WRiTE CLUB 2012 – Lessons Learned

Monday I’ll reveal this year’s WRiTE CLUB champion, along with both of the finalist identities, but today I want to discuss a few take-a-ways from this year’s contest and a couple ideas for improving it. I am also open to suggestions from you, so let me know what you liked, didn’t like, general observations, and/or any other ideas that can help me elevate this project to the next level.

Any of you who followed along during the 19 week process should already know what a huge undertaking it turned out to be. Too HUGE! I was unprepared for the 100+ submissions that poured into my wife’s email box (there were only 30+ in 2011).  To compensate for the flood of interest, I increased my posting to three times a week and extended the contest by several weeks to fit in as many as I could, and still I couldn’t get to everybody.  It ended up running 19 weeks, 63 posts, and provided 69 writers an opportunity to learn something about their writing.  This had several ramifications, none of which were favorable for me…and ultimately WRiTE CLUB.  First off, I could no longer post anything but WRiTE CLUB stuff (with very few exceptions), which was incredibly constipating…creatively. Second, with my time totally consumed by the contest I could no longer follow my beloved blogs, and since I wasn’t visiting them…they stopped visiting me.  This ultimately hurt WRiTE CLUB.  And finally, because the contest ran on for so long, and because I wasn’t commenting on other writer’s blogs, people lost interest. The first bout of the first round garnered 91 votes…but the semi-final bouts in the playoffs only boasted 24 and 29 votes respectively.  My post during the rest of the year usually average 30-40 comments per, so I was actually doing worse towards the end of the contest. 

That doesn’t mean people weren’t paying attention, or that the contest was a bust. The chart below shows the number of votes per post during the 19 week period, and even though you can see a definite decline, the second chart depicts the number of page views per week for my blog in 2012, and you can see how much WRiTE CLUB elevated those numbers.


Votes per WRiTE CLUB Post


2012 Pageviews Per Week



So what should I do to prevent the problems I encountered from happening next year, assuming I still see the level of submissions?  First, I need to find a way to shorten the preliminary rounds down to eight weeks instead of twelve, with a maximum of two posts per week. This will probably necessitate the use of some sort of process that whittles down all of the entries into a pool of thirty-two, and the need to disallow any new entries once the bouts begin. This should allow me time to continue my normal blog reading/posting schedule and help keep others interested.  There should also be some kind of incentive for voting, maybe a prize drawing at the end of the contest -- the more bouts you vote on -- the greater your chance of winning?

My wife would also like to see me standardize the way people submit their entries to make her life less hectic, as well as having voters use their linky list number when they vote to make authentication easier.

I feel that WRiTE CLUB is a great concept and I definitely want to keep it going, but without the added stress and voting drop-off.  After all, the real benefit for the contestants is the feedback…via vote or critique…that our readers provide.  If I can’t generate enough interest throughout the entire run, then I am not delivering on my promise.

So what about you?  Have any ideas?  I sure would like to hear them, so leave one in the comments below.  I'd really appreciate the input.

47 comments

  1. D.L. I can appreciate what a colossal undertaking this was. I suppose one way to cut the contest back to its original size is limit the number of entries. First come, first served. The first 32 entries that hit the in-box are the ones that get into the contest.

    Other websites that run contests for queries and pitches do that, or so I've heard.

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  2. This is an amazing experience and I hope you realize how much this has meant to those of us who participated. I do agree that you need to make this better for you and your wife. I can only imagine the stress and work for you guys.

    Like Dianne suggested you could just grab the first entries to make it into the box when you open. Or maybe you could have a panel to read the entries (submissions limited to a certain time period, maybe an hour or two) and whittle it down to the number you need.

    Personally I like the second suggestion better just because then if I don't make it it's on my own shoulders rather than the fact that my clock might be slower than other peoples or I just didn't hit send fast enough. But then you do have to go through the effort of culling the masses and finding people to help so it might not be viable. If I can do anything to help next year let me know!

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  3. It is a huge undertaking. (And you thought the A to Z Challenge was overwhelming!)
    Maybe have others help you screen the entries?
    You're right about less people commenting when you aren't commenting. That and we missed you.
    And is it your birthday today? Someone said it was!

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    1. Yes, it's true. Today I turn 56, and I was born in '56. There's a kind of symmetry in that. :)

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    2. Happy Birthday, again!!
      And I'll have that symmetry in 2020, except it'll be symmetry around '60'. ;^)

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  4. I did a very small writing contest once and it was daunting. I can't even imagine what you went through. I agree with limiting the entries to first come first served.

