Since 1994 when I entered my first writers’ contest (Golden Heart), I’ve seen a lot of changes. I can’t say they’re all good or all bad. Probably half and half. Believe it or not, but in the Golden Heart you use to receive judges' comments. I understand now with 1200 entries we would have a hard time finding that many willing judges to write the detail comments I had gotten in the past.
Nowadays, I understand so much more about writers’ contests, as not only have I've entered a good number of them but I’ve also been judge and contest coordinator. So I’ve seen every aspect of contests including finalist and finally WINNER! HeeHee, still riding cloud nine with that one.
For the last two years, I’ve heard chapters complain about lower entry numbers. Some of it is due to the large number of contests to choose from, yet I can’t help but wonder how many people decide not to enter a contest because past bad experiences or/and costs. So far in the last seven contests I’ve entered, I’ve had some negative experiences. One contest sent me my entry back with only one score sheet. The other judge (or someone) wrote the scores directly onto my second entry. No comments. Nothing. Just the numbers in a straight line. Hopefully in the same order as the other score sheet. Who knows?
Another contest held my non-finaled entry for a month after the winners were announced. Did you know that a stamped, flat-rate envelope (which is what I use) can be placed in a private mail box or you can set up a time and date with the post office to pick up at your house or business? After I emailed the coordinator the second time and she finally answered over a week later, she claimed she just hadn’t found time to get to a post office with her small child. I have no idea why her child wouldn’t let her go, but hey I took my kids everywhere with me. So who knows?
Then you have contests that are never announced on ChapLink or any other contest loops. They finally show up on their website a month or more after other people say they were finalists/winners.
Hey, I understand how contests can be a pain to coordinate. Last year we had a judge to take the entries and never returned them or return my emails or phone message. I even contacted the president of her chapter (the judge could’ve been in the hospital or dead – heaven forbid). She couldn’t get a hold of her either. Just think how easy it would’ve been for her to place the non-judged entries into the return envelope. That would’ve made more sense. Who in the heck knows?
Or how about the final judge that forgets to place the finalists? Or the first round judge that decides to call heroes morons?
To me and hopefully everyone else, the main thing to judge in a contest is the story. Is it something a reader would want to buy? Maybe the story isn’t my favorite kind (pirates bore me) or something I like to write (vampires are so sexy), but does it read smoothly? Can you see the action in your mind’s eye? Does the story make you wish to read more? Formatting and what size the print should not be as important as the story. I understand if the print was tiny or in red that would turn off an editor, but my goodness folks, it’s the story that counts.
With all of that said, I believe our contest has it right. The score sheet emphasizes the importance of story. The price is right at $25 for snail mail entry. And we have a wonderful name for the contest, The Linda Howard Award of Excellence. I do know all of that has a lot to do with how successful our contest has been for three years now. And with the caring and wonderful coordinators and judges we have this year, it will continue to have the good reputation it has.
So here’s your chance to complain or compliment other contests. No need to say contest names. I’m sure many are trying to improve themselves.