Friday, 6 December 2013

Guest post Tracy Fells - How to Succeed in Writing Competitions


I am thrilled to have as a guest on my blog today, writer and competition queen, Tracy Fells. I would have offered Tracy some of my home baking but I think my previous guests might have had a word with her and she suggested meeting in our local coffee shop... I can't think why!


Firstly, Tracy... congratulations on another competition success. Can you tell my blog readers a little more about your Hysteria win?

Of course, but first can I thank you for inviting me along to your writing blog. I enjoyed your recent Writing Magazine article, Wendy, and hope to be a well-behaved guest!

This is the second year Hysteria have run their short story competition, which is only open to women writers and you have to write on the theme of ‘women’s issues’. I was pretty excited to make the shortlist (and anthology Hysteria1) with a story in 2012, so this year I was ecstatic when I’d heard I’d won.

 
I was rather hoping that your story would be about two writers who survive an assassination attempt on their way to a writing workshop but maybe you could write that one next time. Could you tell us what your story was about, Tracy?

Sorry, Wendy, but I think you covered that particular story here, didn’t you? And thrillers aren’t really my genre. You can read a little more about the inspiration behind my story here, but really it’s a bit of a moral tale on how we should never accept people at face value. I also hope it sends a positive message on how we should be treating the elderly members of our society. It takes place in a Care Home for the elderly and involves mathematics and biscuits.

 
How many competitions would you say you enter a year, Tracy?

Hmm, this is a bit embarrassing as I enter a LOT of competitions. Probably up to a 100, maybe more. Now I’ve written that - the total does sound scary and I probably need to cut down!

 
Well that's 99 more than I entered - probably why I never win! Can you tell me what your three biggest competition successes have been?

The biggest have been:

Reader’s Digest 100-word story: I was runner-up in 2013 winning £100 worth of book tokens. So not necessarily a big monetary win, but to come second out of over 2,000 entries meant a lot to me.

Steyning Festival Short Story Prize: I won this in 2012. First prize was £250 and the real treat was attending the prize giving ceremony and lunch held at Wiston House (West Sussex). I got to meet the judge, Simon Brett, plus author Elly Griffiths who read out my story. The whole day was magical.

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (with Writing Magazine): I won attendance to this summer school (6 days free accommodation, all meals and all workshops) in 2012 with a themed article. The package was worth about £500!

 
They are some pretty major successes - you're obviously doing something right. Is there a formula you follow that helps you write good competition stories? (You can whisper it to me if you don't want anyone else to know)

Wish I could say Yes, but no not really. If there is a theme then I spend a lot of time letting ideas mull around and try to pick something off-the-wall – never go for the first thing that pops into your head as everyone is likely to come up with the same idea. I keep a notebook with ideas and sometimes I keep an idea maturing until I feel the right competition comes up. For Hysteria comp I knew exactly the story to write and submit. And it paid off, call it intuition or a ‘tingle’ but it does seem to work for me (sometimes!).

 
Some competition entry fees are quite steep. I have to say, I'm a bit of a skinflint - is there a maximum you will pay to enter?

It depends on the prizes on offer. Worryingly, entry fees are increasing and you can normally expect to pay £5 per story for a first prize of £100-500 (or less!). It can vary enormously. Novel competitions can be steep too, over >£10 per entry. I personally now never pay an entry fee >£10 for a short story competition and this year won’t be entering Fish 2013 because I think the fee is too high (20 euros). And there are many FREE competitions, so I do enter as many of these as I can find.

 
I think that's good advice. Would you advise new writers to start with smaller competitions, with less submissions, or go for gold with one of the biggies like Bridport?

Well in my first year of writing I entered just about anything, but the cost soon mounts up and my successes were rare. I’d recommend a new writer searches out as many FREE competitions as possible and targets smaller competitions. It can be difficult to determine the size of a competition, but the smaller the prize fund usually suggests a smaller number of entries, increasing your chances (theoretically). To put this in context: Bridport had 5,887 entries in the short story category in 2013. Competitions organised by Writers Groups are a good start, such as Greenacres, Christchurch (most advertise in Writing Mag and Writers’ Forum) and of course West Sussex Writers whose competition has just opened and closes in end March 2014 (quick plug for my group!).

 
Where do you go to research your competitions, Tracy. Can you name a good website which lists a lot of them?

The Word Factory (http://www.thewordfactory.tv/site/) publishes monthly news – for all types of writing competitions.

Also I’d recommend subscribing to Writing Magazine, which has a monthly pullout Writers’ News containing listings of many competitions and other writing news. The mag also produces a twice yearly pullout Competition special. But all other writing mags: Writers’ Forum, Mslexia, The New Writer etc list comps.

