Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Some tips for writing thank-you notes for contest judges.

Thank Youphoto © 2010 Patrick Hoesly | more info (via: Wylio)

This year I'm once again a category coordinator for the ACFW Genesis Contest. I enjoy this way of giving back to the organization that has done so much for me. 
I would estimate that by the time the contest concludes, I will have sent upwards of 700 emails, and that's just for one category. And the emails I love to send the most are the thank-you notes that come after the non-finaling entries are returned to the contestants.

Did you know it is considered good form to send a thank-you note to each of your judges? The Genesis judges are all volunteers. They are often juggling their own writing, deadlines, jobs, families, etc. while taking time to judge contest entries. It is definitely a labor of love.

While passing along thank you notes is usually a task I enjoy, last year, I noticed something that disturbed me at thank you time. While the majority of the notes were thoughtful, grateful, and well-written, there were some that made me wince. They were closer to 'Thanks-For-Nothing' notes. They were so defensive and bordering on confrontational, I didn't even want to pass them along to the judges. 

The truth is, I understand that critiques of our work can hurt, especially if we're not used to them. We want to hear that our writing is more adorable than the Gerber Baby and twice as sweet as Splenda. But not only would that probably not be true, it wouldn't be constructive either. If we only hear how amazing our work is, how are we going to get better? And if you cannot bear to hear the critiques of the Genesis judges, who love God, care about you, and only want to help you reach your potential, how are you possibly going to bear getting editorial letters on your manuscript from publishers or reading a painful review on Amazon?

Right now, entries are coming back in from the judges and I'm putting the scores on the spreadsheet, and I've been reflecting on the coming 'thank-you note season.' I've been wondering what the tenor of the notes will be this year. Defensive or gracious?

You might be wondering how to go about writing a thank-you note to a judge, so I've put together some ideas that might get you started. And the best part is, you can begin the process right now. Here are a few tips:
  1. Even while the judging is going on, be in prayer for your judges. Ask God to give them clarity of mind, strength, time, and joy in judging. Ask God to start preparing your heart to receive your scores.
  2. When your scores arrive, before you open them, pray. Judging is not an exact science. One judge may love your work and give it a very high score, and another judge may see lots to work on and give it a very low score. It's this dichotomy that tends to frustrate more than anything else in contests, but it is the nature of the beast and not at all unlike the submission process. I wish it was different, that there was one right answer, but there it is. One reader will be indifferent to your work while another might think it's Gerber/Splenda awesome. :)
  3. Read through the scores, then close the document and walk away. If the scores upset you, then don't look at them for at least a week. Get some perspective, give time a chance to take some of the sting out of the comments, and continue to pray. Consider if the judges' comments might have merit before you fire off a snarky note.
  4. When it comes to writing the actual note, there are several things you can include that would be appropriate.
  • Thank you, insert judge's number here, for taking the time to critique and score my entry and for volunteering in this way to help writers progress in their writing journey.
  • Thank you for pointing out ____________ that I need to work on. I will use your comments and suggestions to strengthen this area of my writing.
  • I appreciated the score you gave me on _____________. It is as helpful to find out what I'm doing well as it is helpful to see the areas in which I need to improve.

Of course there are lots of other pleasant things you might say, but these cover the basics.

One other reminder:

It is NEVER professional to whine, gripe, snark, and complain about your scores in public.

It's tempting to want the world to come to your pity party and commiserate, and the Internet gives you the means to send the invitations. Please don't. You'll find folks who will feed the snark, and it is bad for your testimony and your state of mind to cultivate a spirit of complaining. And you never know who might be reading your blog, your FB page, your Twitter feed, or that loop email.

And if, even after prayerful consideration, you can't think of anything nice to say, then please don't write a thank-you note. No response is better than one that is unkind.

So, question for you: Have you entered a writing contest? Did you send a thank-you note to your judges?


  1. This is just what I needed to read today. I did enter the Genesis and I'm "patiently" waiting for my scores. Although it seems completely obvious to send a thank you note, once again I find that I have sooo much to learn. :) So, yes, I'll be sending out some thank you notes for any feedback that I receive.

    As far as good scores vs bad ones...I've sort of set my sights low. I'm not sure if that's the right approach but I'd rather be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. ;)

  2. Great advice, Erica. Thank you notes are a small way to repay those who give their time to serve as contest judges. You didn't add this, but I think it's important to thank the contest category coordinator as well. She puts in more time than the judges and deserves a huge thank you. While it's a labor of love, I'm sure a note would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Super awesome advice! I entered in '09 and '10 and wrote my judges thank you letters. All except one. It was the whole, "If you cant' say anything nice, don't say anything at all." I decided not to say anything at all.

  4. I sent thank you's last year to all my contest judges. I had one that didn't say much of anything. No critiques at all. Mainly just the score...which was just so-so. I said thank you anyway, even though I would have liked to have had more of an idea of why she judged the way she did.

    It's all good. A thankful heart is always a good idea, even when you don't feel like it. :)

  5. I sent thank you's last year to all my contest judges. I had one that didn't say much of anything. No critiques at all. Mainly just the score...which was just so-so. I said thank you anyway, even though I would have liked to have had more of an idea of why she judged the way she did.

    It's all good. A thankful heart is always a good idea, even when you don't feel like it. :)

  6. Lacie, I'm sure you will learn a lot from your judges' comments. :) I know that entering the Genesis was instrumental in helping me learn to write what editors were looking for.

    Keli, I'm pleased to say many of the contestants do send kind words of thanks to theh coordinators. Makes my day. :)

    Katie, that judge's comments were sooooo funny. But like you, I'd have been tempted to respond in kind, so it is best not to send a thank you note in that case. :D

    Sherrinda, the number of comments varies from judge to judge. Sometimes they don't comment at all if your scores are above a 2. Like you, I like lots of comments and I encourage my judges to comment a lot so the contestant gets a lot of bang for her buck.

  7. It never occured to me to write a thank you note! (Obviously this is my first contest.) Thank you for the reminder!

    The word verification is COLIFINF which means the tendency for grateful writer to thank each other endlessly, in writing.

  8. Hi Erica,
    Had to re-read this post since I'm writing "thank you notes" for my judges. I love having a reference I can go back to just to make sure I covered all my bases. Thanks!