4 Tips to Prep Your Writing Contest Entry

It’s contest season in the writing world! Perhaps you just submitted your entry to the ACFW Genesis contest earlier this week. There are lots of other contests coming up later this year for both published and unpublished writers.

Several writing friends asked me to give them feedback on their submissions, so I’ve been reading like a potential contest judge and making suggestions to strengthen their stories. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a short “consider this” checklist for any future manuscripts you might submit to a writers contest:

  1. Avoid starting a scene with dialogue. As the all-wise author of your manuscript, you know who is speaking. But the reader, who is new to both the story and the characters, doesn’t know who is speaking or why they are saying what they are saying or who they are talking to. Starting a scene, especially the first scene in your book, with dialogue creates a lot of questions for your reader — and for a contest judge.
  2. Avoid muddling up dialogue with multiple action tags. Dialogue, in and of itself, is action. Some writers like to crowd dialogue with a sentence describing some sort of action the character is doing, a.k.a. an action tag. Then comes something the character says. Then another action tag. Then more dialogue. It’s too, too much.
    1. EXAMPLE: Tony blocked the door, spreading his arms out wide. “You’re not going anywhere.” He glared at Mona, who tried to move past him. “I told you I wanted to talk to you–and I mean it.” Smooth the dialogue out by using only one action tag per segment of dialogue: “You’re not going anywhere.” Tony blocked the door, refusing to let Mona move past him. “I told you I wanted to talk to you–and I meant it.”
  3. Avoid rushing your story. Oftentimes, a contest entry is the opening scene of your manuscript, which means your Inciting Incident is included. Remember: the Inciting Incident is the event that shoves the main character out of their normal world. It can be negative (someone tries to kill them) or positive (they win the lottery). Once again, as the all-knowing author of your manuscript, you know everything else that’s going to happen to your main character(s) in the rest of the book. Don’t rush it. Pacing is an important element of good writing. Yes, you can slow your story down by dumping in too much backstory. But you can also rush your reader — and a contest judge — if you push the story ahead too quickly, writing too many pivotal elements into early scenes. 
  4. Avoid spending too much time in your character’s head. I blogged about avoiding too much  character introspection back in January, offering one tip to get out of your character’s head. Yes, there are times when your POV character is going to be thinking about things — a problem, a person, a decision. The question is: Can you rewrite the scene so instead of thinking, thinking, thinking for fifteen hundred words or more, your character is talking to someone about the situation? 

How can you apply these 4 tips to your next contest entry? 

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Three Lessons I Learned by Not Winning a Writing Contest By Nick Kording

I enter writing contests even though I second guess the decision to do so after every contest, regardless of the outcome. My huddle group recently discussed the value versus the harm in doing so.

Harm? you ask.

Disappointment. Self-doubt. Doubting God.

The value can feel equally tenuous. Feedback, while helpful, may turn on personal taste. Isn’t the same true with agents, editors and readers alike? While I’ve never won a contest, I count my success rate at 99 percent. It would be 100 percent, but there’s one piece where there was no feedback if you didn’t win and another where I should have never pushed send. I wasn’t ready and it showed.

While being a finalist, bronze medalist or having an entry published feels like a success, the true value of entering a contest derives from the lessons learned with each entry. Three lessons are universal to everyone. They include:

  1. You have to try;
  2. Not winning isn’t the same as losing; and
  3. Huddle groups and other writers help.

You Have to Try

First, you can’t get on base if you don’t swing the bat. This wisdom comes from a member of my huddle group. She’s right. Not trying closes the door not only from any opportunities a contest offers, but from learning about how others see your writing. While winning doesn’t guarantee representation or a contract, it provides feedback and confirmation your story resonated with someone. Even losing affords feedback and, depending on the feedback, confirmation of your writing potential.

