WRiTE CLUB 2015 - Final Thoughts




Even though the fifth year of WRiTE CLUB was the wooden anniversary, there was no dead wood here. Our first time partnering with the DFW Writers Conference was a successful one!  One hundred and seventy-one entries were received, exceeding 2014’s record and continuing to stress-out our preliminary judges.  We tweaked the format slightly, increased the number of contestants, shortened the time-span down to ten weeks, added some amazing prizes, and thanks to DFW…pushed WRiTE CLUB out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

However, the year wasn’t without its disappointments. In 2014, over the course of the contest there were 1,695 votes/comments, which averaged out to 45.4 votes per bout. This year, despite all of the changes I mentioned above, we only pulled in 1,470 total votes/comments, averaging just 35.8 per bout. I’m at a loss to explain the drop in participation. I worked harder this year than ever to get the word out, but obviously it didn’t work. I guess it just illustrates what I've always been saying...this contest only works if readers like you help spread me the word. I'm open to any and all idea's about how to do that next year.

The silver lining was that the level of competition continued to amaze, the lower numbers doing nothing to diminish that.

There was something else that disappointed me this year, and that was the problem we had with irregular voting. The fact that we allowed anonymous votes (which was added to satisfy a request for change) exacerbated the situation. WRiTE CLUB rules are clear. #2 - no solicitation of votes.  I have preached since day one that WRiTE CLUB is not a popularity contest, which is one of the reasons for pen names, so taking to the internet airwaves to ask for votes is not allowed. Ask people to vote - YES, ask them to vote a certain way - NO. I had to vary from the scheduled time-table to address the issue, but it should have never happened in the first place. Needless to say, that’s the first change to be installed for 2016 – no anonymous votes.

What other changes am I considering? I’m always striving to make WRiTE CLUB the best that it can be. And what is that exactly? First and foremost, WRiTE CLUB is an avenue for aspiring writers to gain feedback about their work in a fun and exhilarating way. To accomplish that I’m constantly tweaking the format to allow the maximum number of participants and keep it fresh and invigorating. For 2016, first change I’ll make is to add back the SAVE feature. This allowed voters to save a writer from elimination in the preliminary bouts (imagine going up against Commando Grace your first time out). Secondly, I’ll try and do a better job of explaining how to submit an entry, so my wife doesn’t have to work so hard. Third, speaking of entries – the number of entries you’ll be allowed to submit will be reduced to only two. Finally, you’ll probably see more cage matches featuring more than two combatants at a time.   

The DFW Writers Workshop, who hold the DFW Writers conference, has already set the dates for their 2016 conference. It’s going to be April 23-24 at the Fort Worth Convention Center and they have an AMAZING early-bird rate right now that is only good until August 18th. You need to seriously consider this conference for 2016…for no other reason that I will be there and we can hang together. :) That also means WRiTE CLUB will start accepting entries in January for a targeted February 15th start date – so start working on those submissions!

As I close things out this year, as I do every year, I'm asking for feedback.  What did you like? Not like? What would you like to see improved?

Hope to see you again next year! 

43 comments

  1. No anonymous votes is a really good idea.
    Like the idea of the save.
    I didn't make it here as often as I wanted because some days, it's all I can to keep up with those who comment on my own blog. Blogging is social, so there has to be some give and take.

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  2. It was a great year. I loved the Google calendar that I could sync up with my own. Plus, I pre-scheduled almost all my social media posts so I know for sure it couldn't look like I was pulling for any one individual. (Though I loved CJ Rage, Blythe, and Commando Grace. Actually, there were a few I adored, but those three I know I'd buy books with their entries right now. Where's that Fry "take my money" meme?)

    An afterparty where the writers all reveal themselves would be fun.

    Why there were fewer voters this year, that I don't know. Busy summer?

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    1. The Google calendar will definitely be making another appearance next year! :)

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    2. Sweet. I loved using it.

      So I saw this on MSWL and thought of Lanfear's entry:
      http://agentandeditorwishlist.tumblr.com/post/125351830596/peter-senftleben

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  3. Thanks again for doing this. Eliminating anonymous votes is definitely a good idea. I'm glad you're bringing back the "save" vote from last year, mostly because I went up against Blythe in the first round! I don't know how to expand the voter pool but by January I'm sure we'll have some ideas to up the votes.

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    1. If you think of something, don't be shy about letting me know. :)

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  4. Hi DL ... you do a great job - but it's a load of work for you mainly, but for anyone who wants to participate and see who gets through ... we need time to read through each post and comment sensibly ...

    Your anonymous clarification makes sense ... good luck to all who participated ... cheers Hilary

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  5. I'm glad to see the anonymous voters out. What was to stop ANYONE from voting more than once that way?

