The submission process for a novel writing competition is somewhat like submitting to an agent or publisher. This can be good practice, and I've found I add a layer of polishing and editing that perhaps in the whole manuscript, didn't seem to need it.
I had some really helpful advice about competitions from a previous tutor and have used it to some benefit (runner up for the Mslexia novel competition anyway):
- Treat the submission as a piece in its own right. It doesn't strictly have to be the first 5000 words (but don't exceed the word count) but could be edited to get a bit more story in. If it says 'first chapter or 5000 words, whichever is the shorter' and you have really short chapters, consider amalgamating scenes into bigger chapters. You will be at a disadvantage if you put in 800 words, say. This is your showcase.
- End your submission on a plot point that makes the reader want to read on.
- If your first scenes are slow, consider starting your novel at a point of huge tension and excitement (maybe do that anyway).
- Check and double check the exact rules. If they want a synopsis of the whole book, provide it. If they want 10,000 double spaced words, don't exceed the specifications. Be especially careful about whether or not they want/allow your name on the entry.
- Make sure you have written the whole book, if you might be asked to submit it. Some competitions are just for the first chapter.
- Spend plenty of time on the synopsis - it won't win by itself but it might help judges choose between finalists.
- Submit it with time to spare - it's heartbreaking to miss the deadline!