3 Tips On How To Win A Writing Contest

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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 EVERY ENTRY 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.

love dialogue.

Chuck Wendig once referred to dialogue as candy, and he’s right.

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’ve addressed that before.) 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 if you click that link.

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 a little batty.

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

But kinda 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 2018. 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.

Okay, 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

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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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Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

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

  1. I’m going to go check out your Bio and books. I find this very interesting, and I appreciate Robbie sending me in your direction. You have some good suggestions with which I am in total agreement. I’m surprised we haven’t crossed path before this. I’m an author as well as an editor, ghostwriter (nonfiction only, mostly memoirs), poet, formatter/book coach, and publishing advisor. My Bio and credentials are on http://www.bowmanauthor.com Who Am I? Page. Also, there is an Editorial Services page with links to the company of which I am CEO. I’m finding that promoting my own fiction is the hardest nut to crack, but I run out of hours in the day and my clients, of course, come first. Glad to meet you through Robbie Cheadle and your contest. I will investigate further as I hope you will also do with me.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Nice to meet you, too. Which book of yours should I read first? I went to you author’s page. I see you do many co-authored books. I like humor, but as an editor, I read everything! Tempt me with your favorite…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That was the one I thought of too by looking at the reviews. It’s also one of your earlier books. I like to see how an author evolves. Editors are probably an odd audience, I guess. Writers are readers, and many readers are authors, but not all. Some people want to hide in the balm of prose and poetry and leave the work to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, we all hope that is the case. I remember when I ended my first book, I was so afraid there was only one book in me. Now, I have so many characters clamouring for attention, wanting to speak, I’m a little overwhelmed. lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We all have stories. Those of us who can express them in the right words are blessed. Ghostwriting is a skilled art. I love it, but it’s like living the life of one of my characters, but not necessarily of my design. I do memoirs under someone else’s name. When they end up selling, and sometimes they do, the “author” forgets about the ghostwriter sometimes, but not always. Those are the books that are a honor to write. I only do the ones I want to write, and that’s a good place in life to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should look into that. I’ve been asked so many times to ghost write for someone, and I have no idea how to go about it or what to charge.

      During a conference I was recently at, someone told me she ghost wrote for someone once, and said I could charge $10,000. I wasn’t so sure!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s about the starting price, yes. I charge a little less if the client lets me determine the turnaround time. It can be extremely time-consuming, and in order to sound like the author “in his/her voice” I do live interviews, even if sometimes I do them by Zoom or Skype. The toughest I’ve done was a transformational book. Took a year. So the money wasn’t all that great. The client has to approve everything. It’s okay when they get busy, but not vice-versa. But I managed to write a book of my own and edit two of three others while waiting for copy to be returned. We’re still on your comment section. If anyone reads this, they’ll think we’re both nuts!

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, so people are used to it. My blog can get that way too at times, especially on my Bio. Right now, I’ve just started a new blog. http://www.betteryourwellness.com I think I get involved in too many things, but I love everything I do! Creativity can be a blessing and a curse. Anyway, started your book last night, which is the only time I get to read what I want to read. If you want to discuss ghostwriting more, let me know. Humor and ghostwriting … that would be unique! Have a great day.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, you probably should. There was just a guest posting on Charli Mills’s blog, Carrot Ranch, on dialogue in a memoir.Lots of comments on biographies vs. memoirs vs. autobiographies, etc. I guess some authors use the term Memoirist in the U.K. and/or Australian. I’m editing British/Irish/Scottish/Australian/New Zealand English now as well as American. Different words, rules, and such funny phraseology, especially the Ausses.

    Liked by 1 person

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