We designed the Inklings Book Contest to help youth grow creatively and personally. As professional writers, we've learned through experience that submitting work is always a growth opportunity. We develop a piece, polish it for submission, receive supportive feedback (ideally), and then revise our work again for publication. This process requires that we do our very best work, risk sharing it, and then dare to believe we can make it even better.
In the Inklings Book Contest, we invite youth writers to take on this meaningful challenge, too. Our community of volunteers passionately share their time and expertise to create learning experiences that cause students to develop a love for revision. For instance, past Inklings Book winner, nine-year-old Liana Zhu said, “Revision helps you notice your deeper story. Every writer needs feedback, and every writer needs revision––a lot of it!”
What considerations do you take into account when judging pieces?
Our judges compare like pieces from writers of similar ages. We choose up to ten winners in 3rd-5th grade, and up to ten in 6th-9th grade. In the book and within our group of finalists, we feature a range of genres and a diversity of writers. We take under strong consideration the writers' application, which helps us discern a writer's interest in challenging themselves to grow under the direction of a mentor.
How are the pieces judged? Who makes the final decisions?
We judge in two phases. First, our team of professional writers and mentors identifies the finalists and potential winners. Then we invite guest judges, often well-known authors, to make the final decisions.
What kind of feedback will my writers receive?
We believe that growth begins with confidence. For that reason, we identify a quality that is evident or beginning to emerge in the writer's piece and build on that strength. Our editorial letters include specific examples of what stood out to us in a piece, and writing craft instruction, often alongside suggested games or activities.
As an educator/parent, how much help should I give writers with their spelling, grammar, and formatting?
Before writers send their work to a professional editor, they may work with a copyeditor to fix spelling, grammar, or mechanics issues. For this reason, we don't discourage writers from seeking outside help from parents or friends. That said, editing is an excellent learning experience and the writer ought to be included along the way. We often use track changes to show students where we've changed spelling or punctuation, so they can begin to spot their own common mistakes.
If you're helping a youth with editing, keep in mind that the most important thing is to remain absolutely true to their voice. Resist the temptation to rewrite for them. If you feel a section is confusing or could be strengthened with stronger imagery or word choice, invite the writer to tackle that challenge themselves. Support them by asking open-ended questions rather than telling them what they ought to write.
How do you handle weighty or controversial topics?
Our Inklings Book is sent out to classrooms that range from 3rd-9th grade. When choosing stories, we do consider that audience. Additionally, when writers take on weighty topics, particularly when they tackle historical fiction, we consider whether they've demonstrated capacity to enter the emotional reality of that era or event. In general, when it comes to weighty or controversial topics, rather than focusing on the topic itself, we consider the perspective and empathy the writer has brought to the piece.
Do you have any suggestions for if/how best to encourage my reluctant or less confident writers to submit?
The Inklings Book Contest will be most meaningful to students who want to submit their work. Thus, we respectfully ask that you do not push members of your class to submit against their will. That said, many youth with potential either don't know they like writing, or don't realize they have something important to say.
Maybe you notice that someone has a knack with words, or unique perspective, or a gift for storytelling. Like any other skill, our writing voices need to be nurtured. Confidence is the first step.
If you'd like to encourage a reluctant youth to enter the contest, tell them specifically what you love about their voice or perspective. Then, if you're able, sit with them while they write, help them think the process through step-by-step, and encourage them to play to their strengths.
From our end, we promise that whether that youth is chosen for the book or no, they will receive supportive, positive feedback that will shine a spotlight on the power of their unique voice.
Want to hear about the Inklings Book Contest from past participants?