The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers writing contest is in full swing and you can enter up till June 1, 2012. Details and entry form are here. As contest co-chair this year, I’m excited to be able to participate in this excellent contest. Here’s my best advice from twenty years as a judge and an entrant.
1. Don’t panic.
2. Read all instructions carefully and follow the formatting rules. RMFW is for writers of commercial, novel-length fiction, so the guidelines are geared toward that. Also, don’t panic.
3. Enter early. If there are major errors with your entry and we have time, we’ll send it back to you to fix. You might save some points this way.
4. CoGo is unique in requesting an eight-page synopsis with your twenty-page entry. It’s not that different from writing a shorter synopsis; in other words, if you’re like me, it’s terrifying. But … see #1 and #2. Read over the synopsis-writing tips from the contest page written by contest chair Terry Wright. I also found this method helpful, from writer Laurence MacNaughton, not only for writing a synopsis of any length, but for identifying why it was so hard: my main character wasn’t doing his job. Once I reworked that problem, I finally created a synopsis that didn’t lose me major points in a writing contest.
5. CoGo rates entries using standard criteria: manuscript presentation, genre, opening, characters, dialogue, narrative strength, viewpoint. Here’s a post I wrote with some detail on the basics. One category that is uncommon but very useful: scenecraft. Make sure each scene counts, that it moves the story forward, that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Looking at a manuscript this way makes you realize the best storytelling involves a series of well-crafted scenes strung together with style. More info with links on scenecraft.
6. By all that is holy and good, have at least one other human being lay eyeballs on your entry. Preferably someone who is also a writer or has an English degree. If you’re worried about plagiarism, don’t. Simply email your work to yourself every time you write. Then, if someone steals your work and gets it published, thank them for doing all the heavy lifting and use your emails as evidence in the lawsuit.
7. Here’s a big secret that might help your score. Shh, don’t tell anyone I told you this. The contest judges won’t actually know what’s in your book other than the twenty pages and what you tell them. Don’t have a great hook after a few thousand words? Rework the opening so you do. Your antagonist doesn’t appear in the first twenty pages? That’s between you and your god; however, your villain could make an appearance for long enough to satisfy the judging criteria. Who knows, you might decide these alterations work well for your story. You might make them permanent.
8. One simply cannot stress enough the totally subjective nature of this contest, and all contests. You’ll get judges that just don’t get your work at all, and then ones who love it like chocolate. It’s like that in the publishing industry, too. All you can do is to make sure you write the best story you can and that you pay attention to the basics.
9. Is it worth it? Does it really matter? I say yes, and this is from someone who took twenty years to final in a writing contest. Look at it as practice for submitting your stuff to agents and editors, most of whom won’t give you specific feedback. See it as an opportunity to get feedback from people you wouldn’t otherwise have contact with. Practice not taking anything personally and toughening up your writer’s hide. Beats not trying, in my estimation.
You’re welcome to use these tips for entering other writing contests as well. I won’t be upset.
Confessions of a contest judge, on my blog.
Writer Karen Duvall on why she loves judging writing contests.
More from Terry Wright on the dreaded synopsis.
Writer Janet Lane on the value of entering contests.
Writer Janet Fogg’s thoughts on the contest.
Writer Kevin Wolf’s blog archive of interviews with contest winners.