So you’ve stumbled across an online writing competition / contest, or perhaps your favourite brand of cereal is offering you a chance to win a holiday around the world. All you have to do is tell them in 25 words or less why you want it. And you want to win, right?
Well believe it or not there are a small number of easy steps you can take to dramatically increase the odds in your favor. And here they are, free of charge just because I’m such a nice guy…
No Sob Stories!
This tip goes first on the list, because it is the most important. For some reason the first thing that seems to come to people’s minds with these contests and competitions is “how can I get them to pity me?” It sounds like a great plan as an entrant, but speaking from personal experience as a judge in these contests, I can tell you that it’s a complete turnoff.
Nonetheless people will try ever trick in the book…
We can’t pay the rent… our house burnt down… everybody in my family has cancer… I need 16 operations so that my dog stops being depressed and I can have my leg re-attached then pay the rent and burn the house down… well you get the point.
Let me make it very clear – this tactic does not work, even if you are telling the truth, because:
1. Judges can’t verify your claims, so anyone can make up any story they like.
2. After a while these entries become so numerous and laborious that they don’t stand out.
All that you will do is send the judge into a depression spiral. More to the point, you will end up highlighting your competitors’ entries because theirs are more enjoyable to read.
Be Creative and Make it Fun to Read
Depending on the number of entrants, judges can often have a lot of text to read. As their head slumps closer and closer to the desk and the coffee starts to wear off, your entry is going to need to have something special about it to get noticed. The best thing you can do is get creative. And I mean really thinking outside of the box (if you are thinking poetry right now, you are not thinking hard enough).
My advice to you here is simple. If you come up with something different and make it really stand out, and MAKE IT FUNNY, you will win. When I hear a fellow judge burst out into laughter at his or her desk, 9 times out of 10 he or she is reading the winner. I can usually even tell which entry they are reading because I had the same reaction when I first read it.
If you can manufacture a reaction like this, chances are you are on a winner. I suggest using your friends and family as test dummies here. If they end up in a ball rolling around the floor you’ve done your job. If the best you get is “not bad”, “(chuckle) very good” or even “looks good to me”, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Now that’s not to say every winner will be comical or humorous, but your entry needs to stand out as somehow being impressive or interesting.
Stick to the Rules and Stay on Topic
If I had a penny for every time a “words or less” entry broke the rules, I would currently be Bahamas and you would be on your own with this one. Take the time to read the rules, terms and conditions before entering. And if you are provided with a quick-start guide to entering a competition, read it over at least 3 times and make sure you take the advice onboard.
In general, you should always:
· Stay within the word limit
· Write in direct response to the competition’s question or topic (really important!)
· Avoid coarse language
· Submit your entry in the language requested
Short, Sharp, Shiny
Just because you are allowed to use 25 words doesn’t mean you should. If your entry says what you want it to say, don’t fill up the rest of your word limit by repeating yourself or adding useless details. All you end up doing is diluting your message.
So it took you 5 minutes (or maybe 2 days) to create your entry. Would another 5 minutes of proofreading kill you? No, of course not, but it will definitely help you win. Check your grammar, check your punctuation, check your capitalization and check your spelling. Presentation makes your entry easier to read, and will greatly improve your chances.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how many times have you seen a competition you would like to enter, only to let the due date slip by? As the saying goes, you’ve got to be in it to win it. And if you use the advice I’ve just given you, your chances of coming out on top will greatly improve.
So what are you waiting for?