Contest Entry Checklist For Writers


Illustration by Fanginhoon

Writing contests are part of every writer’s journey. Contests can be nerve wracking as you launch your baby out there in the world for everyone to judge. Yet, there is much to be said for outside feedback.

Naturally when entering a writing contest you want to put your best foot forward. Your voice must come through and grab the judges to final or win.

First and foremost, recognize that you enter a contest for the feedback, not just the win. Focusing all of the energy toward winning can lead to discouragement, especially early in your journey.

Make a list of all of the reasons you are entering before submitting to keep expectations realistic and to avoid discouragement. Once you’ve done this, then you are ready for a Contest Entry Checklist For Writers to brush up your manuscript.

I’ve added links to blog posts that show you how to do the required step. This will help if you need extra help.

Contest Entry Checklist For Writers:

*Point of View. Entries should maintain one Point of View per scene. Check to make sure there are no point of view slips, like a character describing how they look from an outsiders point of view.

*Compelling hook for each scene. Does the first sentence and paragraph of each scene grab the reader’s attention and pull them in? Check that it starts right in the middle of the action and not with too much lead.

*Character Like-abilityCheck that characters are like-able. Either we can relate to them in some way, or we are concerned for them. Show them doing something admirable, or having a problem we relate to.

*Eliminate -ly words. Usually -ly words tell instead of show what is happening. Eliminate them and challenge yourself to show the actions or emotions of the scene.

*Deepen Sensory ElementsInclude each of the senses in the scene to create a deeper experience for your reader.

*Eliminate Repetitive Words. Look for word favorites that you use too frequently. If you can’t see them, often someone else can. We all have favorite words we overuse.

*Strengthen Verb Choices. Read through and eliminate weak verb choices like passive verbs or helping verbs.

*Clear Character Goals / Obstacles / Stakes. Make sure that your point of view character has clear goals, obstacles and stakes for each scene. The absence of these results in no conflict or tension in the scene.

*Emotion is shown not told. Your entry should show the character’s emotion with the actions and thoughts they have, not through telling the reader how they feel. Dig deep to illustrate it with physical action.

*Cliffhanger or Suspense At the End of Each Scene. Keep the reader wanting more at the end of each scene by adding a cliffhanger or suspenseful moment.

Have you entered a writing contest? What do you find helps in preparing?




10 Reasons To Keep Believing In Spite Of Mistakes – NFL Bloopers And Writing Gaffs


Photo by j m Griffin

Have you made some mistakes that you are afraid you can’t recover from in your writing career?

When it comes to success, sometimes we can be our own  nemesis. We make mistakes, forget pitches, stick our feet in our mouths, you name it, it’s probably been done.

No matter what, Believe.

Here are some NFL bloopers that I’m sure the players thought they might not recover from, but they lived to play another day.

10 Reasons to Keep Believing in Spite of Mistakes:

  1. You Love To Write- At the end of the day, your voice won’t stay silent. You must write just as much as you must breathe.
  2. Editors Are Human – They have seen almost any mistake you have made before.
  3. Agents Are Human Too – They have heard almost every mistake in the book.
  4. Mentors Create A Lifeline – There are mentors in the writing community that will come along side you and give you get-back-on-track advice.
  5. You’re A Life-Long Learner – Writers are constantly learning new things about the trade. You never arrive. Just keep learning and be teachable.
  6. Someday You’ll Look Back And Laugh- Hold on to this thought. There will come a day when you see the humor in these moments.
  7. Everything Is Possible – Our Heavenly Father has promised that “All things are possible to those who love God.” (Phil. 4:13)
  8. You Are Not Alone – There are many on this writing journey with you. Find a local writing group or share with friends, but don’t go it alone.
  9. A Career Is Not Defined In One Day – Aren’t we all grateful for this?  One day will not make or break your career. Be patient with yourself.
  10. The Patriots Won The Superbowl – In an unprecedented comeback, never before seen in history, the Patriots won the Superbowl. If they can do it, against all odds and Superbowl past stats, so can you!

Who else has come back from sure defeat in their past, or can you think of someone in history that has made a huge comeback?

5 Qualities Of A Journey To A Carol Award – Observations in Author Beth K. Vogt

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Photo by Beth K. Vogt

Do you long to be an award winning author? Who doesn’t, right? The reality is that a journey to such an award is full of potholes and cliff hangers.

