So, settle up friends, grab a coffee, get that biscuit tin ready, and make sure your comfortable - I'm about to talk about how to win a competition and why it might NOT be what you think.
This blog has actually been a few months in the making (partly out of shock and partly because, well, Christmas was a thing). I actually won the Royal Dragonfly Award for Best Anthology in November 2021 - the year I declared I would release not one but 3 new books (yeah, that didn't go to plan). What's ironic about all this is that in my university days, my own lecturer told me NEVER to write an anthology. Why? Apparently, my short form lacked 'punch' and could never compete with the excellence of current authors. That was a little under 10 years ago - what do professors know, right?!
So, who are Royal Dragonfly? Well, they're run by an organization that goes by the name of 'Story Monsters' but you might know them better as a subsidiary of Scholastic - yeah, you know, one of those really big publishers we hear about. Every year they open two internationally renowned competitions: The Purple Dragonfly for children's fiction and The Royal Dragonfly for adult and non-fiction. Each competition has close to 30 categories and is judged by an impressive hotlist of editors and established authors. Honestly, it's unnerving to go through! But, how do you pick a prize winning category?
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Ok, are you ready for the secret? Yes? Good - here it is - common sense! Well, sort of... Sure, you should definitely play to your strengths. So, if your best is writing gritty, sexually fueled, erotica, then your going to have to play to that niche. Let's be honest though, you're putting all your eggs in one basket and really selling yourself to an already heavily over subscribed genre. Unless your book is the next 50 Shades ready to set the world on fire, you're not very likely to get seen amidst the masses.
When, I submitted The Book of Ashes I knew I was up against it. Fantasy fiction is super flashy at the moment. Everyone fancies themselves the next George R R Martin, am I right? Time to think B-R-O-A-D! I want to take this point to tell you, that there is nothing (read that word again) wrong with sussing your competition BEFORE you start writing. Everyone does it , even the big-shots. Competitions and accolades are used by readers to make the decision about whether you are worth their time. So, do your research. In my case, anthologies are grossly under represented and as I had a series of short stories already published through various forums, compiling them into one, singular work was not going to involve a massive amount of work. I played to my strengths.
Your strengths are WILDLY important but don't confuse them with whether something is popular or in vogue. Like I said, the good old anthology gets a little ignored these days but there's no genre attached to the category. That means, I can submit my fantasy fiction short forms into a category where the level of competition is likely to be much smaller. I spent three months writing a extra three short stories to complete the collection and I submitted a whole 6 months ahead of deadline - and that's important too!
ALWAYS submit your entry early because someone is going to have to read it, right?!
Obviously, I didn't know if my plan would work at the time. There's never any guarantees and I was THRILLED when I realized that my initial idea actually HAD worked. Actually, I was doubly happy, because I'd scored a runner up in 'Fantasy Fiction' too (I mean, I'm not saying don't enter those over subscribed categories - just hedge your bets)! In fact, I was in shock and incapable of speech for a solid 10 minutes - as shown by the shocked face I posted on Instagram.
I know this blog is going to divide the crowd. Writing to a brief isn't that new. Actually, all major publishers submit briefs to the authors they maintain. However, there's going to be some who are looking pretty appalled right now at the very idea that they could write or at the very least, compile something that actively fits the brief of a competition requirement. To those people writing their best life without any need for positive reinforcement, I salute you. Go off into that sunset writing what you want. But, if your a little bit more of a needy writer (and I know I can be) and need that self-motivational boost from time to time, then 1) Research your categories, 2) Make sure what you write fits the brief, 3) Don't put all your eggs in one basket and 4) Again - read the brief!
So, as we enter a fresh year of competitions - I wish all my fellow writers and want-to-be-authors the very best of luck. Here's to your (profitable) year of writing and who knows, maybe it'll be your work I see taking the top spot next!