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  5. First, happy birthday! Secondly, I think you and your wife did a fabulous job, considering the increase in participants. Your suggestions for next year sound great.

    I enjoyed reading the entries. I look forward to next year.

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  6. Yeah, never mind the Birthday Boy, how about a round of applause for Mrs. D.L. :)

    My only point would be call in some trusted troops to help you whizz through the first few rounds (32 is a great idea - split them into four divisions of eight... then you could even use a Wild Card for the playoffs... if needed.

    Nineteen weeks is crazy... we missed you L.D.

    :)~

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  8. Wow!!!

    Happy birthday, Don!!!! And while I'm an olde phart, you're even older than me, lol! By only four years, though. ;^) I hope your birthday is fabulous, and that your 56th year is filled with wonderful and glorious things!!!

    And as to WRiTE Club feedback:

    Yep -- DL, you hit it right on the head: WRiTE Club is awesome, but in 2012 it was far too long and all-consuming in that it forced you away from almost anything else to do with your blog.

    Like S.P. and Alex say, and like I suggested months ago when the topic first came up, I think a group of slush-readers acting as screeners is the way to go. Maybe get 4-8 volunteers whose opinions you trust (and who AREN'T in the contest). Set a deadline on submissions, and then divide all the submissions among the slush-readers and they can pick their choices for the best among among their group. Like if you have 8, they each could select their top 4 submissions from their group and then you'd have the 32 entries. Post the list at the beginning and go from there with random pairings for the bouts.

    This way, it's not entirely first-come/first-served as to the entries, and every entry gets at least evaluated by someone, even if it's only by a slush-reader.

    Glad you're not just throwing up your hands and being done with WRiTE Club completely, although it would be entirely understandable if you did, lol! It's been a fun, entertaining, and educational experience, and I've enjoyed it for the last two years. Thanks again to both you and Kim!

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    1. Oh, and by the way: Of course, I'd be more than happy to be one of the volunteers, my friend. ;^)

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    2. I think this is a good idea, too, although you might want to have a couple opinions on every piece due to the variety of opinions--as you could see throughout the bouts.
      Perhaps previous winners would be good first readers, too?

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  9. yes, happy birthday and you also, you did a fantastic job! I'm hoping many who comment will come back now that the contest is over. Sometimes I don't participate on someone's blog contest, hop...or whatever, because my time is limited. Your contest was fun. I always love reading other's work.

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  10. Happy Birthday! I thought it was great! But I do agree that it went on too long. I like the idea of pre-screening the entrants so there is a limited number to start with.

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  11. You're awesome for hosting this and keeping up with it all! It probably didn't help that the contest ran through NaNoWriMo. I hardly visited any blogs at all last month while I was furiously writing my novel, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. So a good tip would be to choose a time during the year when you know the blogosphere will be hopping!

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  12. I can only imagine the amount of work it took to do this. I've never even done a blog hop because the idea of hosting one makes me sweat.

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  13. It sounds like you're looking to simplify and shorten, in order to gain and keep interest, and in order to hold on to your sanity :-) In addition to the changes you are already mulling, you may want to consider limiting the submissions to one writing type. Opening it up to all types (poetry, essay, novel excerpt, etc) sounded great in the beginning, and is very inclusive. But once voting got underway, it became clear that pitting two entries against each other that were different types caused some voters a fair amount of angst over how to choose - especially when both pieces were judged equally well-written.

    Or, you could go the other way, and still keep it open to all writing types, but break the bouts into type-specific categories, though my guess is that would complicate and lengthen things.

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    Replies
    1. Great idea, Kim. Sorry I didn't notice this in time to mention you in my own comment below.

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  14. Well, Happy Happy Birthday. And you know, I have to tell you, everytime I go to the supermarket, I linger in the meat department and think about you. True story.

    You've done an incredible job with this WRite Club, and Mrs. D.L. is an absolute angel for helping. As you can imagine, I was far too busy to participate but I love the concept. You should be very proud of yourself.

    Next year, if you need slush readers, please count me in. I think that would be very cool.

    And not for nothing in a mean way, I'm glad it's over. Missed you.

