This year I’ve read or judged six competitions and read hundreds of pieces. I said I’d do a thread of things to pay attention to before submitting. So. Yeah. Reprinted here is an awfully opinionated thread written hot, posted cool.
- Theme – if the contest has a theme, for the love of every tired reader/judge please, PLEASE reference it in some way. Obliquely is fine. But your beautiful story that has nothing to do with the theme AT ALL will not make the cut. Save your entry fee!
- SPAG – one or two slips won’t bug most readers/judges, but frequent slips in spelling, punctuation or grammar will. With one proviso, do whatever the heck you like with SPAG as long as whatever you do is clearly and intentionally a feature of the piece.
- Story (part 1) – if the competition asks for a story, please submit an actual story (not a column, blog post, extract from a longer work, personal essay or prose poem). Likewise, if the competition asks for a flash, write a flash, not just a very short story, or a prose poem.
- Consistency – stay on target – voice, language, tone, POV, tense, ‘plot’, pronouns, etc whatever your piece is about, keep it all consistent. UNLESS you’re doing some kind of fractured or hybrid thing with multiple voices, braided plots, divergent tone & so on, then have at it.
- Story (part 2) – please have something happen. Doesn’t have to be conflict. Doesn’t have to follow the western story arc. Doesn’t have to all be neatly tied up at the end. But, don’t just write a beautiful vignette or series of descriptions.
- Top and Tail – don’t spend a quarter of the story setting the context, and don’t over explain at the end. Trust the reader, even just a little. But – PLEASE have some kind of drawing to a close. In other words don’t leave the reader wondering if they’re missing the final page.
- Story (part 3) – show, don’t tell. I know this is writer 101, I know. But, please. Really and truly. Show is dynamic. Tell is, well, kinda dull.
- Tropes, ‘archetypes’, plot types – every reader/judge has their pet peeves and you can’t know what they’ll be, but really think about what tropes, ‘archetypes’, or plot types you’re leaning into in your piece. Don’t know which ones you’ve written? Do your research.
- Revision – sometimes the writer didn’t do much more than vomit up an initial draft and sent it in. The central idea is okay but the execution isn’t there. Writing *is* revising. Usually involving multiple drafts. And that’s a good thing!
- Titles – free words! Free words. Right there. Use them. To set context. To open the door into the story’s world. To situate the reader. To name the central ‘thesis’ of the piece. Even if you know it’s not brilliant, for goodness sake don’t leave it blank.
- Follow the guidelines – I know it’s a pain to have to check the peculiarities of each competition. But, do it. Some places are chill if the font size is wrong or the spacing is. Some are not. Don’t rule yourself out at the start.
- Read up on how the competition is run before you enter – don’t like the longlisting, shortlisting, winner announcement strategies? Don’t like the fee to prize ratios? Don’t like the fees? Don’t like the kind of work that seems to place? It may not be the comp for you.
- Readers & Judges – over the last year I’ve recognised one story from a workshop, but I couldn’t remember whose it was. I still recused myself. Check out who is reading/judging and maybe don’t bring a piece to share in a workshop where they’re a participant too.
- Pressed send and spotted a howler? – many of us have discovered the best editor is the submit button. But. Some competitions will let you make that change. What’s the best that can happen? Ask.
- Missed a deadline – there will be another competition just around the corner. Even if it’s themed, chances are it’ll come round again in the next twelve months. That’s it for now. Good Luck!
P.S. Entry criteria – the competition is specifically and deliberately encouraging specific groups to enter? Usually because they’re underrepresented in writing/publishing? And you’ve got a fantastic story but don’t fit the criteria? Check your privilege/don’t be a dick
P.P.S – didn’t make the LL? Didn’t get a submission accepted? Something went wrong with the process? Don’t be a git to the organisers. For sure, query what’s happened if there seems to be/is a glitch. But no need to flame folk doing their best. (Maybe check #12 again?)
(c) Electra Rhodes
Read the original Twitter thread along with comments here.
Electra Rhodes is an archaeologist whose short prose has been widely published, most recently in Parthian Press’ anthology An Open Door – Travel Writing for a Precarious Century. Current projects include a hybrid nature/family memoir and an intersectional biography of the British landscape. She also teaches nonfiction for Crow Collective.
About An Open Door: New Travel Writing for a Precarious Century
‘If the mountains secluded Wales from England, the long coastline was like an open door to the world at large.’ – Jan Morris
The history of Wales as a destination and confection of English Romantic writers is well-known, but this book reverses the process, turning a Welsh gaze on the rest of the world.
This shift is timely: the severing of Britain from the European Union asks questions of Wales about its relationship to its own past, to the British state, to Europe and beyond, while the present political, public health and environmental crises mean that travel writing can and should never again be the comfortably escapist genre that it was. Our modern anxieties over identity are registered here in writing that questions in a personal, visceral way the meaning of belonging and homecoming, and reflects a search for stability and solace as much as a desire for adventure. Here are lyrical stories refracted through kaleidoscopes of family and world history, alongside accounts of forced displacement and the tenacious love that exists between people and places. Yet these pieces also show the enduring value and joy of travel itself. As Eluned Gramich expresses it ‘It’s one of the pleasures of travel to submit yourself to other people, let yourself be guided and taught’.
Taken together, the stories of An Open Door extend Jan Morris’ legacy into a turbulent present and even more uncertain future. Whether seen from Llŷn or the Somali desert, we still take turns to look out at the same stars, and it might be this recognition, above all, that encourages us to hold the door open for as long as we can.
Featuring contributions from Eluned Gramich, Grace Quantock, Faisal Ali, Sophie Buchaillard, Giancarlo Gemin, Siân Melangell Dafydd, Mary-Ann Constantine, Kandace Siobhan Walker, Neil Gower, Julie Brominicks and Electra Rhodes.
Order your copy online here.