The next quarterly 24-Hour Short Story Contest is right around the corner! Despite the fact that our guidelines have a list of hints for writers, many either don’t read it, or ignore it. After more than a decade of hosting and judging quarterly writing contests, we’re sharing some hints on how to get a leg up on the other contestants. Many of these rules apply to any writing contest.
DON’T EXCEED THE WORD COUNT, BUT DON’T SUBMIT A RIDICULOUSLY SHORT STORY, TOO
Exceeding the word count, or submitting a 100-word story (obviously not even trying, and simply hoping for a door prize) is a sure-fire ticket to disqualification. Despite the fact that we give this advice to every participant in the rules, we still get plenty of entries that do both of these things.
GIVE YOUR STORY A UNIQUE TITLE
Since the short story contest has a specific topic, it’s not only difficult for some writers to come up with a unique twist on that topic, but it’s also hard for them to come up with a completely unique title. Unfortunately, most of the story titles contain common phrases, which should always be avoided. Others take part of the topic, and use an identical phrase for the title. For example, one story had a little girl with “the devil’s mark” on her cheek. Over two dozen of the 500 entries had stories named “Devil’s Mark” or “The Devil’s Mark.”
INCORRECT OR MISSING CONTACT INFORMATION
If the contest host can’t contact a winner, that winner is never going to receive their prize. While it’s not against our rules to submit your story under a different email address from which you entered, if you then leave out your full name, email address, and other identifying information required by the rules, we can’t verify you entered. And, if you’re using a large ISP that hard filters legitimate emails, you may never receive our correspondence. If the rules in a writing contest ask for specific contact information, provide it where and how they specify, and double check the information for errors.
DON’T KISS UP TO THE JUDGES
We ask writers to not put anything above their story at all, other than the title. Despite that rule, many writers send sentences or paragraphs above their titles, heaping praise on the judges, etc. It doesn’t work. In fact, it has the opposite effect.
DON’T TRY TO GET CUTE WITH THE TOPIC…OR THE JUDGES
Every contest brings in a few stories where the main character is a writer (a very common “main character” for the contests, which is, again, not at all original). Some even make their writer character participate in a writing contest (groan). Then, there are the participants who name their main character Angela (my name) and some even go so far as to name the other characters our children’s names. This, too, does not work and, like the previous tip, has the opposite effect. If a writer must resort to this type of trickery, it a sure sign their story probably can’t stand on its own. Don’t insult judges by trying to brown-nose them into giving you a higher score.
SPELL-CHECK AGAIN AND AGAIN, AND HAVE A WRITER FRIEND CHECK YOUR STORY, TOO!
Not only do we see LOTS of very noticeable errors in the stories submitted with each contest but many of them contain numerous errors (not just a few!). We don’t disqualify stories that contain errors but, when there are two or more stories competing neck and neck for a prize, the one without errors is the one that will win.
FOLLOW THE TOPIC!
When a writing contest features a specific topic, the entry needs to complement that topic and it must be original. It’s very easy to tell when a pre-written story has had two or three lines added to try to make it match the topic vs. a story that was obviously written for that specific contest. Sometimes, we receive stories that have nothing to do with the topic at all. Those always puzzle us and, of course, those participants can’t win.
USE A BASIC SOFTWARE PROGRAM THAT ISN’T LIKELY TO INSERT CHARACTERS IN OTHER SYSTEMS OR PROGRAMS
Since our contest requires email submission, we request participants either write the story in their email program, or use a plain text program. Despite that, many still use a word processing program and, when they submit the story, it can be chock full of symbols, odd characters and broken lines. Sometimes, parts of the story are completely missing. Contest hosts don’t make up rules to makes things more difficult. There’s a reason for everything. Getting “fancy” with your formatting can hurt more than it can help.
