Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I read an interesting article last week. It was all about contest entries and how to pimp them in order to win. You see, there’s a whole lot of people who have analyzed writing contests and their entries to discern what makes an entry a "winner." The author of the article I read was a case in point. Once she pinpointed the elements judges most wanted to see, she pimped her entries to meet the researched “must-have” elements, and entered them. Guess what? Four out of five of her entries finaled.

I’d love to hear opinions on this. Do you think it’s true that you must slant your chapters to match what judges want most (and that’s *after* you’ve already analyzed the information to figure out exactly what they want)? Is this unfair? Why? What solution do you propose?


  1. I'm SO glad I don't write. I think it would depend upon the criteria expected.

  2. I hear ya, Marybelle. Writing is tough work. It's a tough field to break into. Finalling in a contest is a great way to do this though. Judges are often trained on what to look for, but the subjectivity factor is still so huge. . . Suffice it to say that being a finalist, or even winning a contest, is no small feat, and really shows that you understand the elements needed to make a good story. All that analysis might come in handy for the simple fact that it helps you learn how to sharpen the very elements needed to final (or win), and that's not a bad thing at all.

  3. I read the article you mention, Sandra, and I found it fascinating--why didn't I think of that when I was at that stage in my writing career?! Now that I enter published-author contests, I can't tweak my initial chapters (my published book is my entry). BUT, I have to say, I think this is an excellent idea. I've judged quite a few contests, and I always bear in mind that the first chapter can't always provide every facet required on a judge's criteria sheet, but I do think a tweaked chapter might have the edge.

  4. You brink out a good point, Trish. Once published, you don't have the luxury of tweaking anything. . .

  5. I didn't read the article you refer to, but here are my thoughts as a contest judge (Novel Journey's contest year round, and Genesis every spring):

    For these contests for unpubbed writers, what the judges are looking for is the same thing editors are looking for (and agents, too, since agents sell to editors). If your writing is calculated to meet the judges' criteria, it gives you an edge with editors and agents as well. And isn't that the whole purpose of the exercise?

    Yes, subjectivity is definitely a factor. Always. But in most cases, the judges have a good idea what sells and what doesn't, and that's usually what they're looking for.

  6. It is important, not just for contests, but for agents/editors to have the best first chapters possible. Actually, sometimes it's the best first three pages possible!

    My concern is, writing/rewriting the first three chapters is one thing. Finishing a novel? Something else entirely.

    It's great to win four of five contests, but if that's ultimately not resulting in an agent or contract (assuming that's why someone is writing them in the first place), then what?


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