Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Who Am I to Judge? By Jennifer J. Chow

“Who am I to judge?” I really asked myself that question when I was invited to review the submissions for Writer’s Digest 21st annual Short Short Story competition.

Original artwork by the young resident artist in my household

It was my first time being a judge. My role involved doing the preliminary judging of the contest entries. The results are now in. Huge congrats to JJ Lubinski and all the other winners!


The staff at Writer’s Digest informed me that I’d need to read around 750 stories. That figure was quite accurate. I had to do a lot of reading in a very condensed amount of time.


From my judging experience, I’ve now created a simple list of tips for those who are interested in submitting to a short short story contest:


·         Adhere to the word count

The contest rules indicated that stories needed to be 1500 words or fewer. Unfortunately, I had to automatically eliminate those submissions that didn’t follow the guidelines.


·         Grab me from the get-go

In a full-length manuscript, the initial pages need to pull in a reader. With a shorter story, there’s even less time. I want the first few paragraphs to entice me.


·         Find a unique spin

A lot of stories I read covered similar ground. Certain subjects were very popular, including big themes (e.g. love) or contemporary topics (e.g. the pandemic). To catch my attention, the tales with popular ideas required a distinctive take from the author.    


·         Develop an authentic voice

An interesting character is key to a story, and I latch on to great voices. If I’m invested in the voice, I’ll definitely keep reading further.


·         Guarantee a story arc

Although the word count in a short short story is lower, I still expect a complete tale. It’s important that a story arc is also found in these shorter works. 

One of the joys of judging is the honor of receiving people’s talented and creative output. I admired learning about all sorts of topics and reading different writing styles. I also appreciated being able to perhaps boost new voices through this contest. I’m indebted to Writer’s Digest for letting me put my judging hat on.


Have you ever been a judge or submitted anything to a contest? 


Kait said...

Great tips, Jennifer - for contests and any writing.

I've not judged any contests. I did have a friend who loved to judge contests and she was so good at it. Always giving constructive feedback even when the contest didn't require it. Easy to see judging contests can be very fulfilling.

Jim Jackson said...

Being a first reader for Poisoned Pen Press was an eye-opening experience when I had to think not only about what worked and what did not, but also why.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I've submitted to lots of anthologies and first pages contests with varied results. You never know...

E. B. Davis said...

I judged the Derringer's one time. You aren't kidding about the amount of reading--but it was also a joy.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Kait: Wow, I'm impressed by your friend! Giving constructive feedback takes extra effort. I'm sure that the authors really appreciated her thoughtfulness.

Jim: It's amazing how reading others' work really helps us understand the craft better. Thanks for putting in the time to be a first reader!

Margaret: That's true. You just never know. And what one publication rejected, another might jump at the chance to have!

E.B.: The Derringer Awards--such a huge honor! (I definitely needed to rest my eyes after reading through so many stories.)

Molly MacRae said...

I've only judged a few contests - the Derringers and for some local programs - and enjoyed the challenge. But 750 entries! I can't imagine facing that. You're strong and brave, Jennifer. Great tips, too.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Thanks, Molly! It *was* work but also a lot of fun!

KM Rockwood said...

750 stories? What a commitment.

Thank you for your sage comments.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Recently I was a judge for an important award. We had to choose a winner among about 120 books. While the books all included a mystery, they varied quite a bit in length, voice, method of presentation, and setting. There were five of us weighing in. I was pleased when we were able to narrow down the top five and then come up with a winner. Being a judge is quite an undertaking—a responsibility, a giving back to the writing community, and a honor.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Thanks, KM!

Excellent, Marilyn. What a wonderful way to give back!