You've worked hard, polished your first chapters until they glitter like a disco ball, and you paid some hard-earned cash to enter your baby into a contest. Your motives may be mixed: you might want to receive feedback to see how your story will be received, or you might want to get your work in front of a particular final-round judge. Either way, submit. You wait expectantly...and then the results come in.
I've had all sorts of contest results. The first contest I entered, over a decade ago, didn't go so well. (This was before the days of email entries, and my chapter was literally covered with red pen.) Since then, I've improved as a writer, and I've finaled in or won a few contests. It's been a humbling, exciting journey.
Through it all, I've had some excellent judges. These authors donated their time to help me on my journey to publication and pointed out areas where I could grow.
Not every judge has been like that. I don't need to elaborate, but I certainly appreciate the helpful judges I've had.
No matter what happens when you receive your contest results, finalist or not, good news or bad, excellent critique or comments that might seem barbed, it's my opinion that you should thank your contest judges. Even if they didn't seem to like your work a whit.
Why? Well, these folks give up time they could be spending with their own writing or their families to help you and serve the organization running the contest. These folks enjoy the genre and want to see it thrive.
Are judges always right? Well, as a contest entrant and as a judge, I'd have to say no. None of us are perfect, nor do we know exactly how an editor will respond to a particular piece. I've disagreed with some of my contest judges. But this was good practice for getting my work in front of editors, and, when I'm published, readers. Not every reader of our work will like/agree with our style. We as authors have to get used to it. Grow a thicker skin, as the cliché goes.
It's also a good reminder that we have a choice when we offer critiques. Will we be encouraging, patient, helpful and hopeful, or snarky and rude?
But back to writing thank you notes. It's best, in my experience, to exhibit gratitude. It's good spiritual training, it extends to every aspect of my life. Home, church, community, and yes, writing. It keeps me grounded in what the Lord has done and is doing.
Writing thank you notes also shows others in the writing world that you are teachable. You are willing to learn and mature as a writer. You are humble and appreciate the help you're receiving from a judge.
Also, it's just plain old polite.
That said, not everybody writes thank you notes, and very few judges receive them. But after I wrote thank you notes, some of my judges contacted me directly with additional encouragement, advice, and open invitations to grow in a professional relationship.
Now that was worth every penny of the contest fee.