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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Unpublished Contests and Thank You Notes

I was thinking about contests yesterday (the kind for writers) and realized that I preferred to judge the Golden Heart more than the Rita. Part of it is because there isn't as much reading to do. It takes a lot less time to read 55 pages than it takes to read an entire book. But the biggest reason is how exciting it is to read an unpublished writer who leaves you wishing you could read the entire book. I've had this happen to me several times in my years as a judge and I buzz with enthusiasm for days afterward.

I don't judge as many contests as I used to, I can't because it takes too much time and I don't have much to spare. I've only judged one chapter contest in 2006, and BTW, didn't receive a single thank you note from any of my entries. See My Post about how important it is to send thank you notes to your contest judges.

One of the reasons I list in this post is that published judges appreciate the thank you notes--I haven't heard one that said she didn't care. But I'll tell you another reason, one I don't believe I ever posted here before.

I judged a bunch of contests in 2005, and in one of them, I read an entry I thought was fabulous. I also happened to read it right before RWA National, and when I had dinner with my editor and we started talking, I brought it up. I know we're not supposed to talk about these things, and I normally don't, but I thought my editor would really like the story, and from my description, she did. She wanted to request a partial. When I got home, I sent her the name of the entry and the contest coordinator's email. I found out later, when I asked my editor about this, that the contest coordinator not only wouldn't give my editor the entrant's name, but apparently wouldn't pass a message along to the entrant either. The entry didn't final in this contest, so I couldn't get her name that way, and if the writer sent me a thank you note, she didn't mention the title of her story so I had no way to know if I heard from her or not. If she'd sent a thank you and mentioned the title of her entry, I would have passed the info along to my editor.

So lesson one: Send a thank you note. I spend hours judging every entry, you can spend 3 minutes to write me a note. Lesson two: Mention the name of your entry and the contest. That year I'd happened to judge two or three contests around the same time and all in the same state, so the postmarks didn't give me a clue.

Just think, if this writer had sent a thank you note with the title of her entry and I passed her name on to my editor what might have happened. At the very least, she (or he) lost a great opportunity.