By Janie Reinart
What was your process for selecting winners?
Janie, I had no idea there would be such a tremendous response for the #50PreciousWords Contest. I thought that I’d get maybe a dozen or so entries. As the days went on, and the stories continued to stream in, I was thrilled.
I had listed several guidelines when I first posted the contest. So as each story came in, I made sure each entry followed those. Amazingly, everyone’s story was 50 words or less. I read each story – then I read it again out loud. If it made me smile, if it was unique, if it touched my heart…any of those things…I put a star next to it on the list I had made of all the entries.
If it was well-written with all the important elements of beginning, middle, and end, I put another star next to it. I thought that when all was said and done, I’d have a few stories that had stars. Nope! I had over 100 stories that had stars.
So then I read each story out loud four times…if I loved it more each time I read it, I put a big check next to the name. I thought I’d have just a few like that. Nope! I had fifty.
So then I asked my husband if he would listen to the stories…he is a published author, former elementary school teacher, and lover of books and reading. That helped me cut the list down to thirty.
And for the next four hours, I read and reread those thirty stories…looking for the ones that I would buy if they were at the bookstore. Looking for the ones I would grab from the library to read to my grandchildren. Looking for the ones I thought would appeal to kids the most because they were clever or sweet or unique or funny or inspiring.
Those were four of the most difficult hours of my life. Now I understand better how difficult it is for editors who fall in love with manuscripts, but can’t take them for one reason or another. Or how hard it is to be an agent and have to turn away a writer who writes really well, but whose work you don’t connect with as much as you feel you need to in order to represent them successfully.
I had always heard this was a subjective business. YES, IT IS! And being on the other side of the table was heartbreaking.
Did you use a rubric?
If by rubric you mean a weighted system of scoring…then no, I did not. I went with my gut, the overall feeling the story gave me. The problem is that each story was unique…some rhyme, some prose, some free verse. About totally different topics.
Stories, after all, are about how they engage the reader…a story that my sister raves about might be one that I hate. Just because a book sells a million copies, doesn’t mean it will appeal to me.
Over a hundred stories in the contest deserved a prize…but I had to whittle it down by what I felt constituted a great story. Which is probably different from how someone else feels.
Did you have helper elves to help make selections?
Ah…helper elves…now that would have been a GREAT idea! However, having expected maybe a dozen entries, I didn’t think I would need any help.
As I mentioned, my husband graciously stepped in to assist. When I do the contest again next year (YES< I will absolutely positively make this an annual event), I plan to enlist the help of a couple of critique buddies…one has already volunteered.
I think that will give me a sense of peace of mind that the responsibility is not all on me…it wasn’t the time that it took that I objected to. Anyone who knows me well, knows that for me, time spent reading stories is golden, and I could do it 24/7.
Because I thought I’d only have a dozen entries, I arranged for the winners to be announced the day after the deadline. Oops! I read and reread stories all night long till at least 3am. And of course, I had been reading them all along as they came in.
Next year, I will definitely give myself a couple of days between deadline and announcing the winners.
Do you have any tips for writers for next year’s contest?
I don’t know if the writers needed any tips. The stories were of such a high quality and I was blown away. WHOOSH! Seriously, the entries were wonderful. Many of the writers placed their entry on their own blog and shared the contest on social media channels.
And I’d love it if people would comment here on the GROG post, email me, or message me on Facebook and let me know how I could improve the 50 Precious Words Contest for next year.
I really appreciate this opportunity, Janie, to share. It was my first challenge to other writers…and I was honored by the enthusiastic response! No doubt about it…this is the BEST kidlit community ever!
It was my pleasure. Everyone give a round of applause for Vivian! Thank you for inviting us to have some fun.