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:
- 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.
- 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. :)
- 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.
- 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?