MiriamThis year we are having three manuscript contests: Poetry, Fiction, and Non-Fiction. Contestants must be registered for the 2015 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference to enter. You can find all the rules for the annual manuscript contest on our contests page. We’re also launching a short “Spring Wakeup” pre-conference contest. More on that after the break!

Our registration site opens in two weeks and to get us all primed and pumped, we’re hosting a “Spring Wakeup” contest, open to everyone! Submit whatever comes to mind, poetry, non-fiction, or fiction. Just keep it under 1,000 words (or 40 lines for poetry). Winner gets 50% off the basic cost of the 2015 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. Submissions can be made between March 1st and March 24th and we’ll announce the winner on our website and Facebook page on April 7th.  Just go to our submittable site to read rules and how to submit.

So what does it take to win a PWC contest? I asked three past judges to give their advice on what they look for in judging our contests. Here is what they offered:

Marilyn Roberts says, “I look for the choice of words used and an interesting way of expressing things. I want to see the characters changing and growing. I like the writer to make the ordinary extraordinary. You could write about a run-of-the-mill topic, but I want to see it written in a way I never thought of. I look for a different twist. I want to hear the writer’s voice and see how it stands out in the manuscript.”

Maria Fama advises, “When judging the poetry contest, I look for freshness and originality in word choice and imagery whether in form or free verse. I look for a style that is distinct in its voice.”

Catherine DePino states, “The three most important elements in judging fiction are plot, theme, and characterization. The scenes that comprise the plot must always move the story forward. The storyline should engage the reader to the extent that she doesn’t want to put the book down. I look for a satisfying story ending.

 “In addition to the above for non-fiction, I’d ask myself if this story is important enough to tell. What makes it stand out? Is the takeaway powerful and profound?

“In poetry, I’d consider the elements of a formal poetry explication as a basis for evaluating poetry. I’d view the work holistically to see how all the elements came together to create a poem that resonates with the readers. Here are a few elements of a formal explication that work together to create a great poem. Is the tone serious, humorous, ironic, upbeat, sad? Who is speaking and what is the speaker’s point of view? How does the rhyme scheme contribute to the poem’s meaning? If the rhythm is in sync, along with all the other poetic elements, it adds sounds that appeal to readers and enhances the meaning of the poem.”

As a board member, I’m not permitted to enter or to judge the PWC manuscript contests. However, I had an opportunity years ago of being one of the screeners for the Jesse H. Neal Awards sponsored by the Association of Business Publishers. At that time I was an editor at North American Publishing Company, located in Philadelphia.

The screening was done in a large meeting room in a New York City hotel. The screeners sat at long tables. I can vividly envision the piles of entries in front of us. Our goal was to be finished in no more than five hours, so you can imagine how many submissions we each had to read. The first order of business was to see that guidelines were met, and if they weren’t the work was disqualified. I hated to do it, but I had to disqualify several submissions.

That’s the first order of business for the PWC manuscript contests. I can’t say it enough: follow the guidelines.

There you have it, some expert advice to turn your manuscript into a winning one. I hope this year’s judges have lots of manuscripts to go through. I’d like to encourage you to enter our contests. It’s free with your registration fee. You get credibility with your writing credentials, and it’s nice to be recognized by your peers. As the awards are presented at our Saturday evening Banquet, I will again applaud and be happy for the winners.

Maybe this time, it will be you!


Miriam S. Shnycer has been a PWC board member since 1990. She is the author of the non-fiction book, The Shadows of Death, A Story of Young Holocaust Survivors and is a freelance writer specializing in speeches, profiles, editing and newsletters. While in the employ of a Philadelphia publishing company, Miriam was the editor of three trade magazines. She has authored numerous articles published in magazines and newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer op ed page. She is a Life member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the journalism honor society.