Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 12, 2010

Tips for Winning Writing Contests

Yesterday’s post listed writing contests you could consider entering. Today I thought I would provide you with tips to help you win one of those contests and found a nice list over at  


1. Begin with a bang.  Editors routinely say they read the first paragraph of a piece, and if they don’t care about what happens next, they stop there, because the incoming mail stack is too high.  Contest judges often face even higher manuscript stacks.  A quick way to weed out the losing entries is to discard all those where the first page doesn’t give them a reason to go to the second page. Before sending in an entry, read every article or book chapter you can find on openings, beginnings, leads.  Then compare yours to what the experts say. This applies equally to fiction and nonfiction.

2. Try to introduce an element of uncertainty or suspense at the beginning. Make the reader wonder how the article or story is going to turn out. David E. Sumner, professor of journalism and head of the magazine program at Ball State University and frequent contest judge, explains, “You do this by introducing an unsolved problem or putting the central character into a complicating situation.  Too many stories have predictable content and predictable endings. If the reader (or judge) can figure out what’s going to happen, then why bother to read the piece?”  Stories and articles that keep judges reading all the way to the end make it to the finalists stack.

3. Make your characters alive and real.  Make them talk like real people.  Make every word of dialogue important to and move along the story. Judges want to see the people, both in fiction and in nonfiction. Why do your fictional characters do and say what they do?  Why have your nonfictional people done or said what you’re reporting about them?

4. Make your story different.  That means a different setting or unusual characters or a different plot.  If it’s been used before, if it’s trite, get rid of it. If two stories on that judge’s pile are similar, they both lose.

5. If there is no length restriction or requirement, send a story or article of medium length (1,500 to 3,000 words). This doesn’t overwhelm the judges, who don’t really have time to read 10,000-word manuscripts. (This does not apply, obviously, if it’s a full-length novel category or a juvenile category).

6. Have a positive ending. As Sumner puts it, “Positive doesn’t necessarily mean happy.  Even if it has a sad ending, the story or article should have a positive meaning to it.”

Click here to read the rest.

They also have a writing contest you may want to consider.  I added this contest to yesterday’s blog post – just seemed to fit better there.

Hope you find this useful.  Kathy


  1. You know I’ve never entered a writing contest. Don’t know why. But I’ve been thinking about doing that this year (resolutions!) and this post is very timely and helpful. Thank you!


    • Tracey,

      So nice to hear from you. How are things going for you? I think you would do real well if you submitted something for a contest.

      Keep in touch,



  2. […] like. Kathy Temean posted yesterday about some writing contests this year and today some tips on how to win […]


  3. […] you didn’t see it, Kathy Temean recently had an entry on her blog with tips on winning contests. Check it […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: