I’m going to operate under the assumption that a lot of my regular readers have been spending this unseasonably pleasant PNW day frantically proofreading their entries, searching wildly for an envelope large enough to fit two copies, and generally freaking out because it’s deadline day for the PNWA literary contest. (For those of you Seattle-area members who are truly panicking, there’s a post office down near SeaTac who postmarks later than the average – until 8 p.m., if memory serves, but do call ahead of time and make sure. It’s in Burien.) Remember the feeling of this day: after you win (as I sincerely hope you will), people will ask you about how confident you felt as you passed your entry into the tender care of an overworked postal employee.
Just so you know, “I wondered why I put myself through this hell” does not play well as a response. Make up something you’d like your biographers to reprint a hundred years from now.
So now the long wait to hear back begins. In the PNWA contest, category finalists are generally notified in late May or early June, early enough that they can get good airfares to attend the conference. If your entry does not make the finals, you will not hear back until AFTER the conference, when you receive your feedback sheets.
Translation: if you do not make the finals, you may not hear ANYTHING until August. So no news is bad news, in this instance. However, if you have not heard by mid-June, you need not necessarily despair of your chances: last year, for instance, internal organizational crises meant that finalists were notified weeks later than usual. It’s not a good idea to hold your breath, in short.
If you are a finalist, PLEASE, for your own sake, try to make it to the conference. A finalist ribbon dangling over one’s stomach is like a backstage pass at a sold-out rock concert: if you’re brave about it, it really does allow you much more leeway about buttonholing agents and editors in the hallways. Not to mention making it substantially easier to meet other contest attendees; it’s an instant conversation-starter, a variation on the contest-ubiquitous, “So, what do you write?”
In case you’re curious about what will happen to your entry between now and then, first, it will be processed by wonderful, charming volunteers who don’t get nearly enough credit for the hours they put in on all of our behalves. They do the bureaucratic part, separating the entry form from the entries, arranging them by category for blind judging, assigning numbers so they can later figure out whose anonymous entry was whose. Oh, and they cash the checks.
Then they go to the category chair, who in turn will assign them to the first-round judges. Two first-round judges will read each entry, filling out complex rating forms. After the entries are ranked, the category chair will tabulate the findings, make ultra-sure that all of the top-ranked entries met ALL of the entry requirements, and come up with a list of finalists.
The bureaucratic end will then figure out who those entrants were, and then the finalists’ entries will go on to the category judge, usually either someone prominent in that particular field or one of the agents or editors attending the conference.
With the exception of the final judge, who is generally paid for his services, every single person who touches your entry is a volunteer. You should stand and cheer for these people; they are doing us all a great big favor.
If you did not enter this year’s contest, you might want to consider contacting the PNWA and offering to be a first-round judge in your favorite category. I can think of no experience that will educate you faster (short of being a query screener in a top-ranked agency) about what does and does not look professional in a manuscript. You will also get an unparalleled view of the kind of competition you can expect if you enter future contests.
Not to mention the kick of being the one who gets to point out deviations from standard format. It’s not much power, but it’s worth doing.
It’s also quite interesting, and the joy a judge feels upon discovering a hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark entry really isn’t like anything else. Except, perhaps, watching your favorite ball player hit a home run. But that lasts for a mere second, while the elation of reading a truly superlative entry lasts for hours. Or maybe I’m just more enamored of good writing than most people.
Thus ends this year’s series on contest entries. If, in retrospect, you think of a topic that would have been helpful to see covered here, drop a line via the comments function and suggest it, please.
Oh, and while I’m on the subject, my apologies to those of you who had sent out your entries before this last weekend’s barrage of tips. I’ve been in rather a hard place, strategically, since I know from last year’s experience that most of the writers logging into the blog for contest-entry advice do so within the last few days of the deadline. Since the panicked many are the most rushed of readers, the material they need to see most has to be at the top of the pile, so to speak.
Yet I did not want to make the series too redundant for my longer-term readers. All in all, it’s been like trying to plan the articles in a bridal magazine: covering the same material again and again, having to assume that any given article might be read by someone who is absolutely new to the subject matter, yet trying to put a fresh spin on the material to keep things interesting. It’s been harder than it looks. At least, I hope so.
On to new pastures and topics! My good wishes follow your contest entries – and, as always, keep up the good work.