How to Win a Writing Contest


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Winning a writing contest can feel like a crap shoot. You never know what the contest judges are looking for. One of the most frequent questions we're asked at Write and Publish Your Book is, “How do I win a writing contest?"

There's no perfect answer to the question. Sure, if you write a book that is fabulous, interesting, provocative, and profound, you stand a better chance. But, how can you know if you've got the next Harry Potter, or nothing more than something for the recycle bin? Many manuscripts in a writing contest will be rejected after the first page. And, since this often happens with editors and literary agents, you'll want to know how to get past the first step. Here are a few clues:

Edit the heck out of your writing

Perhaps the first thing we'll look for is whether or not you've bothered to edit the book. Misspelled words and grammatical errors will get your manuscript tossed without a moment's hesitation. The only exception to this rule is if the book actually calls for poor grammar, such as a dialogue between a few uneducated folks. Go through your manuscript carefully, especially the first few pages.

Grab us from the start

Spend more time on your opening two pages than on any other part of your book. It doesn't matter if your book is fiction, fantasy, erotica, science fiction, or non-fiction. Even a book on the sex life of lizards has to be interesting from the start, or you won't get past step one in a writing contest or with a literary agent or book editor. You've got to do your best to grab us right away, or we'll yawn, put the manuscript down, and go on to the next. Winning means standing out from the crowd. You've got to look better and read better, or you won't be seen.

Create a good reason to read the whole book

Is your book relevant? Is it important? Do you have a clear niche for your book? We look for more than just good writing and an interesting story. We want to know that your book has some relevance. In other words, we want your book to sell. An agent or editor will want to know the same thing, and if you can't immediately demonstrate that your book will be a hit, it will be ignored, and probably won't win the contest


A writing contest should be fun. Sure, you're submitting your baby - your pride and joy - to the whims of some unseen and probably ignorant reviewer. All the more reason to have some fun with your writing. If you're enjoying yourself, your reader will be more likely to enjoy him or herself as well. I love reading anything that's been written with heart, passion, and soul. If it's flat, dull, or reads like an English literature assignment, I'll drop it faster than you can say, “Ouch. That hurt. "

The truth is that you'll never know what the reviewers are looking for in a writing contest. But, if you write well, create something that is interesting, provocative, intriguing, or just fun to read, then you'll have a much better shot at winning than if you write a sloppy and poorly constructed piece.

After all, if you're not having fun, then your reader won't have fun either. Get into your characters. Breathe life into them so that they breathe life into your story. If you're writing non-fiction, then add some humor and state your thoughts powerfully. If we don't believe you, we won't read your book. Both fiction and non-fiction have to be believable to be readable. We have to get in there with you, and we can't do that if you're not “in there" yourself. So, have fun, and enjoy what you're doing. Oh, and write well. Good luck with your writing contest!

Writers and business owners: Become a member of Write and Publish Your Book and get a shot at winning an iPod Nano. If you've got a book, be sure to enter their current Writing Contest . Sid Smith, copywriter, freelance writer and founder of the Self-Publishing and Publishing web site for writers invites you to join his rapidly growing community of writers.


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