Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

The sleeper TV show of the season may well be Channel Nine’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.  It’s a train wreck but you can’t look away. And financial guru, Mark Bouris, is a lot easier on the eye than The Donald. The combination of ego and insecurity from the celebrities  is totally compelling, as long as you don’t call “Mr Bouris” honey! His seriousness in the board room is half the appeal as he corrals his celebrities and makes them take the deal seriously if they want to stay the distance with him.

What does this have to do with writing contests? I feel as if I’ve been cast in the Mark Bouris role with the judging of the first Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award now underway. With a $10,000 prize plus $2,000 for mentoring of the winner’s choice, there’s a lot at stake. So much that instead of the 100 entries expected, over 400 filled Writing Australia’s inbox. The entries cover all genres and everything from suspense to paranormal, and all stops in between. That’s a lot of reading and I thought it might help if I provide an idea of what I look for in a good contest entry, the equivalent of not calling me honey! My fellow judges might have completely different ideas, and I look forward to comparing notes when we have our short lists.  But until then, these are the criteria I use to decide which entries reach the short list, and which go on to the discard pile (“you’re fired”).

First is presentation. Email has changed this somewhat but I still need a good, basic font that’s easy to read. 12 point Times Roman is the most acceptable. Size is less critical with ereaders, but on an iPad, which is how we’re reading the entries, larger fonts mean more scrolling. Make your entry as user friendly for the judges as possible. Follow the contest conditions to the letter.

Get right to the meat of the story. I can’t imagine Mark Bouris sitting patiently behind his table while the celebrities ramble on with long background and intro. Cut to the chase. Get the story moving.

Mark Bouris, boardroom hunk (just don't call him that)

Identify your characters. In both the WA contest and the Valerie Parv Award, I see any number of novels where the protagonist is only introduced as The Man, The Woman, She, He, and this can go on for pages.  I assume the writer means to hook me by being mysterious, but a cornerstone of fiction is that we need to care about your characters before we can invest in what happens to them. Give us some idea of who “the man” is, particularly his name, so we feel we know him before we’re involved in his problems.

Polish the writing before submitting your entry. This sounds obvious, but many writers have the idea that errors of grammar, spelling or awkward style such as repetition will be overlooked, or can be fixed at a later stage. Particularly when judges reach the short list where there may be little to separate the entries, these small points can make or break your chances.

There’s more but like Celebrity Apprentice, I’ll  be back after the break.


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Comments on: "“You’re not fired” – how to keep on the good side of writing contest judges" (3)

  1. Kylie Griffin said:

    Some great advice here, Valerie! 🙂

    400 entries!!! 4 judges right? That averages out at 100 entries each!! Holy eye strain! What a job. No reading envy from this little red headed duck.

  2. I think every author has contest horror stories but 400 entries almost stopped my heart *YIKES*!

  3. Thanks Kylie and Wendy. I’m enjoying the experience, perhaps because it’s easier than writing your own words LOL. I’ve already found some possible short listers. Can understand the excitement editors say they feel when a really good manuscript jumps out at them from the slush pile.

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