Sara Backer reports:
"Winning a writing contest has been one of my goals for years, so when I was offered an opportunity to serve on a panel of volunteer judges for an international contest, I took it. I read over 1,000 entries and learned a lot about how writing appears from the other side of the desk. Here’s my inside scoop on how to get the best consideration in a big contest. (Please keep in mind that what I share with you is purely personal from one experience and does not necessarily apply to all contests.)...As a writer, I prefer to submit near the deadline because my work is usually out at other places, and if I get an acceptance, I don’t want to pay a non-refundable fee only to withdraw my sub. Now, I realize it’s better strategy to just spend the money and enter a contest as soon as it opens...Be sure to omit your name not only from the first page of your manuscript, but [also] the headers and footers. Double[-]space prose, single[-]space poetry, use 5-space tabs, turn off hyphenation, and never justify your margins. Center your title, which should not be italicized, underlined, or put in quotation marks. Capitalize title words correctly; don’t use all caps. If you’re writing science fiction, use Courier font; otherwise use Times New Roman, Times, or Garamond...Grammar counts. Odds are good one persnickety English teacher among the judges will lose confidence in your writing the first time you use 'it’s' when you mean 'its.' Look at it this way[:] [N]o one enjoys reading faulty predication, tense shifts, or misspelled words...You know that you decide to read or not read a piece based on its title; contest judges are no different. I was surprised that the majority of titles were dull. An intriguing title can get your story read before others. One way to do this is to put a specific or unusual word in the title...Avoid common themes...Avoid gimmicky structures. Anything that smacks of cleverness is a [turnoff]...Hook me with specific information, not a vague ploy...[F]ocus on the factors you can affect."
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