Why is it so important that a writing contest be squeaky clean in the way it’s run? Why must the efforts to prevent cheating be loudly proclaimed? Because writers as a group are unusually obsessive.
We need to know that whatever rank our piece landed at has some legitimacy. Knowing that my first effort achieved spot 205 out of 223 entries because it sucked may be hard to take, but to think it ended up there because some b*tch with a dozen sock puppet accounts took a disliking to me personally is much worse. Ok, so that didn’t actually happen to me, but I certainly know how it feels.
Do you think writing is easy or something? Everyone who made an entry in the Avon FanLit contest put a little chunk of their soul out there to be ridiculed, stomped on, complemented, and/or instructed. We need for the ranking to be as solid and valid as possible so we can worry it over in our minds, thinking of ways we could have done it differently and maybe trying those ways in the next round. Having a ranking that truly reflects the likes and dislikes of readers lets us plan and experiment, learn and hone our craft.
Entering the Avon FanLit contest wasn’t simply about wanting to win. It was about testing ourselves. It was about testing the way our words interact with a marketplace both in the writing itself and in our efforts to promote the writing. When the feedback is tainted by cheaters and unfair biases then nothing about the contest can be relied on.
It’s like trying to cross a river and having the stone you thought large and well-attached to the river bed roll under your foot. Eek! Splash.
Once the cascade of doubts begins it’s hard to stop it. Suddenly, everything gets called into question. Did the entry fail to reach the top ten because it wasn’t good enough? Or because someone was out for blood? Or because the promo sucked? Or because we weren’t generous enough in ranking others? Or too generous in raking others? Or because the hero was too mean? Or because there weren’t enough setting details? Or because our Shameless Self Promotion was a little too shameless? Or because…. Why? Read that why with a certain amount of tortured desperation.
Even the upside can twist down. Are the compliments real? Or is everyone simply kissing up to everyone else in an effort to gain popularity and a better ranking? If the complements are effusive, but the ranking is low, what does that mean? Anything? When the system lacks moral integrity then it’s very hard to be sure of anything.
I’ll be honest. When it comes to FanLit Forever – The Writing Game I am counting on three things to keep the moral integrity intact. First, the fact there isn’t any life-altering prizes. Although it would be nice if editors and agents discovered us, and maybe checked in now and again with an eye toward picking up fresh talent, there is no $5,000 contract in the offing. Thus we have more incentive to be honest with one another than to play head games. Second, those who have signed up for it have surprised me with their openness, kindness, and enthusiasm. In other words, we have a great bunch of people doing it. And Third, transparency.
The polls are out there for everyone to see and are a straightforward count. Those who like to obsess about numbers can crunch them as much as they like, drawing a sense of security each time they come out right. The storyline is generated by us in an open forum every member can see.
We are still working on the ranking system. I’m in favor of using polls, except doing it that way will leave most of us wondering how we really did. If everyone can only vote for 1, or even up to 3 and most of the votes go to the winner, many entries my not get voted for at all. Perhaps we could do ratings to get finalists, then a poll for the winner. Whichever we end up with, you can bet there won’t be any “fudge factor” built in.
The entries are always right in front of us, accessible at any time without skipping, or being forced to read something you don’t want to. If something goes wonky with it, we are all going to know and legitimately demand the darn thing be fixed.
There is still an element of trust. Maybe even more than FanLib required of us. It’s not a fancy program that can make sure every entry gets a chance to be read and commented on. We are feeling our way here, trying different things to see what works best. We don’t have a team of experts available to ferret out sock puppets. Yet I suspect we are going to find FanLit Forever ultimately more satisfying. Because it caters to our obsessions.