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How to win a writing competition

What makes a prize-winning story? 


Entering writing competitions can be a brilliant way to build your writing CV and confidence as a writer, with the extra bonus of having the possibility of a prize at the end. But with writing being so subjective, what makes a story potentially prize-winning and how does the process of judging usually work? 


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FEATURE: How to win a writing competition (FREE) 

We interview the team behind the international Bath Novel Award to find out how writing competitions are judged and what it takes to win.  

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Why the winners of writing competitions aren’t always the ‘best’ entries 

As brilliant as it is to win a writing competition, it can be pretty disheartening to find out your entry didn’t place. I’ve entered a LOT of writing competitions over the last decade. One or two I was lucky enough to place on. But most, I never heard anything from at all.  

It’s hard not to feel down when you don’t win. However, since I’ve been on the other side of judging competitions, I’ve learned something that’s made me feel much better about all those lost places:  

The ‘best’ entries aren’t always the ones that win.  

How come? Well, competitions can be judged by upwards of five people – all with their own subjective tastes. Each judge might have their own different winner. So how do you choose just one?  

More often than not, the winner of a writing competition is the one all judges can agree was pretty good. It might not be anyone’s number one choice. It might be number two for a couple of judges and a ‘maybe’ for others. The winner is the entry that everyone can decide on. The safe choice. The one that doesn’t divide people to love or hate it – just like it enough to agree on.  

If you didn’t win a competition recently, it could be that your entry divided opinion. And as writers who want to push boundaries and stir emotion, that’s not an outcome to feel down about.  

Have you ever won a writing competition? Do you have any of your own insights into the inner workings of writing awards? Do you wish writers would just get feedback on this stuff? Sign up for free and share in the Townhouse.  

Sarah J x 


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