Saturday, June 15, 2013

Writing Contest FAQs

We get many questions about the Scribes Valley Writing Contest. We thought we would list and the most frequently asked

Why do you have a reading/entry fee?
     Basically, we use the reading/entry fee to fund the contest. We use it cover costs such as advertising the contest and building the anthology. Any prize money awarded also comes straight from the reading/entry fee.

What are the prizes?
     All finalist stories (usually 10-15 stories) are published in our annual contest anthology. Each finalist author receives a complimentary copy of the print anthology, along with a discount on any other copies they would like. Please note, there is absolutely no obligation to purchase additional copies. We’re not that kind of publisher. From the 10-15 stories, we select the top three and award those authors with a monetary prize. The monetary prize is based on the number of entries in the contest—the more entries we get, the bigger the prizes.

What type of story has the best chance of being selected as a contest finalist?
     First and foremost: a story that tells a story. We want to be transported into the story and, when we are finished reading, we want to say, “Wow, what a trip!”
     Second, a story that has been polished as much as possible by the author. Nothing turns us off a story as fast as one full of grammatical errors. When we consider a story for publication, we have to think of the time it will take to edit it.
     Third, one that follows our guidelines. We set the guidelines for a reason: to make the story easy for us to read, and put all of them on equal footing.

You have a deadline, is there a “best time” to send in a story?
Not really. We like to read the stories for the first time as they come in. Most authors choose to enter just before the deadline, which creates a “log jam” of stories to be read when the contest finishes. That’s fine. We give all the stories equal consideration, no matter when they arrive.

How long do you consider each entry?
Each one is read at least twice with a period of time (at least one day) between each reading. We do that to make sure we didn’t like/dislike a story because we were in a certain mood at the time of reading. Notes are written in a separate file so we’ll know how we felt when we read it.

Can you tell pretty quickly if a story will be a finalist?
     Generally, yes. If it tells a good story, is presented well, and shows that the author has taken pride in writing it, it is usually marked after the first reading as a finalist. But, as stated before, it is read again later, just to be sure, and that status may change.

Does certain subject matter automatically disqualify a submission?
     Automatically, no. But, any violence, sex, or language that does not advance the story are definite turn offs. We’re all adults here, and it takes a lot to shock us, but we have to consider our reading audience. So far, in the many years we’ve held our writing contest, we have not rejected a story solely because of gratuitous (unnecessary or unwanted) content.

Any pet peeves?
     A story filled with facts that do not check out. A stickler for accuracy, I check out, to the best of my ability, every fact presented in a story to make sure it is correct.
     As mentioned before, a submission that does not follow our guidelines.
     Stories that are obviously re-worked classic tales. Originality is one of our top rating measures.

Speaking of ratings, how do you judge and rate each story?
We rate each story on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) for six categories:
Originality – The story is original, or the author has come up with a new twist on an old theme
Story flow – The story line is easy to follow from start to finish
Spelling and Grammar – The story isn’t bogged down by distracting, hard-to-read syntax
Characters – They are built sufficiently for the reader to identify with or care about how/what they do in the story
Descriptions – The setting of the story creates a vivid mental picture for the reader
Dialogue – Realistic, easy flowing, not too formal, fits the character
     We don’t just mark each category and move on, we also write notes to help explain any exceptionally low score.
     These ratings are but a part of determining the finalists. Every once in a while, a story may have low scores but it has that certain “spark” that keeps it in the running for a finalist spot.

Once you pick the finalists, what happens?
     We like to notify the winning authors as soon as possible after all entries have been read and judged. We send emails to all the finalists at the same time, requesting a reply to let us know they have been properly notified. Once all have replied, we announce the winners on our website, blog, and Facebook page.

Then what?
We edit each story for the anthology. Simple changes, such as grammar, are made to the story without notifying the author. Major changes, however, are discussed with the author to make sure he/she agrees with the changes. The purpose of the editing phase is not to re-write the story, but to make it shine, to present it in the best possible light.
     During the editing phase, publishing contracts are mailed to the authors. Sample Contract.
     Once all contracts have been returned and the stories are edited, the anthology is put together and released as soon as possible.

And then it starts all over again for next year’s contest!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Me Grow Up? Forget About It!

My wife and I love to take day-long road trips. We get in the car with no particular destination in mind, stop at a local grocery store to stock up on “rations,” then hit the road, making decisions on which way to turn as needed. Most of the time, we are pleasantly surprised where we end up. Last weekend, however, we had a destination in mind.

My wife and I grew up in a small town in Tennessee. While we didn’t know each other until we were older, we both frequented, over the years, the same establishments in town. One, specifically, was the Blue Circle Restaurant ( It was a drive-in style restaurant, part of a small chain in East Tennessee, famed for their steamed-bun hamburgers. The restaurant was wildly popular with both the older and younger crowds in our town, but, as with most popular things, it eventually faded, then went out of business.

Sometimes we sit around and reminisce about such things from our past; how it seemed so much easier back then when we didn’t have one-one thousandth of the worries we have now. Worrying was what our parents did, and we were happy to let them do it. During one such rumination, one of us mentioned the Blue Circle, and I got to wondering what had caused them to go out of business. So I looked it up on the Internet, read about their history, and found that there is one location still open, and within 130 miles. Road trip!

I put the address into our GPS (funny how we often use modern technology to return to the past) and we hit the road. It took almost four hours to find it (mostly because I put in the wrong address and we weren’t in any kind of hurry) and we pulled into the parking lot. The distinctive sign immediately took me back to my youth. It was like seeing an old friend.

We went into the small dining room area and sat at one of the old fashioned tables and chairs, deciding not to employ the stools at the counter. As was the style of such restaurants, the food preparation area is completely open, so you can watch the employees as they prepare the food.

As we all know, memories are easily trigged by smells. I went into memory overload and, much to the mild chagrin of my wife (she’s used to me “going off”), became a kid again. I found it extremely easy to drop all the worries, all the cares, all the constraints of adulthood. I wanted to run around the dining area, spin on the counter stools until I got dizzy, laugh and joke, and generally “cut up.” I even found myself wishing my legs were shorter so I could swing them under my chair.

All too soon, it was over, every bite of my super cheeseburger and fries taken with a child-like ecstasy, and I reluctantly came back to the present to pay for our meals, and prepare for the drive home. That part, I don’t remember when I was a child. My parents always handled the paying (I think we kids always assumed food just dropped out of the sky) and the driving.

A split second after we walked out the door, I grew up and became a responsible husband and father again. What a bummer. I try to keep that youthful feeling as much as I can each day. The real world, however, does its best to defeat me in that goal. Well, the real world can go take a flying leap, because I refuse to let it control me.

I plan on being a kid until the day I leave this world, and you can’t stop me! Nanny nanny boo-boo!

So there!

Do you have a story like this? Why not fictionalize it and submit it to our annual short story writing contest? Come on, it’s easy to enter!