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Why Don't I Win Vocal Challenges?

Some Possibilities

By KJ AartilaPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 3 min read
Why Don't I Win Vocal Challenges?
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Why Don’t I Win a Vocal Challenge?

I have been a member involved in judging one of the Vocal challenges and have read numerous entries to different contests. I will say my choices in the works that I think are worthy of placement are often not equally appreciated by my peers, so my taste may be quite “out-of-touch” with the “norm,” so here’s one opinion in about a million; do with it as you wish.

Full disclosure – I have never, in my three years a member, won a Vocal challenge, but I have also not placed my focus on meeting criteria.

Here are some things to consider when entering a Vocal challenge (or any writing competition.)

Credibility of the Judges –To whom are you giving permission to judge your work? Why is their opinion of value to you?

The judging system – Does it seem fair? What are the biases? Is it a blind or open judging competition? We don’t know with Vocal, for the lack of transparency.

Number of entries - Typically, hundreds of pieces are entered into a challenge. Usually, only 10-20 of those make it to the top spots for placing. The odds of your piece winning one of those spots is slim.

Ok, so you’ve gotten past the judging criteria and number of entries issues, and you still want to enter, with an intention of winning.

Let’s look at some aspects of your entering that you can control. How can your work get noticed?

Possible Judging Criteria to Consider

Does the piece you aspire to enter pass these to the best of your ability?

Clarity and Coherence – Does your story make sense? Is it logical and easy for the reader to follow? If the story is confusing, your reader is likely to tune out.

Personal Connection – Is it relatable to the reader in an emotional way? Can the reader imagine being a part of your story, or are you just expressing your own personal experience despite the reader’s interest? If there is no connection, the reader will likely disengage.

Originality – Your point-of-view is what draws the reader in. Your point-of-view is what makes an experience original. Your personal experience and expression are what make an idea interesting.

Grammar and Formatting – It should go without saying that your use of grammar must be exemplary, and proper formatting techniques need to be utilized in order to make the reading experience pleasurable for the reader. If a person tries to read, but is constantly running up against grammatical errors, or unpleasant formatting, the reader is likely to not finish reading the work you put so much effort into writing and set it aside. It will not be considered for placing.

What you might notice is that many of these choices are subjective and based quite a bit on personal opinion. If you desire placing, this is where it may be advantageous as the writer to be familiar with the judges and their personal preferences.

I have listed only a portion of the points to consider before entering a contest with the objective of winning. There is a myriad of criteria on which work is judged. These are just some of the most obvious to me in making a difference between having a piece considered, or immediately disregarded.

This article about receiving Top Story recognition may interest you also:

Thank you for reading! Do you find these points helpful? What else do you think is important to consider before entering a piece into a challenge or contest?


About the Creator

KJ Aartila

A writer of words in northern WI with a small family and a large menagerie.

My Substack

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Comments (19)

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  • Rasma Raisters29 days ago

    Something I have been wondering about a lot myself, I have two experiences. One was when the challenge involved haikus so I entered quite a few but no luck. Longer stories take time and effort so I enter once but you know how that goes I could wind up way down on the totem pole. Right now I am entered in one more challenge and still hoping, I won't give up entering and I suggest you don't either and perhaps one day we might both get lucky,

  • Lamar Wigginsabout a month ago

    Great conversation starter, Keila. I love what everyone has to say here. For me, I believe the judges gravitate more towards the literary aspect of a piece. Writers of prose have an advantage here. And if they can do it good, they get the judges attention. I believe this goes for the majority of the winning pieces they choose, but I have read a few (dozen) that, in my opinion, shouldn't have made the cut. One in particular that I won't mention but comes to mind every time I read articles like this. Thank you for speaking out and giving us great point to consider.

  • Scott Christensonabout a month ago

    That would be so ironic if "why don't I win!" won something lol. In another contest, when I stopped caring, I started winning. I think simple, clear and vivid character focused stories are what do well. When we think too much, we tend to overdo plot & theme which can make stories boring.

  • The Dani Writerabout a month ago

    I thought your insights and sharing were very relevant. Great piece!

  • Gina C.about a month ago

    Awesome thoughts presented here, Keila! I think you've definitely touched all of our heartstrings with this -- so many of us have wondered what you've outlined and are so invested in this! 🤗

  • We see a lot of the same people place and we also see things win that do not even meet the criteria. There are a lot of great writers who don't even get Top Stories. I have given up caring about Vocal moderators and judges because although the platform is good they never address issues. I placed once after the initial shock I was even more shocked that it was not a particularly good piece, which says it all. Your article is excellent and raises a lot of good points

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Those are some very solid points! Apart from those, I believe it also depends of what genre the judges like. Take me for example. I like horror stories, not ghost horror but the gory kinda horror. The bloodier it is, the better. So I'm not gonna choose a happy story over that. I feel we should study the judges closely and find out what they like. Because sometimes no matter how good our story is, if it's not their cup of tea, they're not gonna choose it.

