Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thank you, thank you very much . . .

With the Thanksgiving holiday in our rearview mirror, we've recently been reminded of the importance of a grateful heart. Which brings me to a blessing for which I am very thankful-- contest judges who have contributed to making me a better writer!

Have you ever REALLY thought about the judges who review your entry? Considered that maybe they, like you, would rather be writing? Or reading? Or spending time with their families? I don't think it would be off-the-mark to say that many judges spend 2-4 hours on a single entry, then pray the writer will take their comments in the constructive spirit they were intended.

But you know, oftentimes they never receive an acknowledgement of any kind. Not unless a thin-skinned writer takes exception to a comment or score and fires off a vitriolic e-mail to the contest coordinator, demanding that the judge be tarred and feathered for not falling in love with their "baby." In fact, I've even heard some very positive, exceedingly helpful and knowledgeable judges say they've never received a single thank you note in all the years they've judged contests. That's sad.

I don't think it's important whether or not you compose a hand-written message on a pretty note card or if you type it up on professional letterhead. As they always say, it's the thought that counts.

While my thank you notes won't win any composition awards, I make a point of sending them to both the coordinator who labored over the contest details and the judges. If a judge didn't provide his/her name on the score sheet, write their number in the lower left corner on an envelope, stamp it, and send it off in another envelope to the Coordinator. They'll write in the judge's name and address and forward your thank you. For e-contests, check with the Coordinator to see if they're willing to forward e-thank you's to the judges.

And you know what? Sometimes you get the neatest surprise in return! My e-mail address is on my letterhead, and I've had a number of occasions where I've received e-mails from judges--thanking ME for thanking THEM! I've subsequently corresponded with both published and unpublished writers who've asked to be kept "in the loop" on my road to publication.

So what contributes to a good thank you note?

Put your note in context. Mention the name of the contest, the category, and entry title. Jog the judge's memory ("a bookish writer and the adventurous man of her dreams set out to rescue her kidnapped sister").

Show appreciation that this judge volunteered to take on a time-consuming, often thankless commitment. They don't get paid. They usually had their arm twisted by a contest coordinator-friend desperate for judges.

Keep the tone and content positive. Even if you feel the judge trashed your entry, this is not the time or place to argue a disputed point. Be gracious. Be forgiving. Don't mention that you don't agree with the scores or comments, sobbed yourself to sleep, and are traumatized for the remainder of your life. If everyone liked the same book and that's all that was available, we'd be in trouble both as writers and readers.

Personalize the note. If they liked your story, thank them for specific comments/scores ("I'm so happy you loved the hero and heroine.") If they didn't like it, it's up to you to put a positive spin on it. ("Thank you for the 3 score in dialogue. I've been working hard on that and hope to be scoring 4's and 5's soon. Your input will help me achieve that.") If you've made changes to the manuscript based on a judge's input, let them know. Give extra thanks when a judge provides comments on the score sheet or the manuscript itself. That took additional time and effort.

So with Thanksgiving fresh in our minds, I'm encouraging ALL of us who are contest entrants to remember our thank you's. Yes, even to the judge who didn't "get it" and warned us not to quit our day job!


Sandra Leesmith said...

Glynna what a great reminder to thank all of the contest judges and coordinators. I have been at that end and it means so much to know all the hard work was appreciated. And you're right. Most people don't bother to thank the judges.

And it is hard work. Think about it. Someone has taken precious time to read through several proposals. Often times they spend time making helpful comments. I am thankful for all of them. Thanks Glynna for reminding me to be thankful.

Julie Lessman said...

Ouch, Glynna, you nailed my butt on this one! I am guilty of seldom writing thank-you notes to judges, which is odd because I am a freak about sending them on everything else. But you are absolutely right, and I regret not sending them. Oh, I did in the beginning, but then I entered sooo many contests at once that the entries just overwhelmed me, so I let it go. Thank you for reminding me just how important it is.

Tina M. Russo said...

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooh, she got me. I forgot to send my Tome judges thank you notes. I'm on it, I'm on it.

You are so right, Glynna.

Thanks for the reminder.

Mary Connealy said...

I tried to send thank you note, I think. No doubt there were times when there was no thankful place in my heart from which to create a note. :)
I do remember a few 'notes' from contestants. I usually put my name on judge's sheets...not always. But if someone wrote something I really enjoyed but critiqued quite a bit, I'll often put my email address on the pages somewhere and tell them to email me and we'll talk more.
One contestant wrote to me and told me one pov per scene was 'old school'.
Honestly, the writing world changes fast, did I miss that? I actually think I DIDN'T. I think the author was about ten years behind the times, but anyway, not all that thankful, y'know.
I've also gotten thank you notes that led to real friendships so they're worth the time.

