Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/newsletters/action/archives/id/10840-Follow-the-Rules.html
Contests & Activities: June 23, 2021 Issue [#10840]

 This week: Follow the Rules!
  Edited by: Jayne
                             More Newsletters By This Editor  

Table of Contents

1. About this Newsletter
2. A Word from our Sponsor
3. Letter from the Editor
4. Editor's Picks
5. A Word from Writing.Com
6. Ask & Answer
7. Removal instructions

About This Newsletter

I’m not here to argue what makes a winning contest entry or publishable submission. I’m not here to argue about who wins what, or when, or how many times. I’m not here to debate what the publishing industry wants or doesn’t want. And I’m definitely not entertaining the concept of how judging a submission is subjective. That’s all the tough stuff.

This is about the simple part: following the submission rules. Let’s talk about the how and why writers mess this up, and how we can improve our chances by preventing careless mistakes.

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Letter from the editor

As a judge of several contests, there are few things more frustrating than disqualifying an entry because the author didn’t follow the submission rules. As a writer, there are few things more frustrating than finding myself disqualified because I failed to follow the instructions for a submission.

Why Do You Do That?

There’s not one straightforward answer why we writers don’t follow directions. For some people, it’s as simple as trying to beat a deadline and missing a step. For others, it’s due to a difference in cognitive processing.

*Those with differences in cognitive processing and executive function may not see themselves in the points listed. Some strategies here might still help, but I didn’t focus on specific ideas for this more specialized area.

Do you recognize any of these reasons in yourself?

*Bullet*Not paying attention. Sometimes with specific requirements, it’s easy to overlook a rule, or forget to include something. This is particularly true if you’ve got multiple projects on the go or are surrounded by distractions.
*Bullet*The looming deadline. It’s hard to tick off all the required boxes when you’re just trying to get the thing in on time. This deadline drama is often the result of procrastination, and often goes along with the next point.
*Bullet*Rationalization (aka “it doesn’t really matter” syndrome). If you don't care, why are you bothering to submit the thing in the first place?
*Bullet*“I’m sure it’s fine” syndrome. Telling yourself you probably didn’t miss anything important isn’t the same as making sure you didn’t miss anything important.
*Bullet*“The judges probably won’t even notice” syndrome. Now you’re just straight-up lying to yourself.
*Bullet*Laziness. Nobody wants to think of themselves this way, but not bothering to double-check the submission guidelines (or read them at all) is as bad as not proof-reading your work.
*Bullet*Self-sabotage. Losing by disqualification is easier to swallow than losing after putting your all into your work and not winning. “Looming deadline” is often a cover for self-sabotage.
*Bullet*Already know it all. Do you go back and reread the rules to make sure nothing has changed? Or do you rely on your knowledge of stuff you’ve submitted before?
*Bullet*"Instructions unclear, did what I wanted instead” syndrome. Fear of looking foolish prevents a lot of folks from asking for clarification when they don’t understand. Of course, disqualification for a basic technical error looks totally cool. Honest mistakes are one thing, not bothering to ask is another.
*Bullet*Entitlement. Studies have shown people with a high sense of entitlement think rules, especially ones they consider trivial, are an unfair burden, and are more likely to flout them. Unfortunately for your rule-breaking submission, no one is listening to it about its importance, because, you know, it broke the rules.

Nobody Likes Rules

Contest and publication rules, by design, are constraints. They box you in. They force you to edit. They subjugate your creativity to the whims of arbitrary contrivances set upon you by strangers. Okay, the last one is a bit dramatic.

The point is, every writer is experiencing the same constraints for that round of submissions. They did not set the rules up to personally attack you.

Nobody Cares What You Think of The Rules

There. I said it.

I meant it when I said they didn’t set the rules up to attack you.

It doesn’t matter if you think there are too many rules, or if you think one rule is particularly stupid. It doesn’t matter if you can’t possibly edit your 31-line poem down to the 30-line requirement. If that’s true, then the contest/submission round isn’t for you. Move on.

