Having just finished judging and critiquing entries for a conference contest, I noted some of the errors made by those who send their babies out into the cold cruel world. Here's a list for you to follow next time you enter something somewhere:
1. Did you format properly, or just throw it at the page and let it fall where it would? Proper formatting means a header, whatever is needed for the contest, on the top right with page number included. The first page should begin halfway down the page with a title. We had some entries that weren't titled. Set the margins at 1" clear around and use a 12 point font.
2. Did you spell check and make sure punctuation and grammar were done as properly as possible? While this is usually the last thing that matters in a contest, it could mean the difference between placing and getting tossed out cause your great story tied with another just as great and something had to break the tie.
3. Did you edit carefully to get rid of repetitive words and phrases? Such things as using was over and over, or as in every-other sentence can get you tossed out. Or in the bedroom, on the bed, above the bed, under the bed...on and on with bed. Fix them without turning your sentences into awkward attempts at saying what you want to say.
4. Did you fix those noun/verb sentence beginnings that stretch on, and change that noun (character's name) to a pronoun once you've established characters in a scene? She said, she talked, she went, she hit, she cried. It gets monotonous real fast. As for he and she, his and hers taking the place of the character's name, that should be a no brainer. Clean 'em up.
5. And my pet peeve. Did you stop saying she thought, he knew, she saw, he imagined, she decided? That's the author telling the reader something. The pov character should be the one who passes on information in his or her own words. Not she thought Mama ought to come to her senses and stop crying all the time. Rather: Mama ought to come to her senses and stop crying all the time. Why she thought? Dang, we're in her head, we know it's her thinking. Learn to write with a pov buried deep in your character's mind. Some say that's only possible with first person, but it's important in third person as well. Drag that reader into your character's mind and keep him/her there. And please don't italicize this type of thinking on the part of your character.
Clean up your entries, do that final edit you don't think it might need and you'll come out on top more and more often.