So you might be wondering--as I've been--what makes a strong contest entry. I'm clearly not a contest guru, but I have spent some time breezing around various blogs lately, so I thought I'd establish a few key areas that can help you get the most from your entry.
- Read the scoresheet.
I mean, really. If the contest folks give you a scoresheet, it's like your high school history teacher giving you a "study guide." It will benefit you to check out what the judges are looking for.
- Don't be afraid to rearrange stuff.
Got a really great scene later in the book? Maybe you can rearrange it so that you somehow open with that scene. Or if nothing else, pilfer the language so that your nicely-phrased descriptions still show up in the sample, free to do their dazzling work! :)
I made this mistake with the Genesis last year. My entry was relatively error-free; in fact, that's one of the sections I scored highest in. However, I caught a few typos after I sent it, as well as a few wordy phrases I could've tightened, and that really bothered me. So even if you've already proofread, as I tell my students, proofread again!
- Don't forget to begin with conflict.
One of the most memorable lines of feedback I got from my Genesis judges last year was, "I'm not sure you actually have a story yet." Ouch! But you know what? They were right! All I'd written of my book at that point was the first two chapters, and I didn't yet know what my characters were in for. So make sure you suggest what's at stake for your characters, and begin with something that grips the reader. A beginning shouldn't just be an arbitrary beginning. It should be the place the story really starts.
- Have fun!
Almost every time I sit down to edit, I have to forcibly remove this little dictator that rises up inside me and screams, "Slash it all!" Don't be overly critical or perfectionistic of yourself. Yes, it needs to be polished. Yes, it needs to be professional. But it also needs to demonstrate your voice, and if you sanitize your piece too much, you might just edit your voice right out. Don't forget to enjoy your writing, because that's the only way the passion will naturally flow through your words.
Have you prepared a selection for review or for a contest? What tips and techniques did you learn from the experience?