A guide to polishing your writing before submitting it to a competition
So you want to get published. Taking your writing to the public is an exciting step. But how do you do it? How do you ensure that your writing is selected by publishers and doesn’t go overlooked? Of course, I can’t teach you how to craft the perfect writing style, nor do I have a guide of what specific publishers look for. However, below are six consistent and imperative steps to take before submitting your work to any writing contest, to assure that your final product is one that publishers won’t want to miss.
1. Follow the guidelines. Always.
Curators of writing contests do their job by posting detailed instructions for the desired length, format, and theme of submissions. It’s your job to make sure you know exactly what these instructions say, and format your piece accordingly. Many publications receive an overwhelming number of entries for their contests. The easiest way to eliminate the first round of applicants is to throw out the pieces that don’t follow the instructions. Yes, it takes a little bit of extra effort to look for the guidelines and make sure your submission fits, but as the saying goes, “a little goes a long way.”
2. Give yourself time. Know the deadline date and work well in advance.
The more time you have to prepare, the greater your advantage. Having ample time to write and edit will give you the opportunity to be creative and enjoy the process of submitting your work without the stress of hurriedly writing to meet the deadline.
3. If you have any questions, ask!
Sending off an email is easy, and usually guarantees a response in a couple of days. It’s much better to ask and clarify the instructions – especially if it’s related to formatting – so your submission doesn’t end up being eliminated over a simple misunderstanding.
4. If the contest has a theme, make sure your submission is relevant.
When pressed for time, it isn’t uncommon to see writers scraping together whatever they have already written and send it in to a contest, without thinking twice if it matches the theme. No matter how incredible your writing is, if your submission doesn’t fit the theme, publishers have no reason to select it.
5. Familiarize yourself with previously published works of the publication.
While you should not model your writing after others – after all, publishers are looking for your unique voice – reading the work that has been selected in the past will give you an idea of what the publisher is looking for.
6. Proof read. Proof read. And proof read again.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to submit a polished piece of writing. Your work should be free of typos, have minimal grammar errors, and should flow nicely. While these mistakes can be fixed by an editor, it gives off the impression that your submission was sent in haphazardly and without care. If other submissions similar to yours are error-free, you can be sure that their piece will be chosen over yours. The good news is that avoiding these mistakes is simple. Give yourself enough time before the deadline to read over your final piece several times, and edit for spelling and grammar errors. After you have gone through it, give it to a friend, family member, or fellow writer to read. Not only can they catch overlooked mistakes, but they can provide honest feedback to help you improve. With so many submissions coming in, you’ll want to make sure that yours is the best that it can possibly be.
One of the most exciting aspects of being a writer is being published. Seeing your hard work in print and happily read by an appreciative public is every writer’s dream. But we all know that competition is fierce, and it seems that there are fewer opportunities to be published. So when you finally stumble upon a chance to showcase your talent, it’s crucial to put your best foot – or perhaps pen – forward. With these six steps in mind, I have no doubt that you will.
The Soap Box has an open call for a chapbook anthology of up to 30 pages of poetry. The winning entry will be published and sold online. Read the contest details here. The contest is open until 15 December, 2016.
Tali Voron ǀ @thesoapboxoffical
Tali is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Toronto-based press, The Soap Box. She is excitedly working on her second book. Tali’s other interests include fawning over any place with a patio or fairy lights, spending time with her friends and family, and enjoying terrible puns.