As I have said before, this contest was terrific fun for me last year, not to mention a HUGE eye-opener. But if you're reading this, you probably don't need any more convincing. If you're thinking of entering this year (or already committed to it!), here are my humble suggestions for giving yourself the best possible chance at pink-soap glory.
1. Study the competition. This is almost a no-brainer, right? Who would submit a short story to a magazine without looking to see what they like to publish, or query an agent without checking out their current client list? And here's how you can bone up on Write Club.
First, go to the Write Club 2013 master-list, which has links to all the entries from last year (not to mention the greatest number of voters who'll be returning this year). From there, you can read in whatever fashion pleases you - but here are a couple of ideas.
--Make a note of the names of contestants who made it to the last few rounds
--Go back and look at how they did in their initial rounds, paying close attention to the comments.
--Open up each successive round in a new browser tab, and scan to find entries from your preferred genre. (You should be able to do a Ctrl-F for the word "genre" and see them right away)
--Read the entry first, and then its competitor. Do you feel it's a strong example of your genre? Why or why not? Get your own opinion, and then check out the comments.
REGARDLESS: Study up on those comments! Was it a close call, or a slam dunk? Do you agree with the majority vote? Were there any especially strong trends among the voters (a number of people commenting on the same issues, positive or negatively)? Notice the enormous variety in the style and quality of the critiques: you aren't going to please everyone, but you can learn a tremendous amount from reading critiques of other people's work - before you even enter!
2. Think about what other entries in your genre are likely to do, and how you will stand out from them.
This is good advice for submissions of ANY kind. What are the Golden Tropes of your genre - the things agents and editors have seen a million times already? More importantly, what are you doing in your 500 words to set yourself apart from your closest competitors? With that said, though -
3. Write for more than just 'shock value'.
- don't rely on explosions and murders and CGI special effects to carry your entry. Those things can be enormously effective, of course, but they are used VERY frequently, as we've all been trained to grab the reader by the throat on the first page OR ELSE. Remember, anyone can write "and then a dead body dropped out of the ceiling" - but making somebody care about a character in 500 words or less takes serious skill.
4. Start from the beginning.
At least for the first round. Write Club is the PERFECT place to test out that all-important first page: you've got literally dozens of fresh readers, none of whom know a thing about your story. Your goal is to make them want to read more, not wonder what they've already missed out on. (Fun fact: I used first pages from three different projects, while Philangelus used three different portions of the same story - and we both made it to the final round.)
5. Find a friend and polish, polish, polish!
First, because this contest is going to be a MILLION times more fun if you have a buddy you can angst and gossip with, high-school-style. ("Oh my God, first person present tense? Who does she think she is?") And secondly, getting multiple sets of eyeballs on your entry BEFORE you hand it in gives you the best possible chance of making a great impression in the contest itself. I read each of my entries aloud for my DFWWW posse beforehand - and I hardly have to tell you that those guys are the leanest, meanest, most vigorous literary rock-tumbler around. Rocks go in;
"But Tex!" I hear you cry. "I already turned in my entry!"
"Never fear, good citizen!" I will reply. "DL is accepting re-submissions until the contest deadline on the 31st. If you want him to delete your first entry, ask him nicely when you email him your revised version, and he will make it so. Now go - seek out others of your kind at #writeclub2014, and spread the good word far and wide: Write Club cometh!"
Yes, these are bruises from fighting. Yes, I'm comfortable with that. I am enlightened.