I took notes during Laurie Steed’s talk, but these are summaries of the advice that he offered and my interpretations.
But I Know the Judge!
Some contests will announce who their judges are, many are judged blind their identity only announced once judging is complete. It is highly unethical to contact the judge, and even more unethical to offer inducements. You could be disqualified for that alone. Laurie said one woman asked him which of three topics she should enter-he declined to answer.
Titles: The Good, The Bad and What The??
The title is the first impression the judge gets of the story. What are you writing about? Do you want to let it be known right away or keep a bit of intrigue?
Titles that are simple and direct, such as Rudolph the Reindeer might work for a children’s book but not necessarily for an adult reader.
Bland titles are not the best reflection of your creativity. So, Susan’s Day, The Picnic. My Dog Sam, or The Wedding and unlikely to fill the judge with much enthusiasm. Of course, if you are a brilliant writer you might just pull it off, but why risk it?
A better choice may intrigue the reader and invite them to read the story. You might find inspiration within the story itself or an idea may suggest itself when your story is written. You might even use a quotation such as Ray Bradbury did with Something Wicked This Way Comes. (Shakespeare) An example Laurie Steed gave of a good title was The Fantastic Breasts by Julie Koh.
Talking about Topics, what you should know.
Some topics are just more popular with writers than others. Does that mean you should avoid them? Not necessarily but be aware that many others will be writing on the same subject. You might have to be more creative in your approach so that your story stands out.
Popular Topics and the Less Popular Ones
Likely to get lots of entries) (Less competition)
Adolescence. Happy Stories (Hard to do well)
Romance. LGBT Romance
Cancer Urban Animal stories
Office Life. Speculative Fiction
War. Fantasy( Hard to do well)
His advice was to be original, subvert expectations, use your creativity and allow yourself to think beyond the obvious. Engage the reader, include sensory details and don’t be knowingly clever!
Two Additional Tips from Me.
Check and recheck the terms and conditions.
I did that this week prior to sending a contest entry off and it’s lucky that I did.
Most contests specify a size 12 font, but this one specified size 11 font. Who could have guessed, and will some entries be disqualified because they didn’t comply?
Retain Your Copyright- It’s Precious!
Check those terms and conditions again to make sure that you are NOT signing over your copyright. Who knows what your future holds? You might be the next big thing.
What if J.K Rowling had signed away her copyright? She would have lost book rights, foreign rights, film rights, digital rights, adaption rights, merchandising rights and possibly others that I am unaware of.
Contests challenge us to produce our best work, to think laterally and to enjoy our writing. Even if your story didn’t win it’s probably a perfectly good story, it just didn’t suit either that judge or that contest.
You may submit it elsewhere, or you may decide it needs more work. Your story, your choice.