To: Unhappy

From: Richard

Dear Unhappy,

Your assumption is that the best story wins in these contests.  What makes a story the best?

Aside from quality of writing judges will probably favor those that treat subjects they have an interest in or know about.  That is just human nature.

Ask two or three people what makes a good story and you will probably get two or three different answers.

In the case of the contest you entered there were over 100 entries.  Just coming up in the top 5 or 6 was an accomplishment.

Our contests are probably more fairly judged than most, expecially those with larger prizes that may draw many hundreds more entries.

As it was in 2018 we had four contests and your category was the smallest.  When our top prize went from $100 to $200 we got many more entries.  One reason we raised the prizes was that many contest listing sites won't list your contest unless the prize is at least $200.  So we got listed in those places where we had never been listed before.

When the high volume of entries became apparent I realized early on we couldn't ask the outside judges to read them all so I gave each of them a pass or fail as I posted them.  My years as a book editor gave me a nose for poor writing so fail grades were easy.  What was hard was deciding on those that were good--how good?  I didn't have time to tell just then.

Even so, taking out all I could at the outset, at the end there were over 90 passes in the biographical category alone and probably a total of 300 passes in the 4 contests.  

We had 3 outside judges and I could have no idea how thorough their reading was.  After a bit I realized that even though I might have picked other stories for my top few in each category we paid judges to find winners so I let them alone to do it.  

Once the judges gave me their picks I made a list of all those chosen in each category and asked them to cut those lists down to 5 or 6 and then to rate those top to bottom. 

When that was finally done I counted first places as 5 (if the list was 5 long) and last places as 1.  So I had 3 judges lists with a possible vote of 15 to 18 to the winner should they all pick the same story as first place.  Naturally they did not.  

That's how it was done and I don't know of a better way to do it.

I suspect some of the big contests just throw the names in a pot and pick one.  Who knows?

I hope this answers your question.

Best wishes,