure that the prize isn’t dependent upon the number of entrants. And how does the entry fee compare to the prize – no point paying a fee of £10 if the prize is only £50.
What’s the prize? Check the small print. How many years has the competition been running? Old competitions come with prestige, new ones come with opportunities.
2/Check out the judges? If they are publishers – check out who they publish? If they are agents, who do they represent? Try and work out what their personal preferences are. Find out who the past winners were – try and read their winning entries.
3/Ensure you follow the guidelines – subject, word count, format – all are vital. Your entry will be put in the ‘reject’ pile if you don’t abide by the rules. Come in under the word count – if the word count is 2k, don’t feel you have to come in exactly on 2k.
4/Don’t be sloppy – read and recheck your work for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors etc. Proof your work.
5/Get others to read your work, before you submit it – ask friends or colleagues for frank and honest feedback. Tell them to give you constructive criticism and feedback. And take their advice on board (even if you don’t agree with it or change things).
6/Do your research – find out what competitions are on and where – even keep a file with possible entries in.
7/Make your writing, the best you can – rewrite and revise if you need to. Remember most of the entries won’t get read more than once. Don’t enter something that you wouldn’t be proud of – perhaps, an obvious point, but you need to realise that your entry might well be posted up on a website for all to see.
8/Astound the judges with your first paragraph – short stories don’t need warming up – they aren’t long enough. They must be sprints to the finish line – so every step needs to be perfectly formed.
9/Be true to your own style and writing – if you win and are discovered by an agent, you want your winning entry to reflect your own style of writing so don’t write just to win. Be authentic and true.
10/Be unusual – don’t follow the usual plotlines. Give the judges something to think about – memorable lines, memorable characters, something different.
11/Ensure your entry has undertones – even a simple story of 1,500 words can carry great meaning and go beyond the simple narrative.
12/Don’t give up – keep going. Don’t give up on the first jump. You can enter more than one competition at a time (but not with the same story) and just because you get rejected once, that might change the next time around.
Above all have fun, have fun with your writing and with entering competitions. See them as practice, as a means to getting your head above the others – and getting noticed. Sprinkle a bit of glitter on to your entry (not literally) and be bold – you never know what might happen.
Check out the website: winning words for regular updates of writing competitions