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WRiTE CLUB 2014 - Wrap Up

I’d love to report that the fourth year of WRiTE CLUB was another rousing success - and so I will. One hundred and sixty seven writers entered the contest, smashing the old record to pieces and seriously stressing out our preliminary judges. Over the course of 14 weeks there were 1,695 votes, which averaged out to 45.4 votes per bout. And the level of competition continues to amaze me, the numbers doing nothing to diminish that. As we witnessed in the previous years, the contest started out strong and then numbers dwindled in the later rounds, which unfortunately is becoming the norm.

There are things about WRiTE CLUB that have been mentioned as concerns, but I feel my contest embodies a lot of the qualities the publishing world itself demonstrates. Pitting different genres against one another is one, but don't we face that same issue every time we step in a book store or shop on-line? Unless you only favor a single genre as a reader (and shame on you if you do), then we are always having to make that choice. And what helps us make that choice of which book to buy -- the quality of the writing. A good litmus test for deciding victory here is whether or not a writing sample leaves the reader wanting more. If nothing else, this should illustrate how we must each strive to adhere to this guiding principle in every phase of our work. We've seen some awesome 500 word snippets, but what about the next 500 words...and the 500 after that? We as writers cannot afford to coast, or compose filler that is supposed to simply serve as a bridge to the next major plot point, character interaction, or dramatic encounter. Our standards must be set higher than that and the luxury of complacency a foreign concept. A tough task indeed, but one we all embrace willingly.

Another one of the "concerns" I receive emails about is randomness. How is it fair that two quality writing samples, ones that possibly have the potential of making the final rounds, are pitted against each other in the first round? First I would answer that all 32 contestants in the first round are quality work (11 judges have seen to that). Second, the real world of publishing exhibits that trait all the time. Isn't it random how your query letter could land on an agents desk on the exact day he/she is in a bad mood? And finally, there are contingencies in place in WRiTE CLUB to help overcome this (Cocktail Lion was saved from elimination in the first round by a SAVE and went on the reach the finals).

This contest tries very had to combat the last concern I hear a lot. 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. Something that did disappoint me this year was that a contestant violated one of our WRiTE CLUB rules. Rule #2 - no solicitation of votes. It was something innocuous, suggesting the Twitterverse check out a certain contestant, but even this can be perceived the wrong way. Unfortunately I never said what would happen if I found out somebody was doing this, so I couldn't do anything about it this year (and it did not affect the final outcome), but there will be penalties outlined next year.

As far as next year goes, I'm waiting to see what happens. As I said at the start of this year's contest, the DFW Writers Workshop, who hold the DFW Writers conference every year, was considering incorporating WRiTE CLUB into their pre-conference agenda for 2015. The plan was to have the winner announced at the conference, but I'm still waiting to hear if they're liking that idea. More to come.

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? Please fill up the comments and help me improve this contest.

Hope to see you again next year!


  1. Hi DL - I think you've given writers a tremendous opportunity - just sad someone feels they can rig the ship ... but obvious WriteClub is a huge success - congratulations to you on that score ... and I hope the Writers Workshop will incorporate your idea into their agenda for 2015 - good luck on that score ... cheers Hilary

  2. Don -- thanks again for another fun year of very tough choices! Personally, I love WRiTE Club. I've made it a point to vote and comment in every single bout for the third year in a row. OK, well technically, there were a couple of bouts I didn't vote in, but it was only because I knew who a particular writer was. I wanted to remain 100% unbiased -- I LOVE the fact that this competition is anonymous. I don't want to know who the writers are; I don't want to feel I have to vote for or against any entry because of personal connections or feelings towards any writer as a person.

    I do find it disappointing (but interesting) how the number of votes always drops off as the competition goes on. I'm not sure if that's because voters who've left did so because they were also writers who were eliminated (or never made it into the competition). Or merely because voters became distracted or busy with other online things. The Internet and the blogging community does tend to have the attention span of a gnat with ADD. And frankly, I have no solution on how to battle that reduction in voting. Maybe offer periodic prizes for voters? As someone whose commented on EVERY bout for the last several years, I'd have no objections to cash awards based on voter participation... ;)

    But then I also don't want the contest to turn too gimmicky. I simply enjoy the opportunity to read great writing, give feedback, enjoy the top-rate competition, and to see the best rise to the top. It actually helps my own writing to be able to judge what works and what doesn't in others. So truthfully, WRiTE CLub DOES offer rewards to voters.

