25 Point Checklist When Entering Contests

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We hope this TARA checklist helps create a winning manuscript!

 

  1. Have you entered the right category? Some categories can overlap, but think about which category your book is likely to score the best in.
  2. Follow all contest rules to the letter. If you have questions, email them to the contest committee or chair.
  3. If you rush to get an entry together, you’re more likely to make mistakes, but don’t miss the deadline.
  4. Get someone with a strong grasp of English grammar and usage to proofread your work.
  5. Do not write too much backstory. Ask—does all this information need to be in the first chapter, or can I sprinkle it throughout the story only when it is relevant?
  6. Start in the right place. Descriptions of setting and “telling” the story setup might bore the reader. It’s best to start with action.
  7. Vary your sentence structure. Mix it up a bit so subject + verb = sentence doesn’t become repetitive.
  8. Utilize the five senses (or more in paranormal), but only when a sense is applicable to the situation.
  9. Let the reader get to know your characters so they can root for them, or at least, be interested in what happens to them.
  10. Make sure your characters words and actions are consistent to the personalities you’ve given them.
  11. Do not overwrite. Too much visceral or flowery description slows the pace of the story.
  12. Understand the concepts and differences of point of view (POV), head hopping, and author intrusion.
  13. Don’t use dialogue to “recap” a character’s backstory.
  14. Be careful when introducing secondary characters so they don’t confuse the reader or make your main character pale in comparison.
  15. Check and double-check for clichés and overused words or phrases.
  16. Evaluate every sentence, paragraph, and scene to make sure they don’t slow the pacing. If they could be cut and the meaning of the situation would not be lost, then consider cutting.
  17. Read dialogue aloud. Does it sound natural and fit the character speaking? Be careful YOUR voice isn’t the one coming through instead of the character’s voice.
  18. Make sure there is a balance between dialogue and narrative.
  19. Ensure at least one character in your first chapter has a goal, motivation, and conflict.
  20. Check for plot holes and / or inconsistencies.
  21. Research your facts.
  22. End scenes and chapters with compelling hooks. Leave the reader wanting more.
  23. Don’t rely on spellcheck. Double-check that your entry is free of spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors.
  24. “Overstuffing” your entry in order to get more words evaluated by the judge will slow the pacing and result in a worse score, not a better one.
  25. If there’s a synopsis required for the contest, write it in the present tense and in the same voice and tone of the book.

Good luck!