    I wasn't sure why you had part of the second round votes between two first rounds votes. If it's a luck of the draw, then shouldn't all first round winners be stacked up against other first round winners?

    I'm wishy washy on the SAVE thing. Part of me understands why you want it, but part of me says, "Once you're out, you're out." Then again the pieces aren't seeded (as, say, in tennis), so that's the part that understands why you want it. Like I said, I'm wishy washy on the whole thing.

    Frankly, I'm surprised I managed to get all my votes in. For some reason your blog doesn't always want to appear on my blog roll. I have it sorted by most recent post, but your "most recent" is usually one or two posts behind. Don't know what causes that. Probably a Blogger glitch. I don't notice it with anyone else's blog, though. Oh well, you're good work for my memory! Haha! :)

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    1. Contestants...especially the ones in the early rounds...didn't like having to wait so long before they got to compete again. So I broke the preliminary bouts into 2 phases, with an elimination round in-between.

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  6. I like the idea of a "save" vote. Maybe incorporate the top four "saved" winners into one of those cage matches. That way they all get a fair shot. And while I'm on this subject...I loved Lanfear and Robin Hood!

    Also, I've noticed the voting slowed as the contest progressed, which, for me, means the eliminated contestants stopped voting. I think another cage match near the end of the contest would fix this. Tell contestants to stick around because a few of the "early eliminated" will be given another opportunity. Perhaps this will keep them voting.

    The calendar is another good idea, like J said above, for those who use their Google calendars on a daily basis.

    I'm glad I discovered Write Club (I saw a tweet, so someone is definitely spreading the word). It's been a fun summer, DL. Thanks for hosting and tell your wife she totally rocks for supporting and helping out!

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    1. I'm still noodling about how to handle the saves. Thanks for the ideas.

      I'll definitely pass on your thanks to my wife. :)

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  7. I think the best way to get people to vote would be to require it as part of the initial entry. That way they won't stop voting as soon as they're eliminated. For entry rules, make it something like: "You can submit two entries, but by entering you are committing to voting on every round (except two free days) and to spreading the word on at least one social media site three times during the competition." Or something like that.

    If you were to have more than two entries per bout (and thus reduce the number of rounds, which I think could help with the fatigue) would you also reduce the word count so that voters wouldn't have to take ten minutes out of every day to read the entries and vote?

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    1. I like the idea of committing and I probably will do something like that...but I really want to pull in more passive-participants (readers only). I tried offering a random prize drawing for people who voted before, but that didn't have much effect either.

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  8. I love the ideas of no anonymous votes and a save. There were a few bouts between two strong pieces, and I hated that they couldn't both go through. I also love the idea of an after party in which writers may reveal themselves and leave social media links, all in one centralized web-location.

    I wonder, too, if the writers should be anonymous, as they were in the 4-way bout. As much fun as pen names are, readers may develop a like or dislike for a particular writer. Obviously, if a writer submits a continuous story, that writer won't remain truly anonymous, but if someone wins a bout by a hair and has gotten some fiercely negative feedback, they may proceed in the contest with a new story without worrying about bias and prejudice from detractors. Or maybe each entry would require a title rather than a pen name, so the title would be different each time. I don't know...

    Anyhow, this was an amazingly fun contest! Thank you and your wife for all your work!

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    1. Hmmmmm....I'm liking the idea of true anonymity. I'll have to think about that some more. :)

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    2. I agree making it completely anonymous would be the most 'fair', but then that would mean not allowing continuing stories.

      Since there were several continuing stories versus several non-continuing stories, it was really hard to judge them equally when one story is (essentially) two or three times longer, so there is more connection/interest in the characters.

      Which might be part of the reason both entires that went to the finals were continuing stories... I know it certainly coloured my voting since I remembered a line that made me laugh in Commander Grace's first entry, so I naturally continued to vote for her due to the connection to the story. Similarly, another story I couldn't get into, I continued to not vote for that writer, but if each writer had written a new piece each time, my voting may have gone a different way.

      I don't see a way to clear up that problem except to make all of them continuing stories, or not allow continuing stories at all and have writers submit something new each time.

      BUT, no matter what, the contest was a blast and I really enjoyed reading all the pieces!

      I certainly do agree that I wish more writers revealed who they were as I'd love to follow up on a few of them.

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    3. Continuing stories wouldn't remain anonymous, by virtue of the fact that people would recognize the characters, but it would give writers a way to start over if they won a round by a hair or amid controversy. It would be an optional anonymity.