    But like writing itself -- you just have to be willing to put in the effort to be able to reap the rewards.

    Thanks again, Don, Kim, and to all the judges and pre-judges for making this a wonderful contest. And also -- and in many ways more importantly -- thanks to all the writers for putting some of yourself into your writing, submitting your work, and taking a chance on WRiTE Club!

  3. I think it went very smoothly this year! Sorry I wasn't around to vote as much. I think it definitely drops off because people get eliminated and stop voting... Not sure how you'd fix that. Maybe some kind of requirement? Like in order to submit their sample, they have to agree to vote on every round? I know you couldn't really police that, but it might help, even if you just say it's strongly recommended as a courtesy.

  4. Thanks for putting together WRiTE Club. I can't imagine how much work went into it. I didn't really have an issue with the genre mash ups. To keep the participation going, maybe starting out with a smaller field and/or having a matchup every two to three days would lessen the drop off in voters over time. I agree that the vagaries of the publishing industry are well-represented in this contest-- some of the votes were strictly genre preferences, some were "pet peeve" issues, etc. and many were thoughtful, constructive critiques (looking at you, Chris :) )

    Glad I participated and I hope it continues!

  5. Because of my family situation, I missed most of the contest this year, which I really regret. I'll go back and read as many of the submissions as I can but I did miss not participating in the voting. Looking forward to next year.

  6. Although this was my first year participating, I thought the contest ran smoothly. The random match-ups didn't bother me, but I'd suggest that pieces shouldn't be labeled with a genre. That way, the writing stands alone and pieces won't be judged on genre expectation.

    Part of the voting drop-off undoubtedly comes from the length of the contest. Start to finish, WRiTE CLUB 2014 ran almost 4 months. It's hard to keep interested over such a long period, unless you're still in it. I was in the very first prelim, and had to wait 2 months before my next bout.

    Perhaps the timeline could be more compact, i.e. 6 weeks start to finish. Fewer participants in the prelims (which I'd hate to see) or more frequent bouts might accomplish this.

    Second idea: What about a tournament-style bracket? The entrants might be placed on it randomly at the start. Then we'd have an idea of which matches were coming up, and who might be facing one another in the ring. It would also help everyone track the progress of the event in a visual form, and might maintain the excitement, too.

  7. That is so exciting about Write Club being considered for the pre-conference line-up. Hope it works out!
    Edge of Your Seat Stories

  8. This is a great contest. It is my deepest hope that it continues and grows.

    The line between soliciting votes (directly asking for or trying to obtain a vote for a candidate from someone) and telling others about a story they might enjoy can be a little blurry. Is it wrong to tell a group of romance story readers that there's a romance story up? Is it still wrong when there are two romance stories against each other?

    Is it wrong if a certain political party sends me information about their candidate, and another party (which I'm not registered with) does not? These fliers in my mailbox saying, "Hey, that issue you care about - here's someone who feels the same. By the way, there's an election in November. Do you need a ride to the polling place?" - is that soliciting votes? Candidates must walk a very fine line. But what happens when non-candidates, people who don't even know each other, say "hey, did you know that SuchAndSuch is doing something which interests you"?

    Perhaps a list of predefined, clickable tweets? (clicktotweet, for example) This way people don't inadvertently tell their fellow huge-fans-of-a-genre friends about it, thus sending voters who do prefer a certain genre to the blog, and increasing the odds (though not guaranteeing it, as solicitation more often implies) that one story gathers more votes.

