I’m going up to the junior campus of our local secondary college tomorrow to give a little talk about submitting work for competitions and for publication. I thought it might be useful on the blog, too – so here it is!
It’s all about your writing. You want the reader to be able to love your piece – without having to work to hard to read it. So, your piece of writing should be double spaced, printed on one side only of the page, with wide margins.
Don’t use a fancy font. Please. Especially not one of the handwriting ones. Why? Because they can be hard to read. They can distract the reader from your work. And those two things can make a reader grumpy, which is not what you want. Use a font with a serif – like this one, Times New Roman – because it’s clear and easy to read. A sans (sans just means ‘without’) serif font – like Calibri – can look great, and you may want to use one for headings or part of a piece when it’s published, but not for submissions.
Don’t mix fonts in the same piece. Don’t use underline, bold or changes of size. This isn’t about squashing your creativity, it’s about giving your piece the best chance to be read and enjoyed. You might want to play around with type and font and layout when it’s published, but as a submission, it needs to be naked so that all the reader is aware of is the writing.
Punctuation isn’t about arbitrary rules either. It’s about making it easy to be understood. Paragraph your work. This means a new line for a new idea, theme, event, train of thought. Look at a few novels and you will get the idea. When you start a new paragraph, indent.
“If there’s a conversation, you need to make sure it’s clear you know who’s talking,” said Susan. “Have a look at what I’ve done here.”
“Yes, you’ve used quotes and a new line for each different speaker,” said Jane Austen.
“What a good idea,” said John Green. “And if you’ve finished a scene, you can put in a line break, and then go on to the next scene.”
A few further pointers. Go easy on the exclamation marks!!!!! Make sure you’ve spell-checked. See if you’ve unintentionally over-used words or phrases or ideas. In one of my books, I had everyone constantly glancing or glaring or looking or staring… My editor told me it was all too much eyeball action.
Put page numbers at the top or bottom of your work, along with the title. Sometimes you can put your name there, too – but often organisers of competitions want the work judged ‘blind’, so check first.
And finally, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get anywhere in a competition. Individual judges have their likes and dislikes, so partly it’s the luck of the draw. Sometimes a judge might argue passionately for an unusual or confronting work he or she loves. But in the end, judges have to decide on a winner, so to reach a compromise they may choose something less edgy.
It takes courage to submit something for a competition or for publication so be proud of yourself. Good luck!