Some notes on why comp rules are so picky

Writing competitions often seem to have loads of niggly rules but there are reasons. Below, I try to explain our own Young Writer Competition’s requirements.

We try to give leeway with forms that are inadequately filled-in, entries with the author’s name on every page and so on (Tipex time), but for more general competitions elsewhere be warned: any break from the rules will likely mean your entry will go straight in the bin. The reason? Any departure makes more work for the comp organisers.

1 Why can each person only enter once?

There are hundreds of 13 – 19 year-olds eligible in the Malvern Hills area. We want as many as possible to enter the comp, to encourage their creativity. Malvern Writers’ Circle volunteers (including the judges and organisers) aim to give written feedback on every entry. A detailed critique can take an hour or more of someone’s time. It can’t be tossed off while watching the X-Factor. We just do not have the man/woman-power to critique multiple pieces for the same person.
See (3) below.

2 Why does it tell me not to write my name anywhere on my actual work?

Because the entries are judged and critiqued “blind”: the judges and critters must not be influenced by knowing anything about the writer other than age. As we’re all local we might discover we’re reading a poem or story by someone we know. Gender, school, ethnicity – all can be assumed (sometimes wrongly!) from names. So we ask you NOT to put your name on the work itself. By attaching the entry form with your name AND the work’s title we can track it to you by title. As entries arrive, each entry is given a unique number – written on the work AND the matching entry form (that’s my job as admin). Yes, you become a number; this is one of the instances where that is a Very Good Thing.

3 Why are there word (or line) limits?

See (1) above. It’s rather terrifying to have a novella-length story or a ten-page epic poem flump onto a volunteer’s desk when s/he already has a dozen pieces to critique. And we treasure our (volunteer!) judges, who have to read every single entry in depth. So we say “no” to anything over the word limit. Sorry, but anything over the limit will not be included for judging or critique; we just don’t have time.

4 Why do we want so many details – home address, home phone number, email etc?

Because, if you win, we need to contact you: simple as that.

We will not archive any of the information except from the winners. Even in that case, info will not be on computer, just a photocopy of the entry form held in a box file.

I’m at work during the day. If I contact you one evening and get a school answer phone it means a delay before we can sort out an electronic copy of your winning entry for publication – and before you have the good news that you’ve won. Email is ideal, as I’ll be requesting an electronic copy of your work for the winners’ anthology. [I now have a really good scanner – hurrah!] This will often have to be put together in a staggeringly quick time to be ready for the competition award ceremony – so if I cannot get hold of you, your story or poem might not make it into the anthology.

5 Why do I have to give my date of birth AND age on a particular date?

Because the crabbitty old bat comp admin is rubbish at mental maths with dates – it drives her mental. Entries are by age group and I am going to snarl if I have to try to calculate which group you are in. So please fill in both age and DOB.

6 Why is there no entry fee? Does this mean it’s not a proper competition?

We are incredibly lucky to have experienced professional writers as judges who haven’t cottoned on that in most – pay to enter – comps the judges swan in at the finish to judge a short list picked by the comp admin “readers”. And the judges – and often readers – expect to be paid. No one is paid in our competition except the winners. Our prize money comes from sponsorship from local and national organizations that aim to promote creativity and excellence in writing. MWC makes no money from the competition; we do it for the love of encouraging writing.

In summary:

Put yourself in the judges’ shoes. Imagine a few hundred stories/poems with your own. Are they going to clap their hands with glee at a poem in gothic lilac font? Or a story in size 8 single spaced text over twenty pages? Will they bother to Tipex-out your name on every sheet of paper? Or look up your address from your name and postcode?

On a side issue, please be wary of pay-to-enter competitions. Many are excellent but there are some scams. Google for all the information – and comments – you can find.

Malvern Hills woodland

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3 Responses to Some notes on why comp rules are so picky

  1. Ron says:

    Brilliant rules, nicely laid out. I wish I could help judge but alas, I’m sure I’m not in your demographic, nor am I British lol. Good luck with it. I hope you are actually stunned by quality and creativity at least once this year.

  2. Myfanwy Fox says:

    Cheers, Ron. The creativity always stuns me. So many of the entries are wonderful. There have been several over the years I’ve been doing this that have left me in awe – incredible work.

  3. Pingback: Focus Pocus, whys? and “how a fox delouse itself” | Fox Tales

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