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  15. First - Happy birthday!
    Second - Thank you!
    Third - Do it again!
    Fourth - End the week before Thanksgiving week. That was probably a difficult week for voting.
    Fifth - Keep it on one site. I didn't like having to go to other sites to read works. Would there be a way to make tabs to the bouts on a Totally WRiTE Club Bouts Page? Also, as it gets down to the wire, post ALL bouts on Monday for the week - giving the Wildcard a fair shake at having the time to get in there with more votes accrued. Bouts posted Friday could potentially have fewer total votes than one posted Monday for the week.
    Sixth - Did I say "Thank you"? You don't know how much this helped me see myself as a writer. This has changed how I see myself. Being able to have others read and critique anonymously was such a gift. Whatever shortcuts, pre-readings or schedulings are necessary - do it!
    Seventh - Get your wife some roses!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, especially to numbers 6 and 7. :)

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    2. Oh, I totally agree with #7. Maybe we should all chip in?

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  16. I thought it was a really great undertaking and was awesome you hosted it three times a week. Honestly, I stopped reading the posts and commenting toward the end because I didn't want to do it half-assedly. If it had been once weekly, I would have been able to participate more consistently as a reader.

    I think using a simple poll for each round would be a good idea for voting. I realize people could vote more than once, but I'm not sure anyone in this crowd is going to do that.

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  17. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DON!

    I've been thinking about ways to shorten/facilitate the whole process, and most everyone has shared my opinion: that there should be a preliminary panel of judges to screen for the 32 competitors. I like the idea of having a brief window for submissions, which can help limit the # a bit - maybe one weekend, the email inbox can be open from such-and-such-a-time to such-and-such-a-time.

    You might consider having a WRiTE Club email account just for this purpose (makes it easier on Mrs. DL!!! Who definitely deserves roses) and then the preliminary panel can swoop in and pick out the top 32. Maybe if you have four people, each can pick their eight favorites, and then those will go into a special folder.

    Someone already mentioned this, but having a WRiTE Club-centric blog or website (linked from yours of course) might also help in that there will only be one place for people to have to go and vote, AND... BONUS... you'll have your own blog at your own disposal.

    Just some thoughts.

    Thank you again to you and Mrs. DL for hosting!! I hope all of these comments and feedback you've been getting so far shows you both how much your efforts are appreciated!

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  18. Happy birthday :) I think all of those are excellent suggestions. I think that you definitely need to cut the initial number of entries down. Maybe choose the ones you think are best to compete in the competition or something. I dunno, but it was definitely long!

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  19. I think your ideas are sound, Don, and I am overwhelmed just seeing the amount of work you guys did. If you can think of any ways to spread that work out so less of the stress is on you, do go ahead and ask for volunteers; I know I'm not the only one who would be willing to lend a hand.

    As I mentioned once before, it annoys me that people would stop coming around because you had been too busy to follow them regularly. That kind of tit-for-tat blogging relationship is just selfish and goes against the sense of community I see in the bloggers I admire. I guess maybe there's nothing you can do to prevent that... but you decided to host WriteClub as a gift to other writers. The wonderful bloggers who kept coming back to read the entries understood that, and ultimately they're the ones who got the most out of it.

    Finally, THANK YOU so much. I've learned so much throughout this experience (even though my piece didn't make it through the preliminaries)! Just reading everyone's comments for all the bouts and seeing the variety of excellent writing has been great.

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  20. Like I said before, kudos to you and your wife for doing this. You both need to take a vacation. I thought it was a great opportunity for writers.
    I do think it went long and I agree with some of your suggestions above. I think a time limit on the entry might be a good way to limit the amount of participants.
    I also think you may want to consider different catagories. I know this would be a lot of work for a one time event and I'm not sure of your feelings on having more than one Write Club. I say this because some people may like one genre more than another and may vote on opinion instead of the writing. I'm not trying to put the commenters down, because they are all awesome, but sometimes this happens even we are not thinking about it. Take my thoughts as you want. Otherwise, I think this is a great contest and I can't thank you, your wife and all the people who participated enough.

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  21. I think limiting the number of entries is a great idea, that way you'll still have time for something other than write club. And it might not be a bad idea to have a small panel of screeners, you know, like the interns agents have to pick out the 'best' entries. I think you and your wife did an amazing job and if anyone deserves a prize, it's you guys!

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  22. Um....I feel so dang guilty.

    I apologize for my absence. I love the concept of Write Club. I think your ideas for next year are good ones.

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  23. Hey, a quick follow-up thought because I just noticed something about your post:

    "...provided 69 writers an opportunity to learn something about their writing."

    We had 36 preliminary rounds, so that makes 72 entries. There was only one repeat ("Ratz"), so by my count that makes 71 unique entries. But if there were 69 writers, that means two of the 71 were multiple submissions.

    One rule I would definitely suggest to maybe help in a small way to minimize the deluge of submissions is One-Entry-Per-Writer.