We see the end result in a moment of celebration, but we often don’t recognize the journey that gets a person to the top of the podium. Behind that trophy are years of work, tears, and dedication.

Many of my friends have received big awards. Observing their writing journeys, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you.

In previous years I’ve seen many of my friends, including Lisa Jordan, Susan May Warren, Colleen Coble, Rachel HauckJulie Klassen and others receive a prestigious award.

What are the secrets to their success?

5 Qualities In A Journey To A Carol Award that I’ve observed in all of these recipients stand out.

This year my writing friend Beth K. Vogt won a Carol Award for her book Crazy Little Thing Called Love. I can’t think of a more deserving author. She has shown her dedication to excellence in several award winning books.

Not only is she a proficient author, she is an amazing person who I have learned a lot from over the past few years. She is one of my favorite romance authors of all time. I’ve been blessed to observe much of her journey. Here is what I discovered.

5 Qualities In A Journey To A Carol Award – Observations in Author Beth K. Vogt:

*Dedication to excellence in writing craft. Beth has taken an incredible amount of time to study the writing craft. It is not enough to be excellent once. Each book she pushes to improve her craft. Her rich metaphors and emotions that grip readers are honed in her writing workshop.

*A Mentor’s heart. Beth continues to pour her life into other authors to help them succeed. She doesn’t worry about keeping success for herself, but shares freely of her knowledge with others. In sharing, she grows stronger as a writer both mentally and emotionally.

*A supportive tribe. Learning from other great mentors and sharing the journey with a tribe of writing friends is a key to Beth’s success. She has cheerleaders and challengers to keep her on the writing path towards success. It is more than just those who encourage, but also those who would be honest with a skilled eye for writing.

*Accepts constructive criticism with grace. On the journey there are times when Beth received constructive criticism from mentors and writing friends, just like all of us. She didn’t get defensive, or angry. She replied with grace, giving thought to what was shared.

*Pursues her relationship with Christ. In writing Christian Fiction, Beth recognizes the importance of deep, abiding faith. She pursues her relationship with Christ as she writes, so that her characters live and breathe in the real world. It keeps her grounded on the journey’s roller coaster turns.

Who is your favorite award winning author? What have you learned from their journey?

Kleenex Party 2014 – I Woke Up On The Wrong Side Of An Ice Cream Craving

Photo by harrispe

Photo by harrispe

Thanks to all of you who joined us to celebrate with the Genesis Semi-Finalists at the Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice Party. The Winners of our Amazon Gift Cards are Shirley Olson and Laurie Tomlinson. Congratulations! 

Today for our Kleenex Party, we want to encourage those of you who maybe entered the Genesis Contest, or another contest and didn’t do as well as you hoped. Today we will pass the Kleenex box and words of encouragement. 

Not to mention a few sweet prizes: 

*$10 Cold Stone Creamery Gift Card – For That Ice Cream Craving

*A Pair of Bunny Slippers (A $30 Value)

*A 30 minute Brainstorming Session to Get Your Creative Mojo Flowing Again

Leave an encouraging comment below to be entered in the prize drawing.


Have you ever woke up on the wrong side of an ice cream craving?

When things you thought should go a certain way don’t? When you stuck your neck out there and felt like you were sucker punched? When baby spit up and a marker covered wall felt like the least of your worries?

Then you know exactly how I’ve felt from time to time. I’m weepy, grumpy and puffy-eyed beyond make-up.

Usually the therapy starts with caffeine and escalates to chocolate and pretty soon the ice cream tub and spoon are in my hands and I’m watching White Christmas.

Until sometime mid-spoon I realize if I keep this up, I will be able to train with Shamu at Disney World.

Next, comes the sigh that leads me back to the freezer to put back the ice cream and on to my Bible where the day should have started.

Why is it when I wake up on the wrong side of an ice cream craving, I look for answers in the things on earth? I am human, despite my kid’s occasional stare that assures me I’m from another planet.

But here is what I usually discover: When I Wake Up On The Wrong Side of An Ice Cream Craving, God is still God. He is still amazing. He still has a plan for me and my dreams.

I just need to quit working so hard to do it in my own power. I need to quit working so hard to plot all the steps of my life in what I think is the perfect sequence.

Why? Because God is still God. He still knows what is best for me. He still has a plan even for the days when I wake up on the wrong side of an ice cream craving.

