Places to submit

What do Contest Judges Look for?

Notepaper.make a listRecently I was one of three judges for a writing contest. We didn’t agree during the first round of reading on the winners. It took re-reading and much discussion to select the three winners. So that got me to thinking. What do contest judges look for when choosing winning entries?

My fellow judges and I came up with:

Make sure to follow the guidelines. They aren’t arbitrary. The guidelines are specific for a reason.

Make sure to follow the criteria of what genre the contest is. Don’t submit memoir if the contest is fiction. Even though the judges may not be able to tell for sure if something is fiction or memoir . . . if it feels like memoir, it probably is. And that won’t work in a fiction contest.

The winning entries that stood out excelled in creative writing and well-crafted stories. The writing and stories were compelling, keeping reader engaged to the end.

Proofread. I know this is obvious, but many of the entries had typos or punctuation errors.

Have someone read your entry – both for feedback and to proofread.

If it’s a fiction contest, make sure your entry is a story. Many of the entries were anecdotes, rather than full pieces (beginning, middle, end with a definable plot and fleshed out characters).

Avoid clichés – in words, phrases and story line. This goes back to the unique story. Tell us something new, or write something old with an interesting twist.

Understand and use correct point of view. Many entries jumped around with point of view, sometimes it was hard to tell who “he” and “she” referred to.

Stay with the same verb tense, except when appropriate to use past or future tense. Stories got extra points from me when using present tense (because that’s harder to do than using past tense).

Susan Bono shares her views on contests in her essay, A Thought or Two on Writing Contests, originally published in Tiny Lights, A Journal of Personal Narrative, 2/9/2007.

More thoughts on entering writing contests:

“Don’t assume the winners of a writing contest were the only ones to submit excellent work. There are only so many prizes available in any given contest. Winning may equal good, but losing does not always equal bad. Your turn will come.” —Susan Bono, author of What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home, has judged many, many contest entries.

“Make us see something about the world in a fresh way or remind us of something important that has an arguable public dimension.” — Dan Lehman, River Teeth, A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative

“There is a difference between experience and meaning-making. If we are reading along and this happens and this happens, and we still don’t know why it is important, then we know the writer might not be up to it . . . just writing about something that has happened to you is never enough. It’s what the writer does with her own experience, what she makes of it that counts.” —Joe Mackall, River Teeth, A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, (paraphrased from original quote by Judith Kitchen).

River Teeth Journal, Editor’s Notes, Volume 17, Number 2, May 31, 2016

Are you motivated? Ready? Enter!

River Teeth Submissions

Redwood Writers, a branch of The California Writers Club sponsors contests year-round.

The Writer Magazine regularly calls for contest submissions.

Writer’s Digest Magazine lists contests.

Links to writing contests.

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