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  24. Hi Don, Happy Birthday, hope you have a great day.

    I didn't get around to registering to be able to vote on the rounds but I did read every entry posted.

    I think you and your wife did a fantastic job.

    I think keeping the competition open to everybody is successful as shown by the number of entries you received. I agree with the other commentators that you obviously need more help next year and still keep it anonymous.

    Well done to you and your wife and all the entrants.

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  25. Good job. This was the first year I saw this blog. Voting gets harder in the final rounds because the quality is so close. People would rather let those who have strong opinions decide. Trying have three writers face off next time, best writer advances or maybe the top two. That would limit the number of weeks.

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  26. I like the idea of the first number getting in. I just couldn't keep coming by, and haven't been hitting many blogs lately, because falls are crazy for me with school starting and grading and life.

    Happy Birthday by the way! Hope it is a great one.

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  27. Happy birthday!

    I know I thought it was going long even before I left out of general disinterest in the way votes were going (even before my entry was generally and soundly passed over). The problem is that you pulled all these participants because of your popularity. Limiting them would only cause hurt feelings. That's just something you'll have to deal with.

    One suggestion to streamline the exercise would be to have a prompt for entries. Several participants have admitted excerpting their WIPS for entries. It resulted in some wildly disparate rounds. And although it requires more work (although here I would definitely advocate the concept of sourcing out some help from volunteers), I would back away from the randomness you kept reiterating and instead actively group similar writing styles together. A lot of the time, people were simply voting for style rather than content, when the point at least theoretically is content.

    You may also consider a points system. People would vote two ways, once for style and once for content (like figuring skating), so that the aggregate vote is less based on comparing the two than judging each separately and coming to a more natural conclusion based on the merit of the sample. I know I ended up taking the easy way out more than once because sometimes I didn't want to vote for either but had to. By knowing how much people actually liked a given sample, it makes later rounds easier, figuring out the gold medal winner so to speak.

    My overall suggestion for improvement is to learn from this experience, which I think you're already doing. The bulk of your response has been to lament that you've lost your personal time, but I think you'll find that you gained a lot more support simply by doing this than for what you may think you lost by working on it.

    Last year's was a limited affair. This year you learned that a lot of people wanted to participate. Now you'll simply need to learn how to deal with that.

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  28. I love the idea of write club... but I have to guiltily admit that I didn't stay with it voting to the final rounds. Life got busy, and I just found it was taking too much time reading all those entries every week. I think it did get a little big and I like your and your wife's ideas for improvement.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

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  29. Happy Birthday!!! Hope you have some cake! :)

    I didn't enter Write Club, but I enjoyed reading snippets of people's writing. I did have some trouble keeping up with the pressures of NaNo and real life, so I think 2 bouts a week would work well. I'd also go to a 1st come, 1st served idea to limit the chaos for you and your wife.

    Huge kudos for you and your wife for doing all this work! I hope you enjoy a nice dinner out to celebrate the finale for this round! :)

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  30. Hey, I hope the birthday celebration was a good one!

    * I think I like Tony's idea of a writing prompt. First, requiring writers to create something new instead of pulling from an existing work would naturally decrease the number of entrants. Second, it seems more fair to compare all recently-written pieces rather than pitting brand new against pieces that have been honed over time. BUT the wide variety in writing is the thing I like most about WRiTE Club, so the prompt should be general enough that writers are given freedom to write within their preferred style and genre.

    * I definitely like the idea of slush readers to pre-screen and narrow the entries. I'm sure the readers would all be happy to provide their critiques to writers who don't make the cut, so it would still be a valuable experience for them.

    * The prize is a good idea! And I'm sure you could get many of us to contribute in the form of books, eBooks, gift cards, critiques, whatnot. Though I wouldn't want to make more work for you & your wife, so if you do this, I suggest you appoint a V.P. of prizes. ;)

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  31. Lots of great ideas here. After you process all of your feedback, if you decide you'd like to split the postings with another blog so that you can get more of your own stuff posted next time, Swagger Writers is at your disposal.

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  32. Happy Birthday! I'm 57, so I have a year on ya. Enjoy your youth. :) And I hope you and Kim enjoy a nice relaxing dinner out.

    DL, I have to admit Write Club was a lot to keep up with. It was obviously a huge undertaking on your part (and your wife's part) and we all appreciate that (thank you, thank you), but I think once or twice a week is enough for next year. You had 12 prelim bouts last year and 36 this year. I'd split the difference and have, maybe, 20 bouts over the course of 10 weeks if you're up for it. That still gives 40 writers a chance. Or just limit it to 15 prelim bouts, to give 30 writers a chance. I realize this means I might not be picked next year, but so be it. I was lucky to be picked this year, and I'm willing to give someone else a chance.