    I confess to being guilty of this crime. I hang out with many fantasy-preferring friends both on and offline. And yup, I told them when I saw a new fantasy story up after the first bout was over. Some of them voted. They did not always vote for who I hoped they would, or always for the fantasy choice. They did not always agree with me, or always vote the same as me. And that's okay. A few of those friends were hoping, and still hope, that some of the writers who didn't win end up publishing. (I know one of my friends is dying to get a complete copy of the first story from The Baron. The one with the dog versus the gnomes. She is a crazed fan. Just saying. That friend, incidentally, didn't vote at all, because she couldn't figure out the "comment as" section, and thus couldn't figure out how to cast a vote. She's 65- just be glad I finally got her off dial up.)

    It's difficult not to share something you love with someone who you know will love it too. That's how friendships are often formed. So yes, perhaps predefined social media shares could help curb the enthusiasm? Or reign it in so the phrasing doesn't inadvertently fall into the soliciting category.

    1. As far as randomness- I like it. Sure, when Emeril was signing books at B&N, far more cookbooks were selling than other categories. But by the end of the weekend, the craze died down. The only way to combat this would be for professed fans of both genres be the only ones permitted to vote. Like a voting lottery. Fill out a voting application beforehand. If two genres you check off for reading coming up, it'll be your week/bout to vote. Others can weigh in for fun, but only the selected 7 people (or whatever number) get votes that count. Though then someone has to manage all that... and make sure the 7 people all show up to vote. Have alternates in case or something. Unless the entrants all chip in toward prizes, it might be difficult to get people to show up when they say they will. (Here's a list of the 7 people who get to vote in the next round. One of them will win a giftcard. Yay!) Something like that. I don't know. I'm just spitballing. Though... if it were the case... people could write whatever they like on any social media site and it wouldn't matter. An impartial jury of peers would have already been selected and sequestered. (They'd get to vote before the stories are posted.) The rest of us just show up to say whatever we have to offer, to debate if we agree with the selected winner, etc. I'm not saying it'd be better or worse, I'm just tossing out an idea. Not necessarily a good idea. Certainly not an EASY idea. And probably not a better idea. Just an idea.

      No matter what, I love Write Club. I hope to see it continue for years to come. If there were merchandise, I'd buy it. I think major magazines should mention it. I think agents should follow it like vultures waiting for a scrap of tasty story meat.... "Ooohh, look at the crowd reaction to this one! Better snatch it up and get it published. To the Query-skipping Mobile!" ~insert old Batman music~

      Thank you, DL (and those who help DL), for giving this gift to the world.

    2. I should also mention that, in addition to spreading the word about fantasy entries to readers of the genre, I also did 298 retweets of the hashtag #writeclub2014, plus four pre-scheduled tweets every week that made no mention of what genres would be up (as I didn't know), and threw in a few extra tweets as well. And posted on Facebook, Linked In, G+, Pinterest, and four different forums, plus promoted on my blog. But yes, I did have a tweet that violated a rule by including the hashtags #diversebooks and #colormyshelf (in reference to Swick)
      I am the ship rigging villain on Twitter from 4:31 PM - 18 Sep 2014 -- If anyone wants an example of what NOT to do.
      Dig more. There's also two tweets promoting both people equally. If I had more characters and a unique hashtag for Cocktail Lion's story about the kids at the pool, this wouldn't have happened. That is MY BAD. I admit it. I own the mistake.
      My apologies to everyone.

    3. ps-

      Have you seen how they do it? Could any of that be of use or applied to help prevent possible voting fraud?

  9. Congratulations to all the writers on another great year!

  10. This was the first time I participated in a Writing Contest like this and wow, it was a lot of fun! I took a few days to think about the problem with people voting for genre preference over writing quality. I actually had the opposite reaction when I voted - voting for genres I didn't typically read just because they pulled me in to the story. Really, that's two sides of the same coin. Another issue that came up was when an action sequence was pitted against a quieter sequence. It's difficult to judge diverse entries, absolutely, and ultimately it all comes down to preference. <-- this sounds smarter in my head.

