By Elane Retford and Sarah Post.

Have you ever considered entering a novel writing competition? We looked into some of the reasons sending your pride and joy to be judged could be the best thing you do.

  • Every entry is read so at the very least it will get your work in front of an editor, and in some cases an agent, if an agent is one of the judges.
  • If your book was to win, you have already bagged yourself a heap of publicity for it.
  • It also gives you a deadline, which even the most motivated of us can do with.
  • Getting your entry polished and perfected in time to submit, can give you a real sense of achievement.
  • The feeling of being told you had actually won would be amazing.
  • If you were long-listed or short-listed you would be able to use this information on your future submissions giving you more recognition.
  • On the down side you may have to pay to enter. But this could be a tiny price to pay in the scheme of things.


Is this the most hated word in fiction? Many competitions request a synopsis and the first 5000 words of your novel, like the for example. So how do you make sure it is perfect?

  • Have a go at telling the story like it is a piece of flash fiction. If that doesn’t work try writing it in bullet point form.
  • Use the same voice as the one in your book and do your best to make it engaging.
  • Don’t make it too long. One page of A4 is enough.
  • Tell the ending. Don’t end with a question like ‘Will Rose find out the truth?’

Biography / Covering Letter?

  • Tailor your biography to what you are writing. For example, if you are a science fiction geek and have written a sci-fi novel, mention it, but if you have written a romance, then don’t unless it is relevant.
  • Mention If you have a blog or have had any short stories published.
  • Include details of any social media accounts you may have.
  • Say what your inspiration was and add a bit of personality.
  • Don’t go into too much personal detail. A couple of pieces of information is enough and try to tie it in i.e. my work as a school librarian is a great way to observe teenagers for my YA novel.

What makes a great entry?

  • It’s all about the first line. Make it a good one and the judges and your reader will be hooked straight away.
  • Don’t follow trends. By the time your book is actually published the trend will have moved on so look at producing something fresh.
  • Be true to you and true to your voice. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Make it as authentic as possible.
  • Understand your reader. Get into the head of the type of person you think will read your book.
  • Read as much as possible in the area you are trying to write in. There is no point in attempting a romance novel if you have never even read one.
  • Find a unique way to start the book. Don’t have your character waking up and describing their reflection in the mirror. It’s been done too many times. Or if you do, it’s got to be different.

What to do before you submit it?

We often miss mistakes when we read things over and over again, seeing what we think we see rather than what is actually there, so try these tricks to minimize the errors:

  • Print it. Reading from a page often makes you spot inconsistencies or overused words you might not see on a screen.
  • Look at it on a mobile device. Again, seeing it in a slightly different form, may highlight a few inaccuracies.
  • Read it out loud. This is an excellent way to ensure you have the pace and tone right. Does the dialogue sound natural?
  • Check and double-check the submission guidelines. For instance, does it need to be typed in double line spacing? Should it have page numbers along the bottom?
  • Make sure you have the correct word limit? You don’t need to stop exactly on the dot. Find an intriguing place and end there, as close to the limit as you can.
  • One question often asked is if you should get your work professionally edited before you send it? You shouldn’t have to, but if you do, make sure you find someone reputable and be clear about what you expect from them.

What happens if you win?

Writing competitionBe prepared to wait. If the competition is in a magazine, you may have to wait for the next edition to come out for the winners to be publicly announced.

Contracts will need to be prepared and signed.

You will be assigned an editor and no doubt have to do lots of revisions.

The book jacket will be designed.


Generally, publishers don’t want a one hit wonder so will talk to you about what is next and how they can build an audience for you.

Extra Advice

  • Only enter if you want to be an author. Do you want to write future books?
  • Do you enjoy social media and doing events? Book signings and speaking on panels are often ways a publisher might expect you to engage your readership.
  • If you don’t win, don’t give up. Keep trying.
  • If you have already self-published your book you will need to check the guidelines of the competition to find out if you can enter.
  • The winning entry is only based on the word limit set. So, check the guidelines to see if you need to have finished the book before you submit. If they like what they see, they’ll want to get it published quickly!


Good luck with your entries!