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John Howard Reid

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How Contest Entries Are Judged
by John Howard Reid   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, October 17, 2008
Posted: Friday, October 17, 2008

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I'm often asked at writers' conferences and conventions exactly how a large prose competition like the Tom Howard Short Story and Essay Contest is actually judged. Standard questions include: "Who reads all the entries?", "What does the Chief Judge do?", "How are the entries physically handled?", "What is the function of an Associate Judge?"

The Annual Tom Howard Short Story, Essay and Prose Contest is one of the few reputable literary events that will accept submissions both online and through the post.
For this contest, the handling of entry fees is undertaken by Winning Writers. So the first function is to ensure that fees have been fully paid. If lodged  online and unpaid, the entry is moved to  the "No Fee Received" folder in case the fee has been forwarded separately. If received by snail mail, the contestant is contacted, preferably by email. Most of these unpaid postal submissions turn out to be accidental, whereas unpaid email entries are par for the course. Approximately three in ten email entries are lodged without payment. Presumably some writers live in hope the omission will not be noticed! (And this of course is one reason why many contests will not accept email entries at all).   
Aftef processing by Winning Writers, email entries are forwarded to three points: (1) an archive; (2) a special judging website; (3) qango.
Every day at qango (including Sundays), Professor Konrad, the associate judge, reads all the Inbox entries and then moves them into the "Unplaced" folder. She then sends the email addresses to the Chief Judge who forwards them to a secure archive bank. Professor Konrad then emails the Chief Judge with her lengthy and detailed comments on all the stories submitted that day. After reading all the stories himself, the Chief Judge relocates them to appropriate winning folders or leaves them in "Unplaced".
Postal submissions are handled a little differently. Professor Konrad reads all these submissions herself and then parcels up all the entries she feels deserve further attention, plus all the entries that have possibilities, plus all those that fall into a doubtful category, and mails the lot to the Chief Judge.
An important point I'd make here is that unlike most other contests where entries are judged in a heap after the contest closes, in the Tom Howard Prose Contest, judging is carried out on a day-to-day, day-by-day basis. Therefore, early entries, when the number of submissions is comparatively light, obviously have an advantage, as the judges have more time and leisure to appreciate the quality of your writing.
The Chief Judge keeps a hard copy running list of entries in the various folders for email entries. For postal entries, of course, he files the entries themselves in appropriate categories.
At the end of the Contest, all the email entries are re-read by the judges and some are re-graded. The Chief Judge then compares the graded email entries with the graded hard copy entries and makes appropriate adjustments. The winning list is then determined by mutual consultation.
Do email entries have an advantage over hard copy entries? Yes. A slight one. Because of the vagaries of email transmission, no notice whatever is taken of the physical array or disarray of the online entry. On the other hand, a sloppy or poorly laid out hard copy entry already has a mark against it before the judge even starts to read it.
So if email transmission distorts your entry, it's a wise competitor who leaves well enough alone. Some entrants get understandably upset at the way the internet can mutilate an entry and follow up by sending a hard copy as well. For the Tom Howard Contest, this is definitely not a good idea, because it upsets the whole judging pattern. Be assured, if your story wins a prize, it will not be published in its mutilated form and all contestants will be given plenty of opportunities to make necessary adjustments.
The above words all apply to the current Tom Howard Short Story, Essay and Prose which is now open and closes on March 31 each year. The Poetry Contests are handled somewhat differently. Considerable weight is given in Poetry Contests to technical considerations such as grammar, spelling, lay-out, presentation, imagery and use of language. In prose contests, these factors are far less important. If you have a really good story and tell it with reasonable fluency, you are well in the running for a major prize.  On the other hand, if you have a low-interest story or essay, but write it with style and passion, you are also well on your way to the winners' circle.
All intending entrants will find it helpful to read some of the previous winning stories and essays in the anthology, "WATCHING TIME". 


Web Site: Tom Howard Short Story, Essay and Prose Contest

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Reviewed by Terry Rizzuti
John, thank you for this valuable information. Terry
Reviewed by Flying Fox Ted L Glines
This essay is excellent, John. I have won (sort of) in a couple of online contests but never had the faintest notion about the judging process. Things like do not count, of course. Thank you for putting this information out here for us, and I am sure that many of the readers will be looking into Tom Howard :-)

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