Psalm 46:10

New International Version (NIV)

10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;  
I will be exalted among the nations, 
   I will be exalted in the earth.”
What truths has God whispered to you when you woke up on the wrong side of an Ice Cream Craving?

Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice Party 2014

Photo by ba1969

Photo by ba1969

Every year since this blog’s beginning we have had a Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice Party.

What exactly is it all about?

This is that great time of year when we hit contest results from American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis Contest. Some of you may not have gotten the results that you wanted, but we want to celebrate those who did well.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Romans 12:15

With the heart of this verse in mind, today we are going to celebrate with those who are rejoicing in their Semi-Finalist Status.

Tomorrow we will weep with those that weep in our Annual Kleenex Party. Those of you who are congratulated here today, I invite you to stop back tomorrow and leave an encouraging word or verse for those who didn’t do as well as they hoped.

Leave a word of encouragement or congratulations for our Semi-Finalists!

We will be having a drawing for 2 $10 Amazon Gift Cards for those who leave a comment. Winners to be announced at tomorrow’s Kleenex Party.

Let’s Hear It For Our Winners:



Robin Archibald

Sally Bradley

Kimberli Buffaloe

Lindsay Harrel

Brandy Heineman

Tanara McCauley

Holly Michael

Carrie Padgett

Linda Sammaritan

Jennifer Sienes

Historical (Through Vietnam Era)

(Because of a three-way tie, Historical has 12 Semifinalists)

Heidi Chiavaroli (double semifinalist)

Pat Jeanne Davis

Mark Fisher

Kathleen Freeman

Jennifer Lamont Leo

Dana McNeely

Joanna Politano (double semifinalist)

Cynthia Roemer

Terri Wangard

Lora Young

Historical Romance (Through Vietnam Era)

Misty Beller

Paula Bicknell

Patricia-Riddle Gaddis

Kristi Ann Hunter

Robert Kaku & Gail Kaku

Elizabeth Lukinuk

Rachel Muller

Marilyn Rhoads

Delores Topliff

Abigail Wilson



Janice Boekoff

Andrew Huff

Mary McCay

Marion McNair

Timothy Moynihan

Dena Netherton

Deb Read

Dennis Ricci

Chris Storm

Bob Sweet



Renee Blare

Nicole Deese

Beatrice Fishback

Sarah McDaniel

Grace Olson

Crystal Ridgway & Destanie Ridgway (Co-Authors)

Craig Savige

Christine Schimpf

Chandra Lynn Smith

Peggy Trotter



Jennie Atkins

LeAnne Bristow

Ashley Clark

Susan Crawford

Tari Faris

Laura Hodges Poole

Sherri Murray

Dena Netherton

Laurie Tomlinson

Andrea Michelle Wood

Romantic Suspense


Nancy Blosser

Loretta Eidson

Emilie Hendryx

Jackie Layton

Michelle Lim

Sara Luther

Carolyn Miller

Linda Rodante (double semifinalist)

Chris Storm

Short Novel


 Meghan Carver

Peggy Miracle Consolver

Candee Fick (double semifinalist)

Nicole Jarrell

TC Larson

Kelly Anne Liberto

Sally Pitts

Crystal Ridgway & Destanie Ridgway (Co-Authors)

Preslaysa Williams



 T.J. Akers

Carol Eaton

Megan Ebba

Jennifer Gallagher

Clint Hall (double semi-finalist)

Margaret Hamlin

Lauricia Matuska

Don Palmer

Luke Scott

Young Adult


Erica Collins

Jennifer Dyer

Carol Eaton

Jessica Edgerton

Sara Ella

Glenn Haggerty

Karley Kiker

Ashley Mays

Sarah E. Morin

Kristen Joy Wilks

Congratulations Everyone! Take a minute to congratulate our Semi-Finalists by leaving an encouraging word in the comments below!

Editing Tips For Last Minute Contest Entries

Photo by deboer

Photo by deboer

First, the answer to our Super Sleuth Challenge yesterday: AIRBAGS. Can you believe that they go for $1,000-2,000 a pop on the black market and it only takes two minutes to get it from your car. You wouldn’t even know it is gone unless a certified technician checks it out.

It pays to be careful with your mechanic shop as well. For more on this story click here.


Editing Tips For Last Minute Contest Entries:

When should I italicize words?

