First, what doesn't work: an A4 'do not bend' envelope, first class post, two months prior to deadline and posh paper make no difference at all if the poem's poor. A better poem triple folded, second class, last minute is still far more likely to win. (Someone even attached a full CV - entirely superfluous as decent competitions are judged anonymously based solely on the poem.)
Taking entry fees off some poets felt like taking sweets from babies and I worry about unscrupulous competitions whose aim is solely to make money - especially beware of ones where the entry fee is big and the prizes small. (Winning Writers lists contests to avoid).
I was only the admin, but I looked at the entries with interest and, as I've been placed a few times in competitions myself, began to get an idea of what judges are looking for. So here are my top ten tips on getting placed in competitions:
2. Don't write everything in capital letters. The rules may not state this, but just don't. See Capital Idea
3. Check for mistakes in spelling and puncutation
4. Pay attention to detail - edit carefully, make sure every word is the right word and has earned its place in the poem. Get someone to look it over for you if you can.
5. A strong opening grabs the attention - pay special attention to the first few lines... and the last few.
6. A strong voice or character engages the reader more than abstract content
7. It has to stand out from the competition - so send poems with surprising and interesting subject matter
8. The same is true of titles. Spend time thinking of a title that adds to the poem
9. Read it aloud - judges will often do this and there may be the odd awkward rhythm, or phrase that jars
10. I'm a chronic deadline-hugger. I've still been placed in competitions despite only entering a day or two before the deadline. However half the entries I received were in the last week, and I couldn't help thinking it might be better to arrive before the rush - if only to ensure the postal service and computer systems don't thwart you at the last minute! Just a thought.
Good luck! And remember - it's all subjective. What one judge puts aside another may love.
Incidentally, the winner and runner up of the one I was involved with are HERE.
p.s. If you're new to the blog and wondering what my credentials are, check out this list on my website.
Ready to win? Here's a list of where to find details of poetry competitions in the UK and beyond:
- The Poetry Library - lists reputable competitions
- MsLexia - writing magazine for women, but the listings page is good
- Prize Magic - the name sounds dodgy but the guy who runs it is keen and thorough
- Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog very detailed competitions calendar... and there's so much more on the site, it's well worth a visit