Writing Competitions – Behind the Scenes

If you enter any of our writing competitions, I can appreciate the anticipation, nerves and frustration as you wait anxiously for news of how your submission has done. After all, you have poured heart and soul(hopefully) into your entry, edited profusely and finally, sent your ‘baby’ in for assessment but lots happen behind the scenes once you have sent us your work and I thought I would share this with you all, so that you understand the process.

Firstly, the process is not a quick one and some of you may know that already. Unfortunately it can take some weeks, even months for us to be able to complete the process and make careful and considered decisions about the winners. We pride ourselves on choosing the best entry for that particular competition and to do that we have to read each and every entry, carefully. There are no shortcuts when judging writing competitions, each have to be scrutinised carefully and often read and re-read several times.

So what do we look for when judging writing competitions? Well, that’s fairly easy.

A well –written submission in the first instance will earn an additional review but what we are looking for ideally, is a strong storyline (fiction) and one that holds our attention. A unique interpretation of the theme if provided, will also enable us to give more consideration to the submission. Even those that are well-written however will not probably have much chance of going further if we receive pretty much the same storylines throughout, check out our competition writing experiment on how to avoid this. If a theme is provided, the chances are that some submissions will be similar but for you to do well to do well when entering writing competitions, it’s important to make your idea unique.

We also are unlikely to shortlist those submissions that have not been spell-checked and contain a mass of grammatical errors as it is a distracting read and why should someone win with a poorly prepared entry in comparison to someone who has taken time and care with their work? This doesn’t mean of course that the odd spelling mistake will make us discard the entry, but sometimes the amount of errors are unbelievable. We want submissions that grab our attention, and seek out highly original submissions either as an idea or in its interpretation. We want submissions that stick to the word count, are believable and compelling. Once we have found those submissions, they go into the short listed pile and then they are reviewed again, usually after a period of time, where we can consider them with fresh eyes.

The short listed pile may be quite substantial so we eliminate more following sometimes intense discussions and then systematically (again over a designated time frame) will keep reducing the numbers. As you can imagine, this process is timely but it is fair and gives every writer, previously published or not, a fair chance at winning one of the prizes. Sometimes we dispute between ourselves which writer should win the top prize and again, the selection process can be delayed in those circumstances until we manage to come up with the winner unanimously.

Some competitions receive hundreds of submissions, but many submissions are disqualified immediately due to arriving after the closing date (yes really) or not having paid the entry fee (yep, we get those too) or by sending us a submission that is way over the designated word count! We also receive those that have nothing to do with the given theme or who have sent a covering letter to say that although their entry doesn’t stick to the rules, they just had to send it.

We love our role in being able to tell a writer that their submission has won them a prize, it’s a great feeling but sometimes judging is difficult, and by the very nature of our website, with at least two competitions a month, we have set ourselves quite a task and a continuous process which takes time to follow through and as a small team, well, we can only take our time and try to get it right.

Writing competitions offer writers a fantastic opportunity to earn some extra cash and some writing kudos, it looks great on a writers C.V. for example and shows- imagination, ability, creativity, focus and an ability to follow the rules. But spare a thought for the poor judges who desperately try to award the best entry against hundreds of others in any of one of our writing competitions.

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