Submission rules, in general, accomplish the following things:

1. Narrow the scope of submissions. Editors and judges are looking for something particular in any given submission round. If you don’t want to give them what they’re looking for, don’t enter.
2. Compare apples to apples. When a submission requests specific topics (including writing to a prompt), it streamlines the evaluation process. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a unique take. It’s simply meant to challenge a group of writers to tap into specific topics and create a thematic pool of work. If a magazine has a call for submissions for an issue dedicated to lions, they aren’t including your poem about alligators. If a contest asks for haiku, they aren’t awarding your sonnet, no matter how good it is.
3. Level the field. It’s much, much easier to apply judging criteria and rubrics when a standard set of rules applies to everyone.
4. Make a judge's/editor's life easier.You heard me correctly. Complain all you want, but it’s not the other way around. If a contest or editor asks for a word or line count in a specific place on your work, just put the word/line count on your work in the way they ask. They don’t have time to be checking every single submission for word count. Besides, you don’t want them to. You want them to focus on the entries—preferably yours—and probably as quickly as possible, because who likes to wait? Waiting is worse than rules.

What Can You Do About It?

First, stop thinking of rules as the crushing destruction of your creative soul.

Next, recognize there’s two kinds of rules at play here (even though a listing may combine them): the content rules, and the submission rules.

The content rules define what you’re writing about, its form, its length, and its rating.

The submission rules, frankly, are technical instructions. Deadline, where to place a word count, font size, etc. Tedious? Sometimes. Relevant to your creativity? Not so much.

Learn to separate the two out. Divide a page in half (vertical, horizontal, front to back, I don’t care. There’s no rule about how to do it. <--see what I did there?)

On one side, make a list of the content rules. There probably aren’t as many as you think, and it’s probably far less stifling than you’ve let yourself believe. In fact, it is more likely to look like a creative challenge. However, if after looking at them in isolation you still don’t like the requirements, it’s not the submission for you.

On the other side, make a checklist of submission instructions, and work your way through them after you’ve written your piece. Tick off each box and save your work after each box is ticked. Before you submit, you can take one final zip through the list and know all the procedural stuff is taken care of.

If your problem is reading the instructions in the first place, you need to ask yourself why you’re self-sabotaging. Do you want to be doing this submission in the first place? If yes, ask yourself if this strategy has paid off in the past. Look back at the rewards you missed out on by being disqualified. Ask yourself what you’d lose out on this time. If you’re still serious about submitting, make the lists.

The Nitty-Gritty Reality

WdC contests have rules. Publishing submissions have rules. You need to follow the contest rules to be considered for the winner’s circle. You need to follow submission rules to be considered for publication.

Do all the good things to improve your skills. Read more. Practice. Listen to feedback. Write more. Edit. Ask for more feedback. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. And for the love of all things good and right in the world, stop sabotaging yourself.

Follow the rules.

Editor's Picks

A variety of contests, with a variety of requirements:

No Dialogue Contest - ON HIATUS  (E)
Write a story containing no dialogue, in 700 words or less, based on the monthly prompt.
#2079495 by QPdoll

Shadows and Light Poetry Contest  (E)
Do you love the challenge and creativity of free verse poetry? This contest is for you.
#1935693 by Choconut

A Contest Inspired by the Old Pulp Fiction Covers of Weird Tales Magazine
#2083492 by Beacon - Light 4ever

Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest  (13+)
A Monthly Romance Contest -- a 2016 & 2020 Quill Award Winner & 2020 Quill Award HM Winner
#2089860 by Jim Hall

Want to find more contests?

Contest Clues  (E)
List of WdC Contests, Challenges, and Fundraisers. Clues To What's Open, What's Not!
#2221492 by GeminiGem💎

Writing Contests @ Writing.Com  (E)
Writing Contests on Writing.Com are posted here.
#171898 by Writing.Com Support

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Ask & Answer

Feedback From Previous Issues

From "Generic Genres

Good advice! And now I am taking that advice we gave at the 2020 Quills awards. I find many items in my portfolio noted as Contest Entry. So now I have the tedious task of renaming them to a more proper and interesting genre. Going forward, each piece I write will get the proper classification it deserves.

Tedious as it is, changing some older entries will definitely increase your item visibility. With your newer work, not only is your work easier to find, but should you be nominated for a Quill, it greatly increases the number of chances you have to pick up an award for your hard work!
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