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9 Ways to Improve Your Story's Chance of Winning

It’s lovely to win writing competitions and god knows there are hundreds of them out there.

So how about making 2017 the year you improve your chances of winning a competition? (Or that scholarship, residency, award.)

Sometimes winning these comps can be lucrative but I think the real prize has more to do with visibility and public acknowledgement of your genius ability. Yes?

Having been on more than a few judging panels, I have a good idea how entries and applications look from the judges' perspective – and how entrants can unknowingly thwart their chances of winning.

So whatever it is that you write or whichever type of competition you’re entering – consider these 9 ways of improving your chances of winning.

1) Give Your Piece A Great Title: The person reading your application is a human being who will no doubt be reading dozens if not hundreds of entries. Boring, generic, predictable, done to death, clichéd titles (e.g. The Holiday, Father’s Day, Forgiveness) will make the judge’s eyes glaze before they’ve even got to your first paragraph. Here’s a clue – you don’t want that.

2) Find the Unique Version: Avoid stories and themes that are common or clichéd. If you’re worried your story is heading that way – find an original take on it. What’s the unique, specific, original version of that story? What can you change to make it more unique? The Romeo & Juliet story has been told a gazillion times – but each successful re-telling has had an original aspect or element. Share this advice - click to tweet

3) Get Your Entry In Earlier Rather Than Later: In my local experience – the judging tends to be done post deadline. But that isn’t necessarily true for all competitions. Some competitions start reading as the entries arrive rather than after the deadline – so do you really want your baby to be the 369th entry the judges cast their bloodshot eyes over? Perhaps not.

4) Obey The Rules: There’s a human being on the receiving end of your application. So for the love of God –read and obey the rules. If the entry instructions require 4 copies of your 1500 word entry unstapled - then that’s what you should supply! There are always practical reasons for those requirements – and if you ignore them, your entry will most likely be binned. FYI – no judge in the history of judging has been fooled by expanded margins or teeny tiny fonts. And don’t include stuff that hasn’t been requested – including CDs, images, your photo, business card or thank you notes for the judges. That stuff will make you stand out but not in the way you were hoping for.

5) Get Fresh Eyes on It before You Send #1: Once your story is the best that it can be – get some feedback from somebody who can write or assess or edit – and then rewrite it one more time - just to lift it by another 5%.

6) Get Fresh Eyes on It before You Send #2: I know you’re not entering a formatting, spelling and grammar competition – getting these things wrong will distract the reader from your work. Getting these things horribly wrong will make your project unreadable. Complete your proofread then get another set of eyes to do a final proof for you. (Why not find a proofing buddy so you can help each other out?)

7) Space: Make your work easy to read! Use a simple, readable font that’s industry standard in your chosen medium and lay out the story with some space so it’s a pleasure to read rather than a chore.

8) Tailor Your Entry to The Competition: Look at the type of stories that have won previously. What type of competition is it? Literary or more commercial? Is it strongly themed? And check out who is judging it.

9) Enter More Than One Competition: While you’re in competition entering mode why not just enter bunch of them in one go? You can get all that annoying, fiddly admin done on one designated day. Why bother? A) Because you’re increasing your chances of success – and B) because while personal taste and sheer good luck shouldn’t play a part in who wins a competition, residency, award but they absolutely do. As mentioned above – there’s a human being on the receiving end – with flaws, preferences, interests, off days etc. What isn’t right for one judge might be just perfect for another.


Best of luck in 2017!  Wish there was a place you could focus on your writing, get inspired to write more and nail your writing goals?  There is.  Check out The Writing Room

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    1. Re: The Most Effective Antidote for Productive Writing Ever?

      Thanks Fiona! Much appreciated. KB

      --Kathryn Burnett

    2. Re: The Most Effective Antidote for Productive Writing Ever?

      I've been writing for the whole of my children's lives. First my BA, then Masters, now Phd, and also...

      --fionakiwi

    3. Re: Can't Find Time to Write? Get Carving

      Of course you have to be focussed to write and having an end goal is a great help - Playa Flamenca

      --Playa FLamenca

    4. Re: Why Hitting The Beach Should Be Top of Your 2016 To-Do List

      I agree Kathryn. Goal setting is so important.

      --Toby

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