  • Misty Raeabout a month ago

    As someone who has won more than my fair share of challenges, I will say a few things. Grammar and formatting actually aren't stressed enough. You have no idea how frustrating it is to see a winning piece that's riddled with errors. I'm not talking about a few mistakes here and there, that happens, I mean just awful. I've seen it. That said, the stories I won and/or placed with I think were ones that tugged someone's heartstrings. If you can make a judge feel, you're halfway there and a lot of writers seem to miss that. They try to be "writers" not storytellers. Tell the story, forget editing your feelings, spill it out. The last 1st place story I had, I almost deleted because I was so embarrassed about how gushy and transparent I was. I do think there are "favourites," and that changes over time, but it's natural. Humans aren't perfect, we come with biases and preferences My final advice, really is stick to the rules, and write from the heart..

  • Matthew Frommabout a month ago

    I have so many thoughts on this topic, but most people here have enumerated them, so I don't want to repeat those points. The Grammar and formatting piece can't be shouted from the rooftops enough. I have never once submitted something to a challenge, vocal or community, and gone "I deserve to win" because there are too many variables, and too many of them are out of my control.

  • Mariann Carrollabout a month ago

    I know I won’t win a Challenge. I make grammar mistakes all the time. I write for fun. Great article 👏🏽👍🏽

  • Stephen A. Roddewigabout a month ago

    Personally (ha, more subjectivity), I always remind myself that there are humans involved in the decision making process, like you outlined. And when humans are involved, that means subjective decisions are being made. What might speak to one judge based on their experiences might completely fail to resonate with another. So lack of placement is less an indication of some objective flaw in our writing and more a signal that it didn't speak to this crop of judges/editors. There's not much we can do about that, unless, as you suggested, we can obtain insight into the judge's background. But since we haven't seen a named Vocal Challenge judge in quite a while, that's not much to work with here. And personally (there it is again!), I'm going to write the best story from my lens and let the cards fall as they may. To do anything less feels inauthentic to me (subjectivity x3). Plus, having something I personally believe in helps me have the confidence to then shop it elsewhere when it doesn't place. I have an article coming out in a couple days where I detail how a story that was an absolute flop by Vocal standards found a whole new second life off the platform. Once again illustrating the subjectivity point: the Vocal judges said "no," but some magazine editors said "yes."

  • Judey Kalchik about a month ago

    I appreciate this piece so much. Recently I clicked on the details for the Eclipse challenge and found some of the things (emphasis on some) sought out by the judges are detailed. There is an official details page for every Challenge, usually in the How to Enter part of the Challenge description. Here's the eclipse one: specifics of selection are throughout, and there is also a paragraph on page 3.

  • L.C. Schäferabout a month ago

    Alexander put it so eloquently, and I think this goes for everything really, not just challenges. Rejection is part and parcel of this game, isn't it?

  • Alexander McEvoyabout a month ago

    Very interesting. I would love for Vocal to explain their judging process with greater clarity. I'm less than pleased that I've never won or placed in a traditional Vocal challenge, though grateful that I placed in the Writing Awards last year, but I would love to understand the judging process a little better. The shame of being a creative, as Caroline said before me, is that creativity and art is so subjective. As an example, I loathe most modern architecture - the glass and steel variety is an eyesore to me but beloved by others. And I never know if my work is low quality, or just not what the judges were in the mood for.

  • Caroline Cravenabout a month ago

    Great article. I think the best (and worst) thing about anything creative is that it's so subjective. For me, as long as I really have done my best and I'm as happy as I can be about anything I write, then it's all good. I love Vocal for keeping me honest, otherwise I think I would go back to never writing anything. Thought this piece had some excellent advice.

  • Paul Stewartabout a month ago

    Great points here, I've always wondered/worried/got annoyed/got angry/pissed off/sad when I've not placed etc. Vocal could help by making it clearer as to how they judge and pick out winners.

  • Thavien Yliasterabout a month ago

    Solid points but I was sort if expecting a but of a deep dive when it comes to subjectivity, theme, and similarity amongst winning entries and other entries that were similar if not identical, only arising from different authors as the phrase goes "You've never had an original idea. It's already been thought of before by somebody else." Reminds me of the work I put into analyzing winning entries and selecting a series of identifiable concrete factors as well as hopefully adding in some statistical analysis. In truth, I don't plan on adding all the latest challenges to that article as I put in way too much work for that article already.

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    Some fine points here. I absolutely believe that grammar and formatting are important, along with clarity, as you pointed out. As for hitting the prompt, while it should be a requirement, I have read that I questioned is that respect. Bit, as you also aptly mentioned, it's all subjective. Bottom lIne, I have no idea.

  • Shirley Belkabout a month ago

    very good points!!!

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