Monday, 24 June 2013

Rules are rules!

In the writing world there are times when it is acceptable to break the rules. There may be times when it is appropriate for your story to have characters beginning with the same letter, or for you to start a sentence with And. The reason that breaking these rules can be acceptable is because they’re not rules, merely guidelines. I think it is acceptable to break these guidelines as long as you understand the consequences of breaking them. There are, though, some writing rules, not guidelines, which should not be broken: rules for entering a writing competition.

I’m part of the administration process of a short story competition being run by the writers’ group I go to. We’re inviting short story entries of up to 1200 words. That’s the rule. Up to 1200 words. So stories that are shorter than 1200 words are acceptable, but those longer are not.

There’s also another rule that clearly tells entrants that submissions that break these rules will be disqualified and entry fees will not be returned.

Well, over the weekend, two submissions came in that were more than 1500 words long. They’ve broken the word count rule by more than 300 words! They’ve been disqualified because they break the rules, and out of fairness to those writers who taken the effort to abide by the rules.

Profits from our competition are being donated to a charity, this year, so if nothing else, at leas the entrants are doing something worthy by paying an entry fee which will be passed onto the charity. But by breaking the rules they’re missing out on an opportunity to have their worked judged … and potentially win some money themselves.

Breaking the rules can make life more difficult for the competition organisers. There’s another rule in our competition that states that entries cannot be entered into any other competition at the same time that it is entered into our competition. I know some writers don’t like this ‘exclusivity’ rule, but, at the end of the day, it is our competition and you don’t have to enter our competition if you don’t like that rule. Once our competition is over and the results announced, entrants are free to submit their entry into other competitions.

You might think that if you broke this rule the competition organisers wouldn’t know about it. Not so. A month after we’d declared our winners, one year, another competition announced their winners. One of their highly commended entries happened to be our first prize winner that year. Some simple investigation proved that both competitions had been running at the same time, so whilst the entrant hadn’t broken the rules of the other competition, he had broken our rules. When we brought this to the entrant’s attention he acknowledged his error and repaid his prize money. This then meant we had to ‘upgrade’ our second prize winner to first, our third to second, and the judges then had to get together again to determine who out of the highly commendeds was now worthy of third place. Again, this process had to be undertaken out of fairness to the entrants who had followed the rules.

So, here’s one writing rule you should never break: always abide by a writing competition’s rules!

Good luck. 


  1. I cannot imagine the crippling embarrassment of being asked to repay prize money!

    Competition rules can vary so wildly that it really does pay to check them to the Nth degree before entering.

    I admit one time I was wondering why a particular story had not even made the longlist of a smallish competition. On looking through my cheque book I realised I had forgotten to include the entry fee with my story! What a noggin!

    1. It is so easy to do, isn't it? One of the best things I've seen an entrant do is put a tick next to each rule. It demonstrated that they'd read every rule before sending off their submission.

  2. I accidently went over the word limit by 1000 words once. The max was 3000 words, and I sent a 4000 word story. I had just got it into my head the limit was 4000 words. Amazing how stupid an otherwise intelligent woman can be at times!

    1. It is easily done. Even today, I've just had to print out yet another copy of a story I'm entering into a competition. I was just about to seal it in the envelope when I read the rules (again) and noticed that they stipulated pages had to be numbered in the top right. (My page numbers were in the bottom.) Now, as rules goes does it really matter where a page is numbered - but that's not the point - my entry didn't meet the rules so I printed out another copy to rectify this.

  3. Good post Simon. No matter how similar you think competitions are it is essential to read the terms/rules for each one. I often jot them down as well to be sure I've understood them.
    I've recently been a reader for a short story competition and quite amazed that someone submitted a ten page poem when the rules clearly stated it was a short story comp. Seems a sad way to waste money...

    1. Yes, the rules do vary. I seen one today that says that entries cannot have won previous competitions, but there is nothing to prevent you from submitting it to another competition at the same time. So you can't assume that rules are the same for all writing competitions.