3 Tips On How To Win A Writing Contest

If you didn’t notice, I’m hosting a WRITING CONTEST this month!

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See? We have a snazzy logo and everything.

You should click over and enter right now. You know you want to.

Many of you are writers and would love to be authors, would love to be published…

But it’s kind of daunting to put your work out there to agents and important people like publishers.


Well, with over a dozen and a half published titles, I can tell you – you eventually get over that fear.

One way to do it is to put samples of your writing out there for the world to see.

And writing contests are a good way to do that.

Now, you may or may not win the contest – it’s more fun if you do – but simply entering is a big deal. Other people are finally going to see your work. And in this case, if it needs help, you’ll get suggestions.


In my contest I’m going to give the first 25 entries FEEDBACK that will help get their work to the next level.

Possibly, to get it ready to be published.

A lot of people who enter will get a share of $400 in prizes.

That’s also good.

Now, the funny thing about bloggers is: often if they are going to sell you a book on how to do something, they have blogged about it, too. If you look through their blog enough, you will find basically everything in the book and not have to pay for it. 

Or like me, you can put all kinds of crazy awesome MARKETING TIPS in a book they get for free by signing up for their newsletter. Trade your email for a $20 book on marketing ideas and a promise not to spam? I call that a good deal.

Anyway, here are some of the things I’m going to look for.


  1. A grabber opening.

  2. NOT giant blocks of descriptions.

  3. Well-written dialogue.


I tend to be lazy and any reading outside of a person’s job is supposed to be for leisure – as in, FUN. So when I see just pages and pages without the white space that indicates a paragraph break, I get a little twitchy.

I love dialogue.

Chuck Wendig once referred to dialogue as candy, and he’s right. I hate Chuck but he’s right about that. (See, Allison? I even referred to him in my blog post.)

And let’s face it, a story that hooks the reader right away is gonna do better than one that waits three chapters to do it, right?

But if you can do it in the first paragraph, or even better in the opening sentence, that’s big. That’s why openings are hard to do, and even harder to do well.

The other thing you can do to help your story is not have too much going on in chapter 1. (I’ll address that tomorrow.) Now, I’m not saying you have to submit chapter 1 of your book to a contest; I’m saying whatever you do submit should be interesting. But if you submit chapter 1, there are five things you need to have happening in chapter 1 as referenced by my blog post about that – which you’ll see tomorrow.

Finally, it’s never a bad idea to ask a question in chapter 1 that we have to turn the page and start chapter 2 to find the answer to.

That is what I call a cliffhanger ending.


If you can do some or all of those things, you are going to thrill your readers a lot more than the average bear.

One last tip.

A writing contest is kind of similar to a chili cooking contest.

Each November I go to a neighborhood chili cook-off. Some of the people who host it are from Texas, and Texans are apparently crazy for chili, to the point where they are willing to fistfight you over whether it can have beans in it or not.

I’m not going to say if I if I am of the pro bean or anti-bean consortium, I’m simply going to say Texans are f*cking crazy.

If you know any Texans, you know this. Nice people. Hard working. Loyal.

But effing bonkers.


The key to winning a chili eating contest is not to prepare a bowl of chili that would satisfy somebody at dinner.

Wait, what?

That’s right.

In a contest, you have to grab the chili judge’s attention with the equivalent of a taste. A tablespoon. That’s it.

And what you would put into a tablespoon to catch the eye of the chili judge – or tongue, I guess – is not necessarily what should be in a bowl of chili you are going to eat for dinner. The sample is probably spicier than the whole bowl. Meatier. Other stuffier.

Similarly, A writing contest offers the same challenge.

Your opening paragraph is really really really – really really really! – really really REALLY important.

If I can’t get through that, things do not bode well for the rest of the story no matter how gripping it is.

I know. It’s unfair. Talk to me about people who make an awesome bowl of chili and can’t win a damn contest. I totally get it. What’s the deal with those Texans? Beans are not illegal! And beans are good for you. Maybe if they incorporated an occasional bean into their cowbeef-laden maw they wouldn’t all keel over from heart attacks at age 50, you know? And what’s with that drawl, anyway? It’s 2017. You have TVs and cell phones. Learn to talk normal already.

Anyway, that’s kinda how it is with your story.

Not the Texan nonsense, the judge-sample stuff.

I’m not going to stop at the first paragraph of your story unless it’s really horrible and awful and terrible and bad. I’m just not. I’m nicer than that – but not much nicer. Because I’m a lazy reader, as are most readers. Your published book fights for shelf space against every other writer in the world, and possibly crazy Texans, too. It has to stand out.

Your first paragraph should grab the reader’s interest. That is the first taste of your chili.

After that, the rest of the opening  should make the reader want to read on – just like a taste of chili should make you want to eat more chili, not run to the bathroom or guzzle a glass of water.

OK let’s get away from that whole chili comparison thing. It’s getting silly.

For me, I love a great voice.

Most of you struggle to find your voice, but those of you who do find it will engage your reader in ways you never knew possible. The reader will feel like you were speaking to them on a one-to-one basis, and it really doesn’t get much better than that.


Okay, there are some tips. You are armed to the teeth with writing advice AND advice on Texans. A twofer.


Get to writing

And go enter my contest.

Your humble host.
your humble host
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.”  Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

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36 thoughts on “3 Tips On How To Win A Writing Contest

  1. All right, Dan… I’m a Texan ex-pat, so I totally get the riffing on Texas.

    But, I came here through Allison, who I actually discovered because of Chuck Wendig. I actually knew of both of them via social media (Twitter, blogs, et al.) before I’d read their work. Maybe I just haven’t been here long enough to get the difference of opinions, but I gotta ask – why the Chuck hate?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I guess Allison pointed me in Wendig’s direction a few years ago and I enjoyed his posts because he’s got a good sense of humor but for me, after a while I got tired of wading through 900 words to get to the 10 or so that were important. It’s kind of like dessert. You want it sometimes you just don’t want all the time.

      Obviously I don’t hate them enough to not include him in my blog post!

      And Allison rags on me because I say I don’t like him, but like I said – I don’t dislike him enough to not reference him every once in a while.

      As for Texans, we love our Texican cousins! Welcome! Glad to have you here.

      Now… beans or no beans?


      • Not every reader does, apparently (and I’m not referring to quality, just dialogue itself).

        I love dialogue. It’s one of the things I was told I was good at since a young age (probably the only thing, as far as writing is concerned, unless you count mechanics). As a writer, I focus on good tags, rhythm, and timing.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Absolutely. Dialogue, however, is great for advancing plot, revealing character, and showing vs. telling.

            Some of the reviews I’ve seen indicate to me that those readers have overlooked the fact that you can’t just glaze over dialogue. You have to infer, look deep, see the real message. The dialogue is not there as small talk. A character’s dialogue is a look into his soul, his belief system, his self image, his lack of confidence or understanding.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. San, First time here and loving it. Also love food analogies. I want to submit my first ever story, but alas, its not loaded with dialogue. Hopefully you will like it anyway. To be honest, the kudos and feedback are the most valuable things to win anyway

    Liked by 1 person

    • I figured that part out. If that’s the worst thing that happens to me today, today’s a good day.

      For the record, a friend of mine who has known me for two years through this blog called me the wrong name the other day – a woman’s name, to boot!

      Like I said though, if that’s the worst thing that happens that day…


  3. Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR wrote:

    > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ WordPress.com Dan Alatorre AUTHOR posted: “If you didn’t notice, I’m hosting a WRITING CONTEST this month!   See? We have a snazzy logo and everything. You should click over and enter right now. You know you want to. Many of you are writers and would love to be authors, would love to be pu”


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