Our contest has a specific topic and, per the rules, each story “must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.” Inevitably, most writers will start writing about the first thing that comes to their mind after reading the topic. This is a huge mistake for any contest that has a specific topic or subject. If you write about the first thing that pops into your head, you can bet that most of the other entrants are writing about the same thing. Give yourself time to come up with something entirely unique so you’ll stand out from the crowd.
DON’T MISS THE DEADLINE, AND THEN PRETEND YOU DIDN’T KNOW (OR HOPE THE CONTEST HOST WON’T NOTICE)
Late entries must be discarded. There are very specific laws about contests. Contest hosts aren’t going to ignore those laws, and risk being fined or jailed, just because you forgot it was contest day, or your ISP hard filtered your incoming or outgoing message, or because your Aunt Betty paid you a surprise visit and hour before the deadline. Turn it in on time, or don’t turn it in at all. Don’t insult the contest host, or ask them to risk legal consequences, because you didn’t follow the rules.
DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT NOT RECEIVING THE TOPIC…AFTER THE CONTEST IS OVER
We not only email the topic to entrants, but we also post it to our website because of spam filters. If participants don’t receive the email, they can check the website at start-time, and start writing. Participants who don’t contact us until after the contest is over obviously forgot all about the contest that weekend. Otherwise, they’d have either checked the website, or contacted us at start-time.
DON’T THREATEN TO SUE THE CONTEST HOST
If your story arrives late, or not at all, don’t threaten to sue the contest host for your disqualification. If the contest is held on a specific religious holiday (or Sabbath) that prohibits you from participating (we try to avoid that but there are many religions and many holidays!), don’t threaten to sue the contest host. If the contest contains a topic that you don’t like, don’t threaten to sue the contest host over the no-refunds fee.
(By the way, you can see some of our past contest topics HERE.)
Some people are bullies, and think threatening legal action will get them an instant prize or a refund. It doesn’t work that way. Whenever someone threatens ridiculous legal action like this, we politely ask them to not enter future contests and we unsubscribe them from WritersWeekly. We also deactivate their customer account in our system so they can’t buy anything from us in the future. We don’t do business with bullies. Period.
SOUR GRAPES ARE VERY UNFLATTERING
If your mother, sister, or best friend tells you your story was better than the winning story, don’t complain to the judges. Of course your loved one is going to tell you that! We get these types of sour grapes emails all the time and they almost always mentions a relative telling the writer their story was better. Imagine winning first place in a writing contest, and then receiving an email from someone saying their mom likes their story better than yours. Pretty silly, huh?
AND, THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP!
GIVE YOUR STORY A GREAT, OUTSTANDING, SMASHING, UNBELIEVABLY AMAZING ENDING!
Nobody wants to read a boring “the end” after a good story but, unfortunately, that’s about as exciting as most contest entry endings are. Some of the best stories can fall flat at the end when the writer seems to have lost steam. Some stories just kind of hum drum along but then have us excited at the end because the ending is SO AWESOME! We always wonder why those writers couldn’t insert that awesomeness into the entire story. I recommend coming up with a GREAT surprise or exciting ending, and then working your story backwards from there. Or, at least know the ending before you start, and work your way there through the writing process.
If your ending is boring, there’s really no point in submitting it. Judges want to be entertained and/or enlightened. They want to experience your characters, your story, emotions, feelings, anger, joy – everything. Give them all that AND an “A ha!” or “What?!?!” or “SURPRISE!!!” a “WHAT A GREAT TWIST!” moment at the end!
The next quarterly 24-Hour Short Story Contest is right around the corner! Click on the link below to find the date and start-time.
Each contest is limited to 500 participants and THEY USUALLY FILL UP so don’t delay if you want to participate!
1st Place: $300
2nd Place: $250
3rd Place: $200
Entry fee is only $5. You can see the complete list of 85 prizes and sign up here:
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About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the author of 19 books, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
Angela lives on a 52' Irwin Center Cockpit Ketch (sailboat) with her family and pets. Keep up with her family's adventurous liveaboard lifestyle at GotNoTanLines.com
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