Wednesday, 14 December 2011

On Writing Competitions and Envelope Fatigue by Penny Dolan

I don’t go in for Writing Competitions, which is far more my laziness than an ideological position. Yet many people, including published writers, find them fun, possibly because of the attraction of a deadline. Nevertheless, I have just been the Secretary for a small, local writing competition.

The whole thing was organised by a newly formed Friends of the Library group and was publicised through the library, the local paper and other contacts. It was quite a success, especially the social evening when the Top Ten Ghost Stories were read aloud by a trio of experienced readers.

(Before you ask. While it can be important to honour writers by letting them read their own work, this library is large and has no microphone system. So it was far better to honour the works by letting the words be heard.)

Back to the Secretary role. We had fewer then a hundred entries but by the time the pile of envelopes had been emptied, I was very sure of what entrants to all postal writing competitions should know.

So. Things Not to Do when sending in to a Postal Competition.

Do make sure you put on the correct value of stamps for an A4 envelope so that it reaches the destination. (Yes, I went to the nearby Sorting Office, because I wanted this first Competition to be a success. Yes, I got the envelope. Yes, I found it was from an elderly writer I actually knew. No, it didn’t win.)

Those impressive named judges are very unlikely to receive your entry directly, so any ”wow” factor such as decorative coloured envelopes will not reach them, let alone affect the judging. Stationery, in such quantities, is not as amusing as when one is idly luxuriating in stationery shops.

Be aware that triple-sealed envelopes will truly annoy the competition secretary. She or he may have to use scissors to get the wretched envelope open and might, by then, be in a very bad mood. You think your work is so precious? Then use a better quality envelope in the first place.

Come to that, use a better size envelope anyway. Do not fold your A4 story to fit into something designed for a notelet. Haven’t you just spent time on this story? Relatively, is this envelope a fitting choice? And you did use A4 paper, didn't you?

Use a cover sheet with title name, address and so on. However, do put the title of your piece clearly at the top of the first page too. And when you do, give the poor title a bit of room. Don’t cram it right at the top of the page and start your story a single line space below. You need to show you value your work.

Do put those page numbers on the top right hand corner. Please. Your story may be photocopied among several others as part of the judging process. Copying machines are erratic creatures, liable to break down at odd moments. It is very easy to (almost!) lose an un-numbered page - especially if the story is an informal dialogue between two un-named characters. If your story becomes a chosen piece, any numbering at the foot of pages will make it harder for performing readers to lightly check through the order of your story when reading.

Yet, after all the above, do not put your name on the top right hand corner of every page as well as numbering it. You can place the title there, but do make sure the page number is to the right and clear. Redacting those documents took a long time – and this was a small competition that I wanted to succeed. .

Finally. Never, ever, ever include any photograph or illustration when entering for a writing competition. Even if you have been taught extreme cut ‘n paste techniques and hold a. M.Phil in Photoshop, my feeling is that nothing puts judges off any written entry more than an accompanying illustration. Or any “original” use of font, especially the gothic styles. Let your words speak for themselves.

Which reminds me to add my writer’s tip. Make sure that you read your work aloud before sending it off, more than once. So many stories, in this and in competitions where I've been a judge, have felt too front heavy and too light at the end, even for the Ghost Story genre. The end needs just as much careful work too, even if you feel relieved to have reached it.

If you are entering on-line? Read any entry information thoroughly and do just what they say. Tormented geniuses can apply but they should follow all entry rules. I'm sure that variations of my real world secretary niggles apply there too.

Reminder. The Ghost Story event took place in a Library and was organised through a Library as many literary and community events around the UK are. There’s an open letter to Ed Vaisey around on FB and elsewhere that needs all the signatures it can get by 19th December, so please add your name. That’s what I’m off to do now.

Penny Dolan's exciting novel for 9-12 year olds is A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E. Out in paperback now from Bloomsbury. (And an ideal story for Christmas, if I say so myself)


Penny Dolan said...

Have now found the library letter. Not sure it will work but here goes:

If this doesn't, please consider pasting it into your search engine.

Abi Burlingham said...

I have to admit, I don't enter competitions that often, but am partial to a few poetry comps. I know the rules are necessary, but it's about as much fun as sticking pins in your eyes (ouch!) Writing the poem is a piece of cake compared to entering the thing. Recently, I have started on-line entries - another minefield. Luckily, I only put myself through the ordeal 4 or 5 times a year... I don't think I could cope with any more than that!

adele said...

I am a sucker for competitions and always regard them a bit like putting on a bet! I have even won some...and I'm a stickler for right-size envelopes, correct postage etc. To quote Eliza Doolittle: "I'm a good girl, I am!"
Lovely post..

Ria- The Beaucoup Review. said...

I've only ever entered 1 writing competition, however this could be very helpful for the future. Thanks!