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    4. I have mixed feelings about the 100% anonymity idea. On one hand, it does partially eliminate bias when moving to bout to bout...but it also prevents readers from forming attachments with certain writers they are particularly taken with. WRiTE CLUB (in its current form) only strives to separate the writing from the writer that everyone sees in all forms of social media...not from the writing submitted in each bout. As I said before, I'll really have to think about that one.

      I also have to say that writers who submit continuous samples from the same piece of work are taking a risk. Numerous comments from voters have been about not understanding what was going on, and that can be attributed to picking up where left off previously. Obviously the strategy can work...but it is not full proof and not the only way to win the contest.

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  9. What if a certain number of votes cast is a requirement for inclusion in a cage match with 4 save picks?

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  10. Finding readers will always be challenging, it's the reason books are a hard sell! How many rounds were there? In all, how many words were there? It's often hard enough getting someone to read a 500 word blog post let alone a story, so the issue of readers may remain as this comp simply requires a lot of reading.

    I voted here and there as I was really busy during the comp. I hardly even paid attention to my own entries!! Having said that, once the issue of the anon voters came in, for me, it diminished the comp. I thought about all the other participants that may have lost out based on anon votes, and once that seed started growing, it became difficult to participate. Yes there were less votes as the comp went on, and probably even fewer after anon voting was turned off. But even before anon voters was turned off, some bouts would have many voters and then the next round, half would disappear then reappear in the following round!

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    1. Thus the decision to turn off anonymous voting. Of course this pretty much leaves out anybody who doesn't operate a blog or is not signed up with Google +...but that's the way it has to be.

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    2. Could you add a Facebook option? Just a thought.

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  11. It was a lot of fun. Thanks to you and your wife for putting this on. It must be a lot of work!

    I know I tweeted when I remembered. I think twitter offers some kind of pre-made tweet you could post on the blog and people could click. Like a "spread the word by clicking this" deal. Though you need a new message each time. I don't know. But maybe that'd help bring in more social reach, and thus more writers?

    Looks like the next round is soon after Nanowrimo. Maybe use the forums and FB group to drum up attention?

    As for checking voters, unless you watch ip addys, that's tough. And even then, people could use public computers they share, or household, so two people could have the same ip. It's a tough one. I don't envy your job there!

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    1. You tweeted your little heart out...and I sincerely thank you for that!

      I think I've already decided to start a FB page specifically for WRiTE CLUB and I'll be looking for some folks to help me administer it. I did hit up the forums before the contest began...but I need to circle back around every week and troll for voters as well.

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    2. Ah, beat me to it on FB! ;)

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  12. I'd love to see the comments hidden until the match is over. What other people wrote did influence how others voted - in fact, someone on my match specifically mentioned that the comments changed her vote! I think that critiquing can be hard and there is a reliance on groupthink when a person is struggling to offer feedback.

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    1. That's a good idea...but I don't know if that can be done...or how to do it. You can turn comments on or off, but not choose to display or not. Anybody else know?

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    2. You could put comments in moderation and just not post them until the voting is over. Not that I LIKE that idea, I like reading what others have to say. Also, I don't want to repeat what several people have already said (except to say "ditto"). But if it helps in keeping the voting fair, maybe it's a solution.

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    3. Even if you're commenting on something that someone else has already mentioned, you will say it in a unique way, and that's valuable. Also, if something repeatedly comes up as a problem or a positive in a piece of writing, the writer should take it more seriously, as something that needs to be fixed or is working. The only feedback that isn't valuable is the stuff that doesn't get written, imho.

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  13. Addendum: hiding comments could also help with writers recruiting their friends to vote, if they can see they are behind or it's very close.

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    1. Hiding comments or not...recruiting votes is a definite NO NO!

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  14. It was never clear to me what writing skills voting was supposed to be based on, if any. The only criterion I saw was to chose whichever piece "resonates with you." So there were occasions where people chose the the piece that was the sort of fiction they prefer to read, even when they thought the other piece was better written. If the only basis for choosing is whatever resonates with the reader, this seems more like a survey on the most popular genres than a contest to be won on writing skill.

    I tended to offer extensive feedback, as did a few other people, but there was a lot of "So-and-So for me." or simply "My vote goes to . . ." I began to feel that I was putting more thought and time into this than was warranted if resonating with the reader was all that mattered, and that usually meant a preferred genre, so I just quit voting.

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    1. I agree completely with this, and it's something I've thought about. Writing is subjective and people are entitled to their opinion. On the other hand, the value of the feedback was limited.

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    2. "if resonating with the reader was all that mattered"
      There are stories that win prestigious literary awards but make only average sales.
      There are stories that win very few awards but linger in the top ten best-seller list of the New York Times and such.
      Agents and publishers make more money from the second but are taken seriously if they manage to land the first on occasion.
      Once in a while some writer manages both in a single book.

