Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Time to Wrap up the Zebulon

By: Dawn Smit

Now that you've entered the Zebulon contest sponsored by the Pikes Peak Writers, uploaded your story and paid your fee, what happens? It's almost time to announce the finalists. We thought you'd like to follow your entry through the months as the Zebulon progressed with a little backstory.

Round One: Query letter judging

At the same time the contest was open for submissions, we also sent out a call for judges. Many of our judges have judged for this contest before (and many were judges when it was the “Paul Gillette” writing contest), but we’re always looking for new talent. Those judges have since registered for this year and told us how many submissions they’re willing to judge in each round.

When the contest was still a hard copy-submitted enterprise, this would be the time when the box window in my kitchen would fill with box upon box of entries each in their own Manilla envelope. Knowing the number of submissions, I would check to see if we had enough judges in each category, make some calls to fill gaps, and then call in a boatload of volunteers to package everything up and mail out the first round. Now, with the online contest created by our very own PPW president, JT Evans, we no longer have to “touch” each entry multiple times, but we still have to make sure we have the right judge-entry balance before divvying up submissions.

Once that’s done, the computer randomly selects the judges, humans do a double check, and the judges receive an email that their query letters are available to read. They judge your letter according to these guidelines: guidelines This is where your entry goes in Round One.

Every letter is scored by two judges, and those scores are averaged. If that average score is at least 80% of the total possible score, your entry will move on to Round Two, which will begin in mid-December.

Round Two: Manuscript and synopsis judging

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the Christmas season has begun. It must be time to judge contest entries! Yes, along with holiday shopping, Christmas parties, and family get-togethers, the Zebulon judges are taking the time to read submissions. If your entry made it through Round One (and most have; we do our best to give you all of the information you need to succeed), it is currently in the queues of two judges. Fortunately, we at the Zebulon are not entirely heartless, and so we give our judges through early January so that, if necessary, they can recover from the holidays before plunging into the business of reading, scoring and critiquing.

Round Three: Third judge, anyone?

Each category has a slightly different scoresheet, which you can find here

Once the judges submit their scores, any entry that has a difference between the two scores of 35 points or more will go to a third judge, which takes us into February. Once the third judge submits a score, we’ll average the two closest scores together for that entry’s final score.

To advance to the final round, an entry must have two things: 1) a final score of at least 80% of the total possible score and 2) a score that ranks within the top three for its category. If your entry qualifies, it’s off to the VIP judges.

Round Four: VIP judging

It's now February, and up to three high scoring entries for each category are winging their way to the editors and agents who have agreed to read and rank the entries for the final round of the Zebulon. Depending on their busy schedules, our VIP judges may have this done in a matter of days or weeks. Once we know, it's time to let our winners know.

And that’s a wrap (up)

Finally it’s time to return the entries. Though it’s possible everything has gone smoothly, we plan for sickness and busy-ness and the unexpected, and so we schedule the final return for early March. That gives people time to register for the conference (if they haven’t already) while it’s still at its lowest price of $395 through March 15.

So there you have it, a month for preparation and query letter judging, a little over two months for judging the synopsis and manuscript portions, and another month for VIP judging and the return of submissions.

About the Author: Dawn Smit is a freelance editor and proofreader and the creator of Rainbow Editing®, a technique that writers can use to teach their computers to help them self edit. She was the contest director for the Paul Gillette Writing Contest from 2005 to 2010 and has returned for an encore.

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