Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Peek Behind the Curtain



By Janie Reinart

Have you ever wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes of a kid lit contest?


Here's your chance. A recent post shared how the lovely Vivian Kirkfield came up with the idea for the 50 Precious Words contest. 


Now, you can peek behind the curtain and see how the winning entries were chosen.


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. 



 

38 comments:

  1. It was a fun contest and not intimidating since it was only 50 words, Vivian. I enjoyed blog-hopping, too. It was instructive to see what other folks' sites looked like.

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    1. Kathy it was such a great idea! Vivian knocked it out of the park!

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    2. I agree, Kathy...hopping around to see other blogs of people I didn't know was a great side benefit. It also gave me the opportunity to connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels. And thank you so much, Kathy...I loved Dancing on Daddy's Feet...it reminded me of when my husband and daughter went to their first Father/Daughter dance.

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  2. A fun contest, Vivian, and how nice your husband helped you! Thanks for the interview, ladies, and I look forward to your contest next year!

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    1. Tina, you are welcome. You could feel Vivian's angst. Love her husband being the helper-elf!

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    2. Yay...so glad you had fun with the contest and I'm happy you will participate again, Tina. Your Nancy Reagan story was so well done...I think that you need to turn that into a picture book. ;)I'll be looking for it in a future critique round. ;)

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  3. It was a great contest - and I'm glad we got this secret look behind the curtain. Vivian deserves a case of chocolates and a bottle of champagne and a few reader elves for next year. Imagine: having to "outsource" reading 50 word stories!

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    1. Ooooh...chocolate! Now that would have given me more energy. ;)I'll definitely put it on my list of necessary supplies for next year's contest. :)

      I really appreciated everyone's participation and support...your Rainy Day story was wonderful...I can see another pb in the making, Sue. ;)

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    2. Sue that sounds so funny about outsourcing. But elves need work too! lol Yes to the chocolate and champagne!

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  4. I realized anew how wordy I am, and how I haven't quite figured out a good story arc. But, it was a great exercise and looking at the winners showed me what a top tier entry looks like. I will be ready for next year. I don't know if you can improve on it, or not, but the only thing I can think of is giving a general theme. Don't know if that would be a good thing, or too limiting.

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    1. HI Sherri, It does make you think of the bare bones of a story! Loved reading the entries too!

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    2. Sherri...your Cat and Dog Letters was definitely not too wordy...so you did a great job with that! I'm so glad you felt the contest was a good writing exercise and that there was benefit from studying the winning entries...although as I mentioned in the interview, this is so subjective...I think another judge might have chosen differently.
      Giving a general theme? Hmmm..that is something to think about...thank you so much, Sherri, for the suggestion!

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  6. Thanks for the insight into your process, Vivian! I unfortunately didn't have a story this year but am looking forward to next years contest!!!! :)

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    1. Donna, Glad you are getting a story ready for next year.

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    2. I'm excited that everyone is excited to participate next year, Donna...I can't wait to read your story. ;)

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  7. GUT! We can look at stories from all sides, why they resonate, what technique or elements make them shine, but all that said and done, the stories we write and love have some element of "je ne sais quoi" as we say back home, I don't know what it is, but it just is quality. It may be flawed, but it gives me all the feels. Fun contest Vivian!

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    1. Hi Keila, I agree it is a gut feeling and something that won't go away til you write it down!

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    2. Yup...you said it perfectly, Keila. And I'm so glad you enjoyed the contest.

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  8. I really enjoyed the contest. It was the first time I've ever submitted writing so I was very nervous, but the feedback I got from Vivian was very positive. I feel a little more confident now. Can't wait for next year ;)

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    1. Angie, Vivian is the best with giving feedback and support.

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    2. Oh my goodness...you see...THAT'S why this contest made me so happy...because some of the people were submitting something for the FIRST TIME! What an honor for me! And I do thank you so much, Angie, for trusting in the process. Was your entry 'Baby Boo'? I scrolled to find an Angie...but found an Angelique...is that you? I am so so so glad you entered...and I'm excited to see what you write for next year's contest!

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  9. It was such a fun contest Vivian, and I feel even MORE honored to have been on the list of winners after reading your process! You are a true encouragement to the writing community. And if you need a helper elf next year - I'd be more than honored to be a reader. :)

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    1. Happy that you enjoyed the contest, Jess...and I appreciate the offer of help...I'll have to write this down so I can hold you to it nest year. ;) ;)
      And I loved Bear's First Spring...it was so tender and it touched my heart.

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    2. Thank you Vivian- I'm working on expanding it (just a little). And yes, hunt me down next year - happy to help!

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  10. Clapping hands for the two of you for this great interview :) It's always fun to peek through the curtains! Vivian, you are a gracious lady and I appreciate the hard work you put into the contest. It is always fun to exercise the brain and see what rolls out of it ;) I'm looking forward to next year's event! Thank you ladies.

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    1. Charlotte...I loved what rolled out of yours...Bunny and Worm was a really special story for me...I think friendship stories are so important for young kids. And who-hoo that you are looking forward to next year's contest!

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  11. What a mighty effort, Vivian! Reading until 3am to keep your promise to announce winners only a day after. Wonderful that you are planning to do it next year (with helper elves). Thanks Janie for this post, peeking behind curtains is always exciting, and great to find another fabulous blog!

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    1. Thank you so much, Nadine...for the lovely comment as well as your wonderful story, A Really Really Really Short Story. The level of enthusiasm and joy for the contest makes me sure I want to do it again. ;)

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  12. Nadine, you are welcome. Vivian always puts in a mighty effort. Hats off to Vivian.

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  13. Hats off to you, Janie, for a fabulous interview and the opportunity to guest on GROG blog again. Thank you so much for inviting me. ;)

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    1. Vivian it's always a delight to be with you. Thanks for all the fun!

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  14. Vivian, This was an exciting NEW contest & I played around with it but didn't like any of my little ditties. It was fun to see the results. BRAVA! to you & to the winners. But we were all winners for using it as prompts & becoming connected. If I do think of any eyedears for the 2016 version, I will let you know.
    Appreciations, Janie, Appreciations, Vivian.

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  15. A wonderful idea for a contest, Vivian -- I wish I had given it a shot, but just couldn't squeeze it in this year. Congratulations to all of you clever people who joined in the fun!

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    1. Patricia hope you can join in the fun next year!

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