When I first started writing, I struggled to understand when to italicize words. Finally, Susan May Warren gave me this rule of thumb that helps me remember:

*Italicize only when it is something the Point of View Character is screaming in their head. It isn’t a general thought, but more of a panic, fear, angry, or grief type of thought. Any thought that screams. It should NOT be a lot of words per page. Much of internal dialogue is not italicized if it is in third person.

What do you mean when you say show instead of tell?

Telling is when we describe how a character is feeling or what is happening in the scene instead of showing it happen.


*He looked at the overstuffed bear and just knew that he had to take it home. (Telling)

*The bear slumped in the corner alone. It’s soft furry body propped close to the display candles and ornaments.  Thomas picked it up and snuggled it close inhaling the scent of apples and cinnamon like the pie that warmed his tummy at grandma’s last summer. He just had to take him home.

Some telling words to look for: looked, appeared, felt, told, saw, etc.

For more tips on Show vs. Tell, check out Author Beth Vogt’s amazing teaching chat notes here. (It may ask you to join, but it is absolutely free and there is no spam mailing involved. It is a writing community all about the writing craft with free chats on Monday night.)

What about Backstory?

The right place to start the story is in the middle of the action. Sure, you want to anchor your reader in the setting, but that can be done with very little lead in. Backstory can kill your reader’s interest right from the very beginning. As my friend Susan May Warren says, “Think breadcrumbs.”

Example of starting in the action and still anchoring the reader:

A horrible day to kill. Sully belly crawled across the rain scored earth, waiting for his mark to arrive at the rendezvous point. His camoflauge uniform stuck to his skin like cloth to a saracofogus, making movement more difficult. He flattened himself to the earth as a beam of light scanned the area around him. The smell of earth and grass assaulted his nose as he focused on breathing in and out.

Easy. Easy. Just because everything felt off, didn’t mean it would turn out like the last time. It couldn’t, or he’d be dead by morning.

*Notice the anchoring and the bread crumbs of backstory? That is how to keep your reader engaged and yet aware that there is an undercurrent from the past that matters now.

Do have any last minute editing tips for contest entries?

Remember the Genesis Contest Deadline is Tomorrow!


3 Tips To Polish A Contest Entry – Mr. Clean Editor Meets Your Pages

Photo by veke

Photo by veke

Our Super Sleuth Challenge Answer That Was Weirdly False From Last Week was:

#2 Charmin Lady

Stay tuned this Wednesday for another March Super Sleuth Challenge.


Contest season is upon us again and with it all of the jitters that come with submitting your “baby” or novel to enter a contest. You take the risk that judges may or may not like your story, characters, or writing voice.

What could be even more disastrous to your contest entry is lack of polish. That special craft expertise that sets you above the average entry. And, let’s face it, you have to be way above average to get published.

How can you get that Mr. Clean squeaky glow to your manuscript?

 3 Tips To Polish A Contest Entry:

1. Pick A Scene Emotion To Weave Into Your Scene. This tip I learned from Susan May Warren and My Book Therapy. Identify your character’s emotion in the scene. After writing, go through and look at your verbs and the setting the POV character is describing to see if they match the emotion. If not, pick stronger words and images to convey deeper meaning.

2. Read It Out Loud. This makes a huge difference in how the rhythm of the words feel. It can bring to light words that feel awkward, repetitive words (like ‘that’, ‘just’, ‘was’, ect.), or even words that don’t paint the picture you thought they would.

3. Dialogue Tune Up. We often hear about vanilla characters and boring dialogue. It comes about many different ways, but if our characters say very little of content, or all sound the same, we will have lost the opportunity to make them stand out. Try reading only the dialogue and ask yourself the following questions:

*Does each line add value to the conversation? (If not, delete or ramp up the content of dialogue.)

*Can you tell who is speaking without reading the descriptors or action beats? (If not, considering tweaking the lines to better fit each character’s personality.)

*Do you see yourself, or a real live person talking like your dialogue in a play or on TV? (If not, watch a show or read a book with great dialogue. Study the way the writer makes it humorous or emotional.)

*Do you see long sections of text with no dialogue? (If so, consider adding in more. The story is more vibrant shared by characters instead of self-narrated.)

*Do you have talking heads on the page when you add back in the rest of the words surrounding the dialogue? In other words, does the setting disappear and we forget where we are? (If so, anchor your dialogue with actions of the characters, “action beats,” or setting tags.)

What are some things you wish someone would talk more about in polishing a contest entry?

(I will try to cover some of these in a Question and Answer Format later this week. So, have a question…leave it in the comments.)