A lot of writing competitions have cash prizes! Other than the basics (reading the guidelines, formatting your work as instructed and sending it by using the preferred method), here are some things you can do to improve your chances of winning.
Read the previous entries
If the competition has a website with winning entries on display from previous years, make use of this. Read through them, and look for anything they have in common. Would they all fit in a themed anthology together? Once you see any similarities, you can try to write something that wouldn’t look out of place next to the winning entries. This doesn’t mean copying or trying to rewrite someone else’s work. It’s more about recreating the tone and style in your own original piece of writing. As you would expect, if you’re writing about cultures or situations you have little knowledge or experience of, research is essential.
Another option is to be daring, and attempt something different from previous winners. This could make your work stand out from all the entries that may be trying to emulate previous winners. It also has the potential to reduce your chances of winning, but it’s up to you if you want to take the risk. If you notice the occasional winning entry that is vastly different from the others, it might be worth a try.
Choose competitions with multiple prizes
By choosing a writing competition with multiple prizes, you stand more chance of winning. You still have to ensure your work is the best it can be, and the prizes may be smaller, but a win looks good on your bio and may still put a cash prize in your pocket.
Write specifically for the competition
The least time-consuming method is to send a piece of work you’ve already written, which matches the theme, however loosely. Although this means more time to enter other competitions, it’s not the best option. If the judges don’t think it matches the theme, they will feel like little thought went into it (or that you used old, recycled material), and they won’t pick it as a winner. Quality over quantity means a higher chance of winning. So, instead of entering dozens of writing competitions, enter carefully written pieces into a few competitions.
Write what you know
The advice to write what you know is a good starting point if you’re struggling to write something before the closing date. However, it is only a springboard. So, base a character on yourself or someone else if you have to, and put them into a fictional situation to see where it leads. You can change character traits in the rewriting and editing stages, so they no longer resemble any living or dead person. The details you write don’t have to be factual. In fact, it’s better if they’re not, unless you’re entering a non-fiction writing competition. Even then, unless it goes against any competition rules or breaks the law, non-fiction can usually be enhanced by a little creativity.
By writing fewer pieces, but putting in more thought and research, you can make better use of your writing time and make those competition entries more appealing to the judges.
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Amanda Steel is the author of Ghost of Me, which was a finalist in the Thriller category of The Author Elite Awards 2020. Amanda has had work broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester and The NoSleep Podcast. She also co-hosts a book review podcast, and works as a copywriter.
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