As we wrap up this week of Father’s Day essays, I thought I’d reflect on my experience as a judge vs. a contest entrant.
I have submitted entries to scads of writing competitions: short fiction, genre fiction, essays, first chapter of a novel, 3 sentence contests, 100 Words or Fewer* contest and even a contest to win a free on-line writing course (Which I won. On my second try…)
However, the essay writing contest I judged here was my first opportunity at wearing the hat of a “judge.” Both experiences are challenging and rewarding.
When entering a submission to a contest, I’ve learned a few things to help gain some control over how my piece will place.
First, I note the deadline. If I won’t have enough time to do my research on the contest and the writing and revision of an entry, I will most likely pass on the contest.
Second, I notice the entry fee. Free is always acceptable! : ) But, I’m not opposed to paying an entry fee under these circumstances: if the prize(s) justify the fee (fee is 10% or less of the first place prize); if I will receive a critique of my entry or a subscription to a writing newsletter or magazine at no additional cost.
Third, I reviewthe site, blog or publication hosting the contest. Is it reputable? Would I be proud to have my work published there? Would it fit my writer platform? In other words, I wouldn’t want my work to appear in a magazine or site that doesn’t produce the best (spell-checked and grammar-checked) writing.
Also, while reviewing the site, I read and study the previous winning entries. If the judge gave comments, I take those to heart, as well. Compare the winning entry with the guidelines and see how closely they were followed: the word count, the genre or topic, the pacing and flow of language and the overall take-away effect on the reader.
Last, but certainly not least, I will study the judge’s profile(their background, their blog and/or website) AND the contest guidelines. If the word count is 1,000 max, I stay under 1,000 words. If the instructions say No Attachments, I don’t send attachments, even as a back-up to the entry I typed in the body of an email. When the judge sees that electronic paperclip, they might not even open my email!
Which brings me to my role as contest judge. The basics of judging were easy. One entry I received was over 700 words, it was immediately disqualified. One entry was submitted as song lyrics. As original and fun as that was, it was not an essay, therefore, also disqualified.
Some entries were submitted with poor grammar or spelling. I’m sorry, but Microsoft Word can correct that with one click of a button. If English is your second language, be sure to have your piece reviewed by someone who speaks perfect English to point out any small errors in sentence structure or word choice.
The entries that made it past the basic review, were well written, but some missed the mark on the take-away feeling I was looking for. I wanted to know how your dad shaped the person you are today. Some pieces were beautiful and showed a great portrait of Dad, but didn’t tie back to a central theme, they just kind of petered off.
I admit it was difficult judging, knowing what writers put into their work and the pins and needles feeling while waiting for that announcement. You don’t know, as a judge, how your decision has affected those writers. It could have been their final straw at writing.
Though, I hope, those entering writing contests learn from their losses, gain confidence and endurance to trek a little longer on this path of creativity. And submit their work (and their hearts) again and again.
*P.S. Come back tomorrow for the link to the official announcement of the winners of the 100 Words or Fewer Writing Contest. I won First Place! : )