Pam Hillman said...

I’m the world’s worst thank-you-note sender. Oh, I have done it, but not as consistently as I should have. Then, when I get nailed like this by Glynna, I wonder has it been too long to ‘fess up now. If it’s been over two or three months, it’s probably best to not to backtrack huh?

“a bookish writer and the adventurous man of her dreams set out to rescue her kidnapped sister"

This is SO important. Several times I’ve received thank you notes that only mentioned the title, and while I recognized the title, I couldn’t exactly remember where I’d judged it, or what the story was about.

Besides, Glynna, the above setup sounds intriguing. Is it one of yours? lol

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Glynna, what a great reminder. Like Julie, I was good about it initially and then grew more matter-of-fact as time went on.

I think a lot of that is because I judge so many contests now and (as a judge) I really don't care if someone sends me a thank-you or not. I think I'd rather have them polish those chapters, work those ideas through until the end, feed their kids supper and be nice to their husbands.


Feed their kids and fix the manuscript at any rate!

I know what I put into judging, and I know even the most well-intentioned advice isn't always well-received, and I'm okay with that 'cause I've been on both ends. So while I love thank-yous when I get them, I don't think a lot about them.

I might be odd.

Scratch that: I am odd.

We know that. And I know that when I judge I'm simply offering one well-meaning, self-righteous, my-way-or-the-highway woman's bit of advice to some wonderful hopeful who might not care that I couldn't find their plot, hated their heroine and couldn't for the life of me figure out why the hero even made the pages of the book...

Okay, slightly exaggerated, but I'm okay with (in Mary's words) people not necessarily feeling too thankful at that moment!

But if it toughens them for what comes next, hardens 'em up a bit, strengthens their goals and straightens their shoulders, I've done my job.

And every now and again someone lets me know that my tough-gal persona helped them along the path.

And that's thanks enough.

Ruthy (Who is very, very grateful to the obviously very smart and talented judges of both the Romancing the Tome contest and the Peninsula Pitch contest who had no trouble seeing the wealth of talent in these fingertips...

Ooops, I wax moronic instead of poetic sometimes....

Anyway, I've even jumped into the GH this year, first time ever, so I should get the smack down I so richly deserve.

And Glynna will tell me to send 'em thank you notes because she's THAT nice.

Which is why we get along.


Ruthy (again)

Tina M. Russo said...

Geez, is the above comment it's own blog post. Yuh, I think so.

(he he he)

Okay want a piece of Ruthy-type honesty???

I personally dread getting thank you notes, because on occasion they are read between the lines neener neener thank you notes from contestants who are not really saying thank you but are using the thank you note as an opportunity to tell me I am a nitwit. :)

MOI?? I am a wit but never a nit.

Tina M. Russo said...

Ruth-- you do not have to write thank you notes for the GH. All you get it a computer generated sheet with your manuscript title and the scores. That's it. Anonymouser.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Obviously the GH and I are a perfect match, then! I leave myself wide open for total slammation by entering and don't have to ante up a thank you.

Now, don't get me wrong gals and guys. I'm very grateful for the time a judge/category coordinator/contest coordinator puts in. I have all three on my resume, numerous times, and I know first-hand what goes into a successful contest. That's why I do it. Maybe that's an off-the-cuff thank-you, putting it out there as payback and pay-forward, because I treasure the people who do take the time to judge and coordinate, even the by-the-book judges who remind me of my very own (years ago) over-zealous self when I thought I knew so much.

Pshaw. What a dolt.

But I sure don't worry about the thank-yous I don't get, 'cause Tina's right... The terse, curt ones really ain't all that much fun!


Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Glynna. I've only received about 2 or 3 thank you notes for judging. It makes me wonder what kind of judge I've been!! LOL


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Man, oh man...I have been bad about thanking the judges. Needed this reminder. But then I feel bad because it's been so LONG since they judged...sigh. And I actually really do have the thank you cards here...just not filled out.

I need to swallow my embarrassment and send them. Thanks for the kick in the caboose.

Loved your thoughts on entrants considering how judges feel.

As a previous judge, coordinator and entrant, I have utmost respect for judges now that I didn't have as an entrant before judging. Contests are a ton of work and I think it helps to know that most judges only want to help, even if it is a little misguided. LOL!