Have you recovered yet from yesterday’s magnum opus on contest entry formatting, campers? Take a deep breath, because I have an addendum to it, based upon information newly come to light: remember how I told you yesterday that you should go over EVERY syllable of contest entry literature with a magnifying glass, bloodhound, and possibly a psychic, to make sure that you are aware of every tiny little rule that might be lurking in the small print?
Well, I was indulging in a little light-hearted romping through the Contest-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s (you know, the one with the deadline next week) rules a bit ago, and what should my aged eyes fall upon almost instantly in the formatting guidelines: Have the title of the submission and page numbers located in the upper right hand corner of each page.
Other than the grammatical problem with that sentence, do you see any problems it might raise, in light of what we discussed yesterday? Why, the slug line for this contest is on the opposite side of the page!
Specifying an odd location for the slug line may not seem as though it would change the entry much, but actually, it would be one of the easiest rule violations possible to spot, other than using the wrong typeface or not indenting paragraphs. Take another look at our example from yesterday:
Now, that page would make pretty much any Millicent in the land happy, in terms of formatting, right? The asterisk line is a bit old-fashioned (translation: Millicent’s boss is going to make you take it out if she signs you), but still, it’s basically in standard format otherwise.
But see how different the same page looks with the slug line as the Contest-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s rules direct:
Don’t need the aforementioned bloodhound or magnifying glass to spot THAT difference, do you?
The moral of the story is — let’s all shout it together, shall we? — always, always, ALWAYS go over the contest rules more than once and follow them to the letter. Don’t assume that you know what they say after only a cursory glance, and for heaven’s sake, don’t blindly follow the advice of any given yahoo with a website who happens to give advice to writers.
Including yours truly. Heck, I WON that contest once, and I still didn’t recall that was in the rules.
Okay, on to today’s main focus: the title page for your contest entry.
Already, I hear dissension in the ranks. “But Anne,” I hear those of you who have been poring over contest rules for the last two weeks cry, “the contest I’m entering doesn’t ASK for a title page. I’m afraid of breaking the rules — do I really need to add one?”
I understand your fear, oh cringing pre-entrants, but in my opinion, yes, you do need one, for precisely the same reason that a professional writer ALWAYS includes a title page with ANY book-length manuscript or excerpt therefrom she plans to submit to an agent or editor. It’s just the way the pros do things.
Not to mention that a title page in standard format is stuffed to the proverbial gills with all kinds of information that’s highly useful to folks in the industry. Lookee:
See? A great many of the basic facts an agent would need to know to acquire and sell a book are right there at her fingertips: what kind of book it is, how long it is, the title, the author — and, most importantly from our point of view, how to get ahold of that gifted author in order to proffer a representation contract. (For more of the hows and whys of a standard format title page, please see the YOUR TITLE PAGE category in the list at right.)
For a contest, however, these are not the relevant facts the reader needs to know — in fact, the mention of a couple of ‘em might well get you disqualified. But almost without exception, contest rules will specify that an entrant must provide certain additional information — and the logical place to do that is on a title page.
Let’s take, for instance, a certain contest that may or may not have a deadline next week. Its rules demand that, in addition to filling out an entry form, the entrant shall indicate other information as follows:
*The Contest Category name and number (e.g. Category 3: Romance Genre) must be printed on the first page of the submission and on the mailing envelope.
*All pages of the submission (chapters and synopsis) must have the title of the manuscript.
*Do not type your name on any page of the submission. It should appear only on your registration form and return envelope.
And, from elsewhere in the rules, our old friend:
*Have the title of the submission and page numbers located in the upper right hand corner of each page.
We dealt with quite a few of these criteria yesterday and earlier today, right? Even though the rules do not invoke the magical words slug line, we’ve all had enough experience now with manuscripts to know that is what they’re talking about, right? So no worries here.
Except for that pesky requirement to name the category. Sure, it SAYS to place it on the first page of the submission, but does that mean on a title page or on the first page of text?
Most contest entrants go for the latter. Technically, there is nothing wrong with this — except for the fact that including information other than the chapter name and number on the first page of text makes it look to anyone familiar with standard manuscript format as though the writer just doesn’t know the difference between short story format, which looks like this:
And the proper format for the first page of a book-length manuscript, which looks like this:
I ask you once again: do you require either a magnifying glass or a bloodhound, or even a psychic, to ferret out the difference between those two pages? Certainly not.
So while you COULD comply with the rules by shoving the title, category, and genre onto the first page of text, it’s not going to look very market-ready to trained eyes. And we all know by now how your garden-variety contest judge feels about marketability, don’t we?
Before you stress out too much about this seeming Catch-22, your fairy godmother is here to make it all better, with a simple, elegant solution that will both satisfy the rule-huggers AND make your entry look spotlessly professional.
You guessed it, by adding a title page.
Don’t worry about its adding length to your entry: as I mentioned in passing yesterday, in neither contests nor manuscripts are title pages either numbered or counted in page counts.
What might it look like, you ask? Well, obviously, it would vary slightly from contest to contest, depending upon what the rules called upon the writer to provide, but were our pal Edith entering the Contest-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named next week, I might advise her entry title page to look a little something like this:
Admittedly, there have been more exciting title pages in the history of the world, but this one offends no one, adheres to the contest’s stated guidelines, and gives the necessary information. Everyone wins.
Note, too, that just like a title page in standard format, the contest entry title page is in the same font and typeface as the rest of the manuscript. Resist the temptation to add bells and whistles such as boldfacing, larger type, or (heaven preserve us) designs. This is not the place to show your creativity: it’s the place to show your professionalism.
Show your creativity in the text you submit.
Resist, too, the astonishingly common impulse to include an epigraph of any sort on either the title page or the first page of your entry. You know what I’m talking about, right? Those little quotations and/or excerpts of poetry that authors so love to tack on to the front of their work, presumably to demonstrate that they are well-read, the source of their inspiration for the book to follow, or a subtle announcement that this work is ready to join the community of well-loved published writing.
I have to admit, I like ‘em, too, but do you know what they start to look like to professional readers after only a year or two of seeing them emblazoned on title pages, first pages, or pages of their own in manuscripts? Like little picket signs reading, I’m just as good as the writer I’m quoting — take my word for it.
To which the professional reader is likely to respond, after being confronted with the 1500th manuscript this year similarly picketed, “Oh, yeah? You’ve just raised the bar to prove it, baby.”
Just don’t do it in a contest entry, no matter how integral to the plot that opening poem may be, even if you wrote it yourself. Even if one of the CHARACTERS wrote it. The judges show to assess YOUR writing, not those of the people you like to quote.
More on contest entry formatting follows next time. I know that it’s not the most thrilling topic on the face of the earth for readers who are not planning on entering a contest anytime soon, but for those who are, I wanted to make sure it was here as a resource.
Keep up the good work!
(PS: today’s photo, minus my embellishments, appears courtesy of FreeFoto.com.)