Like several of the other 8 Ladies I have been spending time recently judging contest entries. The process was an interesting one. The stories I judged were paranormal romances so it gave me the opportunity to read things I wouldn’t normally have chosen. It was also helpful from a writer’s perspective. Problems I might not have seen in my own work were easier to identify in someone else’s story.
After making it through the twelve entries I had to judge, I noticed a number of recurring issues that pulled me out of the stories as I was reading them. So, for those of you planning to enter any writing contests in the future (or planning to submit your work to an agent or editor), here are some suggestions to consider before you hit that “submit” button:
Take the time to proofread and edit your manuscript with an eagle-eye (or have someone do it for you). Grammar mistakes, missing words, misspellings and the like can be very distracting. You want your reader enthralled by your story, not being pulled out periodically to try and guess what you meant to say. Also, familiarize yourself with standard manuscript formatting. You want your reader focused on your story, not your quirky font or the fact that you randomly indent your paragraphs or alternate your line spacing.
Follow the rules
This probably seems like a no-brainer, but make sure what you are submitting matches what is being requested. If you are submitting to a contest that requires “the love story to be the main focus” of your book, then make sure your story has a love story as its main focus. If it doesn’t your entry will wind up rejected and you’ll just be disappointed. Double-checking to make sure you’ve followed the number of pages / number of words limits is a good idea too. No one wants to have a story rejected right out of the gate because of a technicality.
Start at the right place
Starting in the right place is something we spent a great deal of time on during the McDaniel program. If the place where your main character’s life changes doesn’t occur until Chapter 2 or 3 then you run the risk of losing your reader before your story really gets going. Though I don’t mind prologues (I love the one in my favourite book, Lord of Scoundrels), they generally seem to provide information that isn’t really necessary for the current story or contain a chunk of back-story that could be more effectively woven throughout the story.
Sometimes, less is better
Although I’m a big fan of words, if you constantly use twenty when two or three would do, then I’m going to start skimming. Just saying.
This was probably my biggest take-away from my judging efforts. The synopsis is not the brief teaser on the back cover of a book, it is the way you prove that you can plot out a story. It doesn’t need to contain everything that happens, but it should at least address the main turning points / plot points. If your story is a romance, then the synopsis should clearly indicate how the romance progresses. There is no way for a judge (agent/editor) to know if the resolution of the romance is going to be emotionally satisfying if you don’t give any indication in your synopsis of how it will progress through the story. Your synopsis should also accurately correspond to the chapters you’ve submitted, rather than sounding like it is talking about a completely different story. If your story contains zombies or vampires or aliens, I should have a clue about that from the initial chapters, I shouldn’t be hearing about them for the first time in the synopsis or I’m likely to be annoyed.
So, what other suggestions do you have to add to the list?