    So then, I was thinking of possible solutions to minimize advantages and hit upon an idea borrowed from improvisation acting exercises -- a la, "What's My Line?" Why not dedicate rounds to a certain genre or theme or type of scene? Like: "Okay folks, you have 10 days to write a 500 word scene of a Science Fiction multicultural LGBTQA moment of confrontation - and you must include a sneaker, a piggy bank, and a can of soup -YA/NA/Adult, go!" <-- over the top example, sure, but then, with an exercise like this, all the contestants are on equal footing, starting from scratch, because who could possibly guess the assignment? I would love LOVE to see something like this.
    My two cents. :)

    Thank you thank you thank you to all involved in this contest. Good times!

    ~ petrichor

  11. WriteClub is a one-of-a-kind contest and I had a great time participating for the first time this year. I don't think major changes are needed, especially changes that might put more of a burden on the Hammons. Here are a few tweak ideas, though, some of which have already been voiced.

    1) How about an accelerated timeline? Not only would this be less nerve-wracking for, ahem, *other* participants ;) but it would raise voter turnout too. I'd vote for something in the 6-8 week range.

    2) A tournament bracket, as Lord Codpiece suggests? YES. That would be almost excessively fun. Nice graphic element. Fun to promote, too. Full disclosure: I love march madness basketball.

    3) A suggested level of voter participation, say 75-80%? In other words, encourage voters to vote on as many bouts as possible throughout the contest, as a way of discouraging ghost voters who only show up for one or two bouts. This would give more weight to people who are more invested in the contest and typically have more to contribute (constructive crits) as well.

    4). Finally, how about prize options? I assume that most, if not all, participants in WriteClub are seeking representation. I know I am. What if you asked agents to award queries or pages requests to their favorite finalists? This seems like a condition agents are happy to meet, and it adds a little extra buzz and excitement for un-repp'd authors.

    Thanks again, Hammons and other writers! Peace, out.

    - Cocktail Lion

  12. This is the first year I've been involved with the Write Club, so I have no suggestions so far. ;-) Though my entry didn't make it to the round of 32, I was thrilled to be involved and tried to promote it fairly. Thanks, DL, your wife, and the preliminary judges. This was fun!

  13. Chris Fries said it best: "But then I also don't want the contest to turn too gimmicky. I simply enjoy the opportunity to read great writing, give feedback, enjoy the top-rate competition, and to see the best rise to the top. It actually helps my own writing to be able to judge what works and what doesn't in others. So truthfully, WRiTE CLub DOES offer rewards to voters."

    I don't think the contest is too long, either. Due to lots of stuff, I missed the deadline to submit this year but when I saw that WRiTE CLUB 2014 was ON, I was all over it like a cheap suit. I thought it was very wise of you, DL, to NOT to publish the names of the 32 who made the initial cut.

    When it comes to voting ... well, that's a hard one. Perhaps you can give Anonymous voters or folks with names like gplsdkhfh197lakdhfl^*^ljhafdhjl only half a vote. But even that interferes with the ... um ... FiGHT CLUB vibe of WRiTE CLUB, doesn't it? And as far as tweets are concerned, well I opened a twitter account just FOR WRiTE CLUB. I was still in the egg when I started voting. All you can do, DL, is set the rules and folks will either abide by them ... or not. The fact that the vast majority do is miraculous!

    And you are ALWAYS going to have folks who do not read the rules and then complain about something that was clearly stated up front. I think I fell into that category the first year I participated in WRiTE CLUB and now I'm one of those prissy people that sets others straight in the comment section. Nothing more obnoxious than someone who does that, right?

    This contest, in my opinion, is the fairest, best, most fun contest on the internet. You and Kim and all the preliminary judges gave hundreds of us a wonderful time. One-hundred-sixty-seven entries is HUGE and I think you'll be able to expect even more next year.

  14. Oh I think Cocktail Lion's suggestion for accelerating the timeline would definitely help with turnout! But that'd probably make a lot for work for you and the judges, so I understand.

  15. I was hooked at first, reading all the submissions but when it went to round two and I had to read the same stories over again I dropped out. I did not like that part. Maybe it's just me.
    Perhaps all contestants should submit at least two entries to start and compose a third if chosen.
    Just my two cents.
    I'll check it out next year as well. At least for the first round.




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