May 3, 2011

Transparency About 3rd Place

Since some people want to know more about what happened with third place and why we chose not to award it to anyone, we will tell you what we can without slandering anyone.

After choosing the winners and having them all sign agreements that their work was original and previously unpublished, we discovered that 3rd place had already won a contest and published elsewhere more than a year ago. This is a violation of our guidelines and because it was not disclosed to us, but rather discovered by us, we were especially unhappy. Occasionally, because we allow simultaneous submissions, people get good news calls simultaneously, and if they disclose it to us, we are usually cool about a story being published in a non-competing avenue simultaneously. This has happened 2 or 3 times in 8 years. However, in this case we were either lied to or there was a grave misunderstanding on the writer’s part about what “published” means. So we had to disqualify the entry.

I thought this was good news, since the woman who came in 4th place was my personal favorite, but she declined the honor of 3rd place, because she had already submitted elsewhere and was hoping to get a better offer. There was a tie for 5th place, however, both stories had significant problems, and we decided that they weren’t publishable as they are. Because this is a writing contest, we can’t edit the stories to make them winners, no matter how much we want to. We realize that there may have been other stories that were winner material that may have fallen through the judges’ notice for whatever reason. Judging is a highly individual process and some people have wildly different likes and dislikes. In the end, we had to stick with the top stories that were chosen.

So that brings us up to date. We are committed to helping writers tell their stories and supporting them in that journey. We realize how not awarding 3rd place looks—that we are depriving some other author of a prize, but this actually gives us the opportunity to do more with the prize money that is sort of hanging out in space waiting to be used. We aren't sure what to do with it, but we'd like to use it to forward our mission of helping writers and promoting storytelling. We have several ideas and would like readers to vote in the comments.

  • Give away more money in the next contest.
  • Give each of the remaining 6 of the top 10 finalists free feedback/formal critique (normally $40).
  • Give it the most disgruntled entrants to make them happy
  • Give it to Write Girls, a charity that helps teen girls through writing mentorship. OR Ask readers to submit nominations for a teen girl or boy who could use it.
  • Start a scholarship fund for writers with merit who can't afford classes.

Other ideas? Vote or leave your comments in the blog.


  1. I vote for giving each of the remaining 6 of the top 10 finalists free feedback/formal critique.

  2. I agree, give the remaining 6 finalists free critique, esp. because they and the rest of us weren't deemed polished enough to be slotted into 3rd!

    One other observation, "Give it the most disgruntled entrants to make them happy" may seem funny based on some bad experience, but the attitude towards your own entrants doesn't exactly seem mature or warm-hearted.

  3. Thank you. You are right. That was a joke, but really, it doesn't ring true because most of our entrants have been very understanding--just wanting to know. I appreciate your comment.

  4. 6 of 10 free feedback.

  5. Thanks for acknowledging... I know the job of contest judging can be thankless under the best of circumstances!

  6. Sorry. That was my twisted sense of humor. But everyone has been very nice and understanding.

  7. As an entrant, I would vote for the 6 of 10 the opportunity to revise based on emailed notes from the judges, and then allow them another go at it. I know that wasn't an offer on the table, but I think that seems "fair." If not, then donate the money to the charity... I think that would be put to more good than written critique about a piece that short. Just my thoughts... thanks for letting us know what was going on. I wondered, but wasn't going to ask. Thought the 1st place memoir was amazing, by the way!!!

  8. Being perfectly honest, I find this situation to be very frustrating. The reason why is because I don't understand what you mean by the tied 5th placed writers (whoever they may be) having "significant problems" that prevented them from placing in 3rd. To me, it sounds as though you are implying that they along with the other participants' entries are nowhere near as good as the 1st-4th placers and due to that situation, they could not place. As a participant in this contest, I feel cheated because this contest was supposed to reward 3 contestants for their memoirs, and yet the two fifth placed contestants were excluded from being recognized for their stories. Even if I was not the one who placed fifth, it still bothers me because I paid an application fee, believing that this contest would stick to what it advertised.

    In my opinion, maybe the money that was supposed to be for the "3rd place contestant" can be used to reimburse the contestants who particpated in the competition and fell short due to an error. If not, at least everyone who participated in the contest should have feedback on their entries so this situation does not happen again in the future.

  9. I enjoy your twisted sense of humor. It reflects that of an aspiring writer. I would vote for bullet one or two.

  10. I commend you for your transparency. I've known at least one other contest that had this problem but did not disclose on their website that the prize was not awarded. I vote for critiquing the top 6 finalists, since I believe that the prize money from a particular contest should go first toward people who paid fees for that year's contest. Great first-place pick, BTW.

  11. Thanks for all the good comments. We have decided to give feedback to the remaining 6 in the top 10. You should be hearing from us soon.