      Winning prestigious writing awards requires a skill. Producing marketable writing is also a skill.

      So people will vote for an entry either because they feel qualified to be an approving judge or because they would buy a book that had these 500 words.

      Neither is a wrong reason to vote.

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    4. It seemed to me that the question of why voters drop out was one area of honest feedback being sought, so that's the area I addressed and I explained why I quit.

      I didn't say that resonating with the reader was a wrong reason, but that it was the only reason
      given for deciding how to vote, and I submitted feedback on the limited kinds of voting I thought this single criterion invited as the contest went on and how this affected my willingness to continue participating.

      I'm very aware of so-so books making it big, etc. What resonates with me is part of how I decide whether to purchase a book.

      Someone else brought up not voting for a piece just because the writer is your friend, since this is not a popularity contest. My point was that popularity of each genre, if the only guideline for voting here is ... well, there's no use repeating myself.

      Requiring so many votes to stay in the bouts might be a good solution for keeping entrants voting, but if the hope is to let lots of people know this contest is going on and they're welcome to join in as entrants and/or voters, there is no way to coerce the non-entrants into keeping on voting. Participating has to be appealing in some ways.

      I'd like to add that that single criterion can also discourage people from entering works that are in a genre not likely to stand a chance in this particular contest, especially since a more popular genre can be randomly paired with a less popular one.


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    5. Melinda -

      Writing that resonates was just one way (the primary way for me) to describe how or why you would single out one piece of prose over an other. The definition of resonate states - to have particular meaning or importance for someone : to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way. Did I intend for that to be the only way to judge who to vote for? Certainly not, and I'm sorry you read that as such a narrow choice. Maybe next year I'll state: Choose one over another, and state your reasons. I have read passages from ALL genre's...including poetry...that stuck in my head. And if I did remember it long after the book was back on the shelf...then to me it WAS written exceptionally. That is why I used the word resonates...and it has nothing to do with genre.

      Sure, some voters put more thought into how they voted then others. It happens every four years at the election polls as well. Is that a reason to sink to the lowest common denominator, or to skimp on feedback like some of the others? I'm disappointed that you decided to stop critiquing because you felt you were putting too much thought into it. I'm sure the contestants didn't feel that way. Also, on more than one occasion I've been told from readers that they've learned a TON just by reading the critiques. If your dissatisfied with the level feedback being given, please be an example and don't give up.

      Finally, mediocre writing in a less than popular genre will have a hard time finding its way into this competition, but exceptional writing from that same genre will always have a fighting chance (just ask some of our previous winners).

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    6. ". . .. Did I intend for that to be the only way to judge who to vote for? Certainly not, and I'm sorry you read that as such a narrow choice."

      Me? I'm one of the people who went well beyond what resonates with me to extensive feedback, looking closely at effective structure, characterization, and other aspects of writing.

      "That is why I used the word resonates...and it has nothing to do with genre."
      Despite your intentions, there were some people explicitly saying I really like XYZ genre so I'll vote for the XYZ piece.

      I know the definition of "resonates" and I have no argument with your definition or intentions.
      I tried to offer feedback on posted instructions on that probably had a certain effect, regardless of what you intended.

      If you don't feel that a significant number of people took the "resonate" voting instructions too narrowly, you are free to word the invitation to vote in the same way next year.

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    7. Melinda, it might also be partially based on what technology people were using when commenting.

      I was only able to use my laptop a couple days during the contest to read entries, I used my phone the rest of the time, and I found it too difficult to type a long comment when I was using my phone, so I tended to just vote without going into detail.

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  15. Congrats to all who dove in and tried on the gloves! I hate it that my real life got insane and I was a dropout from voting about midway through. Best wishes and good luck to all who take on the challenge next year!

    BTW, being a preliminary judge was stressful to the max. ;-)

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  16. I will echo the thought that people seemed to vote for genre, rather than writing. I found myself doing the same thing and made a conscious attempt to look at storytelling skills over the genre. It also seems like the initial choices were heavily weighted to SFF. (I have not looked at numbers, so I could be mistaken.) Is that a reflection of the distribution of entries or a reflection of judges' preferences? I'd love to see first rounds defined by genre.

    Completely anonymous voting is a great idea!

    I also dropped off of the voting radar about half-way through. For me, it seemed to go on for so long, I just lost interest. I'm not sure why it felt longer this year. I think I'd rather have 24-hour voting periods and a new entry every day. You could wrap the whole thing up half (or less) of the time.

    Thanks for your willingness to listen to feedback, which can be painful, and thanks for persevering!

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