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 I've subsequently corresponded with both published and unpublished writers who've asked to be kept "in the loop" on my road to publication.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!