How to be the Belle of the Ball(point pen) when it comes to Writing Competitions

In much the same way that you might have to give yourself a pep talk before donning an elegant dress (or tux) to attend a ball, submitting your writing to competitions can cause anxiety, excitement and fear of failure. What if you’re not ready? What if they don’t like your writing? As in most things in life, preparation is key. Here are our top 6 tips for being the belle of the ball(point pen).


1.     Read the invitation.

You might think this goes without saying, but the fine print is important. Depending on the competition, there are several questions that you might want to ask. What style of writing is the competition looking for? Who are the judges? What are the selection criteria? Is there a maximum word length? When is the submission deadline? A lazy submission, such as forgetting to pay the entry fee, might mean that your work is rejected before it can even get its foot through the door. Equally important considerations include, what happens to your work if you win and who retains the rights to your work?

2.   See what the celebrities are wearing and what the critics are saying.

Before you submit a piece to a competition, do a bit of research and see if you can read the submissions of the past winners or comments from the judges. Though judges may change from year to year, this will give you a good idea of the types of stories that have won and what the judges were looking for. Fresh, new ideas and innovative writing are always appreciated but you wouldn’t want to submit a 200,000 word opus to a competition that typically awards shorter works.

3.       Buy something new.

Consider writing something new just for the competition, rather than using a piece you’ve already written. This will help you focus on the selection criteria. For example, do they want you to use a certain theme? If so, it’s much easier to write something new that suits the theme rather than try to fit an old story or poem into the theme.

4.     Dress to impress.

Polish your manuscript. Egads, please don’t send in anything without giving it a good edit and proofread first. Guaranteed that if you have a spelling mistake on the first page, your submission is going into the NO pile. We recommend having a friend or fellow writer read through your story, essay or poem first. An objective reader can often pick up on little errors that slipped your notice.

5.    Watch out for those skeezy guests who are only interested in one thing.

Make sure the competition isn’t a scam to take your money. Entry fees are common in writing competitions. They help to cover the administrative costs of running a large scale competition and they often help to pay judges’ fees. Before you send in your money though, check to make sure the competition is legitimate. Have they run the competition in the past? Did they give out prizes to winners? This is where Google is your best friend. If the competition is a scam, chances are someone has posted a warning about it on the internet. The ASA has a handy sheet of their recommended guidelines for literary competitions:https://asauthors.org/lib/ASA_Papers/ASA_Literary_comp.pdf

6.      Don’t get caught out with nothing to wear at next year’s gala.

Plan ahead. We recommend keeping a diary of writing competitions that are run annually. You may not be eligible to submit to the Stella Award or the Man Booker Prize this year, but who knows, maybe next year is your year? Similarly, that young adult novel that you’re working on might be finished next year so it will good to prioritise which competitions you want to submit it to once you’ve edited it.

One thought on “How to be the Belle of the Ball(point pen) when it comes to Writing Competitions

  1. Splendid points. At Stringybark Stories we regularly get entries that are over the prescribed word limit or do not meet the theme of the competition. It really is like turning up to a wedding dressed in funereal black, complete with armband and veil. It ruins your chances before you even get through the door.

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