 
That's fantastic, Tracy - thanks for sharing. What about writing blogs that advertise competitions? Which do you recommend?

My favourites are:

Patsy Collins blogs regularly about FREE competitions, so worth following. Fellow blogger Helen Yendall also posts about competitions and generously shares competition news.

I believe The Literary Pig sometimes mentions a few competitions too.


Any advice for how to succeed in a writing competition... apart from not to enter the same ones as you or you won't stand a chance?

Ha-ha – I say this to another writing friend, Veronica Bright, who seems to win everything in sight (she was 3rd in the Hysteria competition). To succeed first you have to enter – so that’s Step 1. Don’t laugh, but many writers simply don’t enter competitions because they feel they have no chance of winning. But you have to be “in it, to win it”…

Step 2: If there is a theme then USE it and try to be quirky/off-the-wall (no well worn themes …sorry couldn’t resist that, Wendy).

Step 3: READ and FOLLOW the entry rules and guidelines. Obvious, I know, but it’s shocking how many comp entries are disqualified for NOT following the rules. I was a first reader for West Sussex Writers’ short story comp in 2012 and was amazed that we had to disqualify poems and articles when the rules clearly asked for short stories. What a waste of a fiver!

Step 4: Only send your best work. Ensure presentation is perfect and story well polished.

Step 5: Make a sacrifice to your chosen writing god. I’m not kidding. Every submission needs a little helping hand, because I’m afraid it can come down to just having the right reader for your story on the right day. Good writing helps, but writing is a subjective art form. What one comp loves, another will hate…

 
Thank you for having me.


And thank you so much for visiting my blog, Tracy. I'm sure many writers will find your advice invaluable. Also you were very well behaved! You can read Tracy's Hysteria win here. and her interview with Linda Parkinson-Hardman from the Hysterectomy Association here


Tracy lives with her family in a rural English village where her mind and writing frequently wander to other parts of the world and time. Her short stories and flash fiction have been published online and in print anthologies such as The Yellow Room, Hysteria1 and Rattle Tales. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Fish International Flash Fiction Prize and appears regularly on competition credits. Currently she is working on a novel and has started an MA in Creative Writing. A recent addiction is writing drama for both stage and radio. Her first play made the longlist of the Kenneth Branagh Drama Award, an international One Act Play competition, which has only fired her enthusiasm for dramatic writing. She shares a blog with The Literary Pig (http://tracyfells.blogspot.co.uk/) and tweets as @theliterarypig. Actively involved in the West Sussex Writers, a local writing group, Tracy loves meeting other writers to talk shop.

 

24 comments:

  1. What a fabulous interview Wendy! Well done Tracy on your successes - good luck with future entries. Really informative, thank you. Now...off to write some winning stories ;)

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    1. You'll have double the chance now you've read Tracy's hints, Sam!

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    2. Thanks, Sam. Good luck with your entries :)

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  2. Thank you, Wendy, for being such a lovely blog host today. I've really enjoyed visiting. You must pop over to visit LitPig soon.
    And how did you manage to take a decent photo of me? Blimey, I'm impressed.

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    1. Pure skill and genious of course, Tracy... what else?

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  3. Excellent advice. I'm going to enter a lot more competitions in the future.

    Thanks so much for the mention!

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    1. I shall only enter ones Tracy hadn't entered, Patsy!

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    2. Please keep posting all the FREEBIE comps, Patsy.

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  4. Thanks for mentioning me too! Enjoyed reading this and congratulations Tracy on your recent win - and all the others! You're an inspiration! Helen x

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    1. No excuse for people not to have a go now, Helen.

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    2. Ah, thanks, Helen! Thank you too for keeping us all up to date with new comps and competition news.

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  5. Great interview, Wendy and Tracy. And well done, Tracy on all your successes.
    x

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  6. Great post. The question of entry fees is tricky, but I'm afraid I only enter comps that are either free or raise money for charity.

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    1. I have to say I'm with you on that one, Julia.

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    2. The cost do mount up, Julia. I think I'm going to have cut down next year and focus more on the FREE entries.

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  7. Great post, ladies, and well done, Tracy. I loved your winning Hysteria story. I've never entered the Fish contests because of their high fee.

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    1. It's a great story, isn't it, Rosemary.

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    2. Thank you, Rosemary. So glad you enjoyed the story. :)

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  8. Congratulations, Tracy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Thanks too, Wendy for the interview. I totally agree with your three recommended blogs.

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    1. Thanks for popping over, Keith.

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    2. Hello, Keith and thank you for the lovely comments. Tracy

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