Not Winning Isn’t the Same as Losing

I admit to believing that making the finals equates to God’s validation of my writing, decision,s and even career path. It isn’t. I learned this the hard way by submitting the same piece to two separate reputable contests. In one, I failed to make it to the second round. In the other, I finished as a finalist in my category. Personal taste aside, the feedback in both competitions concurred more than it differed. Neither constituted a win, yet both qualify as successes.

Don’t misunderstand me. My fragile writer’s heart jumps or crumbles with the presence or absence of my name on the list of finalists. I’ve learned time and reflection precede this wisdom, which is why the third lesson is essential.

Huddle Groups and Other Writers Help

Participating in a huddle or writer’s group provides perspective with contests, especially when your hard work and dedication fail to impress the judges. Frustration and disappointment exist. So do encouragement, perspective, a shoulder to cry on, and other sets of eyes and ears to discern the value in the feedback and hear your concerns.

Sure, the feedback gives me points to consider within my story, but the bigger lessons, the wisdom comes with trying, not placing your value as a writer in the end result and surrounding yourself with writers you trust and respect exceed the specifics. They remind me God is in control. He knows what we need and when we need it, despite what our hearts feel in the moment. And that He loves us.


Nick Kording is a writer, ghostwriter, editor and researcher. In addition to contemporary and Biblical fiction, she writes Christian living, Bible studies, and devotionals. Her books and other writing can be found at www.nickkording.com where she writes about redemptive truth and love.


Getting A Four Chair Turn

Rachel HauckConfession.

I’m enthralled with the reality show The Voice. Have you seen it?

In fact, author Lisa Jordan and I were chatting on email how much we loved the show.

Especially the coach Pharrell Williams. He’s one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met.

Okay, I haven’t actually met him but he’s really encouraging. He challenges me as a Believer, as a writer, to find the good, find the Light in life and in others.

Lisa said how much Pharrell challenged her as well, and got her to thinking.

“Who was her four chair turn?” Did she even have one?

A four chair turn is when all four judges turn their chairs to vie for the auditioning artist to be on their team.

Sometimes only one judge turns. Maybe two or three turn. And it’s awesome when all four judges turn.

But even one judge means the contestant is on the show. It’s a win!

As Lisa looked over her writing journey, she realized she had a four chair turn.

Me, Susie Warren, Rachelle Gardner (agent) and Melissa (editor.)

How encouraging to look back at her journey to see such a “win.”

Got me to thinking about my own “chair turn.”

I was one of those “artist” with a bit of experience, like background singer or a coffee house performer.

I had co-authored a Heartsong with Lynn Coleman but I wanted to move to trade size novels.

So when I entered my chick lit into a contest held by Kristin Billerbeck and Colleen Coble, I got my four chair turn.

Kristin, Colleen, Karen Solemn (agent) and Joan Marlow Golan (editor)

Georgia On Her Mind became my first trade size novel!

On the writing journey, it can seem like no one but your Mama is rooting for you, but stop, look and remember those who’ve encouraged you along the way.

Even if it’s only ONE person, that’s enough to get you “on the team.”

Despite my four chair turn, I had some work to do.

I was coached by my editor, my agent, and the great Susie May when we were both young in the biz.

Maybe I haven’t been that break out author that “everyone loves,” but I love that I’m in the game. And there’s room to grow!

The big thing is realizing people are for you! They are in your corner!

What do you think?

Who has turned their “chair” for you?

Also consider who you can encourage. Not just writers but friends, family, a neighbor.

Then go write something brilliant

The 2015 Frasier Contest is OPEN!

Are you wanting to up your writing game in 2015?  Entering a writing contest is a GREAT way to get feedback, get noticed by editors and agents, and build your writing skills!

And our MBT Frasier Contest is designed to help you Get Published, and Stay Published!

Check out these words from 2013 Finalist, and 2014 WINNER Jeanne Takenaka! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCKJa8tDX_Q

Find all the Frasier Contest Deets HERE!

You CAN write something brilliant!

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