Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards: Behind the Scenes of a Writing Competition with Crime Judge Jeffrey Marks

Author:
Publish date:

Today, as part of our Behind the Scenes of a Writing Competition series, Crime judge Jeffrey Marks provides tips and techniques for a standout submission.

Meet the Judge:

Jeffrey Marks is a long-time mystery fan and freelancer. After numerous mystery author profiles, he chose to chronicle the short but full life of mystery writer Craig Rice.

That biography (Who Was That Lady?) encouraged him to write mystery fiction. His works include Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s, and a biography of mystery author and critic Anthony Boucher entitled Anthony Boucher. It has been nominated for an Agatha and fittingly, won an Anthony. He is currently completing a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner.

His work has been nominated for a Maxwell award (DWAA), an Edgar (MWA), three Agathas (Malice Domestic), two Macavity awards, and three Anthony awards (Bouchercon).

What are you looking for in a submission?

I look for a great opening that has me hooked from the first paragraph along with a fresh plot and memorable characters. When I’m reading for the contest, I want twists and turns in the happenings. I like to be surprised.

What, in your opinion, makes a submission stand out?

Memorable characters and unique settings. You only have so many words to let the reader know what the character is about, and I love to see a character who is deftly drawn in a few sentences.

Settings are a bit different, but I am partial to settings that are new to me. Crime may take place at home, but the characters’ careers and hobbies can take them to locales that the reader has never encountered.

What are some common mistakes entrants can avoid, either in terms of formatting or storytelling?

Three things that I see a lot of are:

  • plots where one spouse kills the other and the end twist reveals how the killer will be found out.
  • perspective jumping, where we see into everyone’s head throughout the story. It’s hard to keep track of who is thinking.
  • taking the easy path in the plot. It’s so much easier to take the path that everyone travels in a story. Murder the nice character and let the mean guy live.

What do you think is unique about the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards? Why do you believe writers should submit?

It has some of the most thoughtful and professional stories I’ve seen in a contest. There’s such a wide span on what can fall into the crime category that each story is like opening a present. Crime fiction is a very big umbrella.

ENTER THE WRITER'S DIGEST POPULAR FICTION AWARDS NOW!

wd-popfiction-icon - Copy - Copy

The deadline for the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards is September 15! For more information and how to submit, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/writers-digest-competitions/popular-fiction-awards.

Chelsea Henshey is an associate editor for Writer’s Digest Books. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaLHenshey

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

In this article, middle-grade author Rajani LaRocca discusses how the synopsis for her newest release, Much Ado About Baseball, guided her writing process.

From Script

Adding Your Personal Connection to Your Stories and Building Your Brand As a Writer (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, Script’s Editor Sadie Dean interviews Dickinson creator/showrunner/EP Alena Smith, learn how to divide and conquer as screenwriter in the business and creating fruitful relationships. Plus, a brand new Script Talk video interview with writer/director/actress Djaka Souaré about her journey as a mentor and mentee in the WOCUnite and #StartWith8Hollywood mentorship programs.

Poetic Forms

Englyn Penfyr: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the englyn penfyr, a Welsh tercet form.

Editorial Road-Mapping: Start Your Self-Editing Process Here

Editorial Road-Mapping: Start Your Self-Editing Process Here

Editorial road-mapping begins with a challenge of willpower and ends with a battle-plan for transforming your manuscript into the book you dreamed it could be. Let editor Kris Spisak give you that map!

6 Tips for Writing a Summer Romance Novel

6 Tips for Writing a Summer Romance Novel

Summer. Three whole months of bright sunsets and glittering water and endless possibility. Here are 6 tips from romance writer Rachael Lippincott for capturing a tiny bit of that magic in the pages of your next summer romance novel.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Running Empty

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Running Empty

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, consider what happens when resources begin to run low or out.

5 Tips for Creating a Fully Realized Historical Setting

5 Tips for Creating a Fully Realized Historical Setting

Research is more than just reading books and articles. Here, author Nekesa Afia gives her top 5 tips for writing a historical setting that will engage and wow your readers.

Don Bentley: On Being Picked to Write a Book in a Famous Series

Don Bentley: On Being Picked to Write a Book in a Famous Series

Thriller author Don Bentley discusses how he was selected to write Target Acquired, the latest Tom Clancy novel.

How to Write a Biography of a World Leader

How to Write a Biography of a World Leader

When writing a biography, you want to make sure that the story you tell is more than just a list of facts about the person's life. Biographer Supriya Vani shares her top tips for writing a successful biography.