The judging for our 2015 Short Fiction Award is well under way, and our 2016 competition will be commencing in July. Between now and then, I will be adding a number of posts to the site relating to things I have noticed in the 2015 comp, and which may help you with your entries in the 2016 comp.
The very first key to success in any writing competition – in fact, in any competition of any kind – is very simply OBEY THE RULES. Sadly, a number of entrants in the 2015 comp disqualified themselves because they either had not read the rules, or thought that the rules should not apply to them.
I recently read something from another writer who said that in one competition she entered there were only 20 entries, and of those 20 hers was the only one that complied with the stated conditions. She won by default. Now, I have read her entry and I must say it was brilliant. It would have stood a great chance of success in any competition, no matter how many other non-disqualified entries there had been. That is not the point. We have no way of knowing what the quality of the other entries were, but even if they had been masterpieces of literary genius, they denied themselves any chance of winning by not obeying the rules.
It certainly gives me no pleasure to disqualify an otherwise well written story, but not to do so would be unfair to the other entrants who have followed the guidelines. In the case of our comp, a couple of entries were disqualified because they did not meet the required word count (no, 1000 words does not come between 1500 and 2500!) If you had entered in a 1500 metre race, and stopped at 1000 metres, you would not expect to win. Why would you think you had a chance by falling 500 words short of the minimum word requirement? Some judges might excuse a few words either way (but then again, they might not, so it is really not worth the risk) but I strongly doubt you would find any who would let you off with two-thirds of the minimum. (Incidentally, the word count tool on some word processing programs is not very accurate. An accurate free one can be found at http://wordcountertool.com/)
By far the greatest number of disqualifications from our comp, however, were because of the language used. Our rules specifically said, “No foul language.” This rule was included for one simple reason: the readership of the anthology which will result from the competition is likely to be offended by foul language. I let a few “bloodys” and “buggers” slip by, because these are so much part of Aussie culture that they are unlikely to offend anyone, but F***s and C***s and their derivatives earned their writers the big D, as did the use of the Lord’s name as an expletive. How anyone could possibly think that these did not qualify as “foul language” is beyond me.
When you don’t obey the rules of a competition, you waste your effort and your entry fee, as well as the judges’ time. It is certainly not the way to win competitions.
So, whether you are entering our next Short Story Award or some competition elsewhere, make sure you read the rules. Write the required number of words. If there is a set topic, address it. If there are “NO-NOs”, don’t do them. If a particular style is required, stick to it. If the rules ask for your entry to be submitted in a particular format, use that format. Assume that the judges are absolute sticklers who will not allow you one millimetre of leeway.
No judge enjoys disqualifying a good entry. Give yourself a chance. Obey the rules.