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Writing Competitions: 3 Things That Will Get You Disqualified

Writing CompetitionsI’ve been organising a writing competition for ten years on behalf of the writing group I belong to.  Our first competition was a “toe in the water” and I personally guaranteed the prize money which amounted to £350, should we not receive enough entries.  We made a small profit on the competition and since then have used any competition surplus to increase the following competition’s prize money.

However, “profit” has never been the motivation for us running the competition.  Right from the early days of the writing group’s existence, we felt that as well as all the benefits that belonging to a group gives to its members, we thought that we should, where possible, promote creative writing as part of our activities.  Hence, the competition and other activities including running workshops and creating an anthology.

Going back to our first competition, what surprised me was that its winner lived in New Zealand.  I soon learned that by advertising our competition on the interwebulator (a brilliant name used by my friend for the internet that I thought I’d share with you,) we opened ourselves up to an international audience.  Since that first competition we have received entries from about 20 different countries.

There is one area that surprises me though as each year I receive competition entries.  This is the number that have to be disqualified before they even reach the judging stages.  The main cause of this is that an entrant just couldn’t be bothered to read the competition rules.

This usually manifests itself by one or more of the following three rule infringements:

1. Including your personal details on the story. 

Some people will use a “Word” header to include their name, sometimes their address and occasionally a photograph.  Others will add their name and a copyright sign to the first page of the story or poem.  Why is this such a big problem?  Well, any well run competition will separate the writer’s personal details from the written work submitted to ensure total fairness throughout the competition’s judging process.  As the competition organiser, I set up a reference file which links the writer to their work, but I am the only person that has access to this during competition.  I, of course, do not get involved in any aspect of the judging process.

2. Submitting incorrect competition entry fees. 

It is clear that some entrants have not seen any information produced by the competition organiser and have perhaps just heard about the competition from someone else.  Here, entries are not accompanied by an entry form and it seems that the entrant has just made a guess on what the entry fee may be.  We only accept fees in sterling for our competition.  I know that this is a bit luddite but there it is and it may be that we change this in the future.  However, I usually get at least one entry per competition where someone has sent me a cheque made out in US dollars.  If we accept incorrect  fees, it would be unfair on the entrants who have bothered to read the rules and conditions.

3. Length of submission.

Ours, like most competitions, set a maximum word length for entries, be they short stories, poems, scripts, novels, etc.  We therefore disqualify any entry which is over the limit (in our case a short story of a maximum of 2,000 words and a poem of a maximum of 40 lines).  So it still surprises me when an entry is overly long.  They are normally very easy to spot.  Poems are the easiest as counting the lines is straightforward.  Short stories are more difficult but you get somewhat expert in spotting those over 2,000 words.  The font size, spacing and the amount of dialogue in a story will contribute to its length in pages submitted.  So if I receive a short story over nine pages of A4 I’ll check further.

So give yourselves a fighting chance when you enter a competition.  Read the rules and obey them and then your work, which you have laboured hard over, will be judged on its literary merits rather than falling at the first hurdle through a technicality.

Have you ever been disqualified from a writing competition?

About Tony At The Word...

In addition to my own reading and writing activities, I am passionate about promoting both.

I hope that through “The Word Runs Through It” we can encourage reading and writing and a connection between people.

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  • Rod Griffiths July 22, 2014, 11:11 am

    Nice article, well said. I’ve been a judge for several years for a children’s writing competition. In some ways I’m grateful to those who send in entries that can be thrown away immediately. There is something very daunting about seeing a pile of a hundred or more entries and being able to bin a few without a second glance. It lifts the spirit more than it really should. Of course on deeper reflection there is some sadness too when folk have struggled away to get their words done and then spoil it all by not reading the rules.

    • Tony July 24, 2014, 7:18 am

      Thanks for your comments Rod. With regard to being able to eliminate entries I understand your sentiment entirely, but as you say, people have put soul and effort into their work and deserve a chance of winning alongside all other entrants. It gives me no pleasure at all in disqualifying entries.

  • Maria Smith July 22, 2014, 9:34 am

    Hi Tony,
    Couldn’t agree with you more on this issue, and I wonder why people actually bother to send an entry without reading the rules. Surely, they must realise, no matter how good their story or poem is, its not even going to get past the first hurdle, and will never be read by the final judge.

    Talking of rule breakers – from the point of view of a competitor, my own pet hate is when competition organisers extend a competition deadline, which I, and many others feel is very wrong. Most likely they do it because they haven’t got enough entries by the original date. It’s not fair on the entrants who stuck to the rules and got their submission in on time is it? It amazes me, that it is often some of the bigger competitions guilty of this. Bad form or what?

    • Tony July 24, 2014, 4:59 pm

      Hi Maria, thanks for your comment.

      Yes, it is difficult to understand why people enter a competition without any regard to the rules.

      Onto your pet hate and I couldn’t agree more. The competition I organise has always either had enough money in the bank to fully cover prize money or had a guarantor. It is totally unfair to entrants to keep a competition open beyond its original closing date. I just wonder how many extra entries are sent anyway.

      It’s a shame that those competitions that do this can’t, in some way, be known to the writing community. So if anyone out there has definite proof of this happening, please let us know and we’ll publicise it in our newsletter.