    Hope it doesn't sound harsh to say this, but don't put outvoted writers back in the pool. It's not fair to others who haven't been chosen at all.

    I like Christine Danek's idea and Tony Laplume's idea of different categories for different genres. It's often really hard to vote when the entries are completely different (say a poem vs. a paranormal fiction, or nonfiction vs. fiction). Maybe each year you could choose a different category? Like one year it's speculative fiction, the next year it's poetry, the next year it's nonfiction?? A lot of writing contests have a prompt. But hey, it's your blog. Do whatever you want with it! You've done a fantastic job, as far as I'm concerned. You might want to keep it simpler for your own sanity.

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    1. Um, hope you HAD a nice dinner out. That was yesterday, wasn't it?

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  33. First, a big thanks to you and your wife for this awesome endeavor!! It was great and we all really appreciated the effort.

    I agree with all of your ideas - limit the pool (you'll probably just have to set a time limit on the sub window and it'll probably fill up super quick), prize drawing (and I'm sure people would donate this for you), and a standardized format for submissions (this is very typical in contests). Write Club is definitely super cool! I hope you can figure it out so we carry on the tradition next year.

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  34. Hey DL! Yeah we've all missed you during this event. Your name came up a few times during the I Miss You blogfest. But hey we all understand. You had a HUGE undertaking with this and your wife is a rockstar for assisting with it. I think for me personally, there were too many entries and too long of snippets. Not to be unreasonable, cuz as a writer, I know those words are necessary and everyone who entered deserved a chance, but I didn't always have time to invest in reading and voting, and since I visit blogs solely on who's left a comment on my blog (for no other reason than convenience and time restraints) I did miss a lot of the postings. I tried to remember to check, but you know how easy it is to get distracted.

    Limiting the pool is your best bet. Set a time window and whatever comes in during the window is it. This may cause a smaller submission result, but you can always reopen for more if you don't get enough. I love Write Club and I do think you should keep it going. Also, I didn't understand why only a few made it to the playoffs when so many won their round. Was it based on total votes or just random selection? I missed that part.

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  35. First, happy belated birthday! Second, thanks to you and your bride for all the hard work. I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have gotten to be for you both. Your work is much appreciated, but I can certainly understand you wanting to make it more manageable next year. Limiting the number of participants sounds like a good idea to me; otherwise, in a few years, you might have 500 people scrambling to take part in it. OY!

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  36. Oh yeah, belated happy birthday to you. Google Plus told me it was your birthday the other day but I forgot to send wishes then.

    And yes, I know how comments will go down when you're not making the rounds. I've experienced some of the same this year, but not for the same reasons as you. I been visiting and commenting less on other blogs because I've been doing other things. I was blogging too much before and still am, but now I'm also getting other stuff done as well. Life balance is important.

    Lee
    A Faraway View

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  37. Hi DL,

    I love this contest, but I admit my visit and voting record decreased significantly in November. NaNo had me all tied in knots. As a beneficiary of some great critiques thanks to this contest both last year and this year, I feel bad about that.

    I like the idea of having one blog to visit all the bouts. I also agree that limiting the submissions is probably necessary. I advocate for a time limit for submissions versus slush readers. I guess it depends on your vision of the contest. Slush readers will inevitably weed out some of the pieces that aren't as polished, likely from newer writers. One of the things I like about WRiTE CLUB is that it gave everyone a chance to get some feedback on their work and see how it stacked up against other folks. Having slush readers will raise the stakes on the contest though, and I can see benefit from that too.

    By all means, do whatever you can to make this contest easier on you and your lovely wife. Heartfelt thanks to you both for taking this on, and a belated Happy Birthday to you as well.

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  38. Hey DL,

    I loved WC. And I feel bad that I kinda fell off the face of the earth there and most of the issues I had with WC have been addressed. Limit the number of submissions. Make the whole process shorter. (Most people in the blogosphere have short attention spans I think). Move the whole thing to a dedicated blog, much like the A-Z Blogfest. I think, though, that the main thing that frustrated me was that if someone got 'voted out' in a round they got put back in. And with all the submissions that were available it was rather frustrating when a person got voted out, then got a second chance. Though, if you limit the number of overall submissions this probably won't happen.

    Thank you for letting this totally take over your world! Thank you to your wife! And hope you had a stellar birthday! :)

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