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Entering Competitions

Until earlier this year I was posting on - ahem - a certain writers' forum and wrote that I was thinking of writing my first short story and submitting it for the Bridport Prize.  The response was universally negative.  It felt like a wet dishcloth being tossed into my face.  This threw me for short while  but I soon rallied and wrote the story anyway.  Why not?

The Bridport is, of course, a prestigious event and highly competitive but surely isn't so august as to make me think I couldn't be a good enough writer to enter it.  Anyone can, provided they pay the fee.

I now know that I've been unsuccessful so you might say "There you are then" but there's probably one of two reasons for not even winning a Highly Commended - an award I would have been delighted with:

a)  I'm a bad writer.

b)  The story was offputtingly eccentric.

You won't be surprised to learn that I favour the latter.  Not wanting to waste the tale, I've entered it for a writers' magazine competition.

I'd be interested to know what other writers think about entering these contests as a way of getting noticed and gaining a quotable achievement for submissions.

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Replies (21)
  • I think there can be lots of excellent reasons for entering competitions, whether they be small magazine ones or large and famous ones. Yes, I hear that success at any level can be helpful when submitting work to agents. But there's also the practise of working within a brief (wordcount, theme, submission criteria etc). There's the opportunity to get professional feedback on your writing. There's the chance to take a break from a big project and play about with something smaller or very different and maybe be refreshed in the process. And for me, at the beginning of any serious attempt at writing, I feel that they are good places to learn the craft of writing and make some of the mistakes I might otherwise make in my novel project. That doesn't mean I'm going to enter every competition that comes along, but I'll certainly look out for ones that feel like a good fit or that appeal in some way.

    Good luck with your current submission.

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    • These things are very subjective. So if you are the type of person to enter and not be too despondent if you don't get anywhere, then absolutely keep on going. If you do get noticed then it is a big feather in your cap.

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      • Competitions provide good practice to write to deadlines and guidelines. If your entry is noticed, it's a bonus. If you are shorlisted or win a place, you can mention that when you submit to agents.

        Some competitions are more prestigious than others, of course. So far I've only entered 4 competitions and I've been longlisted on 2 of them. The feedback on my first attempt was that my entry had been picked up on first seive-through and was among the top 10% out of aprox. 900 entries, and among the top 10% of aprox. 3,000 entries the second time. So... a long way from the coveted shortlist but this gave me a boost of confidence that I should try harder. It takes a lot of time to prepare work for a competition but it's also great fun and I enjoy reading the wining entries and see what I was up against.

        Go for it, but prepare well to have the best chance. You could post here for peer feedback.

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        • Hello Blakeney. If nothing else, competitions help with good old practice, as others have said. They give a target, something to work towards, particularly when you have a dry run of inspiration. They also prepare well for rejection, if ever you want to pitch a novel, because there wil certainly be lots of it. After 3 years of my short stories being rejected I've only recently had my first one shortlisted, final results pending, so there is hope.

          It's not everyone's bag, but I definitely think it's worth it, for growth and for profile.

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          • 😊

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            • 🤞🏾

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              • Congratulations! 🙂

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              • Hey Charlie, Congratulations on getting onto the shortlist.  It shows your hard work is paying off.  Onwards and upwards, as they say!

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                • Thank you, Angela, it's been a long time coming.

                  That's enough now, though people, this isn't my thread. Besides, I'm planning my big Oscar speech reveal for a few days when I win. 🤭 

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                • Hi Blakeney, 

                  First not getting placed in a competition doesn't make you a bad writer and it doesn't mean that your story is not good enough. There are always a lot of entries and as BellaM mentioned there is a part of subjectivity if the reader and then the judges click with your story and style. Also bear in mind that a lot of people who often win or get shortlisted have been entering competitions for a while and it's often not their first time. They just persevere and improve and enter again. I got shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize this year but it's actually my third time entering and I didn't get anywhere the first two.

                  The way I see competitions if you get somewhere it's definitely a boost to your writer confidence and some of them can help you get notice but if you don't get anywhere it's no reflection on your writing and just move on.

                  I hope this helps!

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                  • Hi Blakeney,

                    Another thing to keep in mind - and I don't remember where I heard this - doing well in a competition isn't about being the best writer in that competition, or even about being a good writer. it's about not putting any of the judges off. Think of it as avoiding the meh factor; whoever's left standing takes the prize.

                    Now, that's the final round. But making long or short lists will basically be the same, with people other than the final judges. Get unlucky, have whoever slushes your submission feel it's not working for them, and out you go. Even if it's the best piece in the competition.

                    As others have said, practice will help you write to the judging fields, will help you get through those early rounds. So, on to the next one.

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                    • II appreciate all of your comments, which I find helpful.  I take the point that several people have made about the practice entering competitions gives you in honing your writing skills. especially when  you have to work within certain constraints.  It's a new kind  of practice for me, as I normally write long fiction and have previously entered a novel for the Bridport. 

                      As Rick has mentioned, there are people other than the judges who look at the competition entries, just as there are people other than agents who look at submissions.  They use readers, so you are primarily subject to those assistants' likes and dislikes.

                      The Bridport results are on their website at 7 p.m. this evening and I will be having a look.

                      Congratulations to Charlie Brown and L.

                      On a completely different note, I'm not sure how to use the quotation marks - or the backward arrow.  Also, where did the glum face and number 1 come from on my post?  

                      😊

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                      • What do you think was off putting about your eccentric story?  I've never entered a competition and never will, unless you consider the whole of publishing to be that way of course.  Perhaps the risks are similar?  How important is convention?

                        I mean if your judges are conservative and entrenched, nothing other than the established or mainstream is going to excite them.  Then if the judgement's made by an unimaginative readership, do you think you might have frightened them?  

                        What did you write?

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                        • Without going into too much detail, Alison, I'll just say that my story was actually written by Larry, the cat at Number 10.  I translated it from the feline.

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                          • Is Larry apolitical?  I mean is he mostly preoccupied by cat stuff or does he watch the national cat(!)astrophies with detached amusement?   You might have offended blue judges with too much red, or the other way round!

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                            • Perhaps the judges were fans of Palmerston next door 😐 But seriously, just keep going with the stories, whoever's viewpoint they use.

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                              • Yes, Larry is non-party political.  He simply reports satirically what happens but he's no respecter of persons.  He has his own opinions on one particular Scandinavian figure and isn't afraid to express them, which could be a sin as far as judges have been concerned but I refuse to expurgate his story.  As far as his preoccupations are concerned, these are dominated by his stomach, as with all cats.   I am going to continue writing short stories, Libby, but only from time to time.  Longer fiction is my thing.

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