Winning Ways!

Elaine Everest tells how entering competitions can help a writer advance their career.

I love a deadline. Nothing is more likely to have me putting pen to paper than a clock ticking loudly to remind me that I’ll miss an opportunity if I don’t put pen to paper and write. For me, any writing competition needs to have a dual purpose. The first is the chance to be shortlisted, perhaps even win. The second to have a piece of work which can be used elsewhere. That means sold it on to a magazine.

My first major success was in 2002 when I entered a short story competition organised by BBC Radio Kent. Each month they supplied the first line of a story which listeners had to complete it in 750 words. A shortlist was declared and then judged by online votes and the radio presenters. The first three competitions I entered didn’t produced even a shortlisted placing but I did have three stories that could be used elsewhere – two were later sold albeit as longer stories with more plot.

April came round and the line, ‘Security at Bluewater was tight’ had me scratching my head. Fortunately, I accompanied my husband when he had to deliver CCTV equipment back to the security department at that very same shopping mall. As I sat in the van at the back of the complex and looked at overfilled waste bins and staff coming and going I realised this was a very different image to the glossy shops that most customers saw. I began to wonder about the lives of the staff. Were they happy? How did they spend their days? Gradually a story began to form in my mind and it was like no other story I’d written to date. For one it was crime and another it was written in the first person.

Early in 2003 the twelve stories were judged live on air. Well known author Jane Wenham Jones as well as a tutor from the University of Kent and an executive from the radio station listened as the entries were broadcast. They then decided on a short list. To say I was nervous was an understatement. As my story was declared the winner my telephone rang. It was Pat Marsh, the presenter of the radio show, wanting to interview me. Now, at this point I’d like to have said that I was seated calmly, chatting as befits an author, but no I was waving dog chews at my dogs trying to keep them quiet and then tripped over one of them. The first part of the interview was done with an elderly Old English Sheepdog trying to sit on my head.

No competition win was quite like that one, thank goodness. That one story, in one form or another was published, seven times and also managed to raise money for a cancer charity in an anthology. It has now been retired. However, the win made me known as a writer and to this day I am invited to speak on Radio Kent about my writing life o when I have a book published.

Since then I’ve been a finalist in the Harry Bowling Competition and also shortlisted in a competition with The Festival of Romance in 2012 with my romcom, Bride of the Year. Another win in a novel writing competition led to me being published by Myrmidon Books, Pulse Romance imprint with my family romance/saga, Gracie’s War.

Yes, competitions are certainly worth entering!

5 thoughts on “Winning Ways!

  1. I have never entered a competition but your piece has made me think about being more adventurous, as you say a deadline certainly creates activity. I enjoyed this article and it’s certainly given me food for thought.

  2. What a great incentive to anyone who reads this. In themselves competitions are a way of gaining experience but It also goes to show how many avenues can be opened by one story. Win, listed, or neither of those, it’s still there to be tweaked, lenghtened or shortened and sent out again. Seven hits from one story is a fantastic achievement but I wish I’d seen you with an Old English Sheepdog on your head!

  3. I agree that competitions are worth entering. Even a shortlisting gets your name out there and a placing, especially in someone’s early days at writing, are amazing in terms of a confidence boosting. The Radio Kent win was certainly the start of something for you, Elaine!

  4. I agree. Winning competitions gives a big ego boost and a chance to get your work out there – especially the stories that don’t really suit the women’s magazine market. But I would also recommend weighing up the entry fee against the possible prize. Entering a competition often costs you money – it’s not free like submitting to a magazine – so don’t part with £5 if the prize is only £50 for example!! And not every competition story can be re-used and sold again like Elaine’s. Some organisers expect to take your copyright and the exclusive rights to publish your story in their own anthologies, websites etc – even if it didn’t win. SO READ THE RULES AND THE SMALL PRINT! Well done Elaine from small beginnings whole writing careers can grow.

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