m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

Honorable Silence

My SASE returned to me yesterday from the Writers of the Future contest, and inside was a cryptic letter saying, in part,

Congratulations! Your story was an Honorable Mention in the quarter ending 30 September (4th quarter). This means that you have talent!

I dimly recalled getting an Honorable Mention certificate from WotF many quarters ago, but the circumstances escaped me and I wondered what Honorable Mention meant in terms of the results as they used to be reported: no placement, quarter-finalist, semi-finalist, finalist, and winner. There were no hard numbers in the letter, so I couldn’t line up my Honorable Mention with the top 10–15% of submissions mentioned in previous quarter-finalist letters I’ve received. It sounded more like semi-finalist, but there was no semifinalist critique in the envelope, either.

So I googled this explanation from Alex Wilson:

“Honorable Mention” is WotF’s new name for quarterfinalist, which I think is a smart change. I remember when I received my first QF, having to to clarify with other writers whether it meant “You are a finalist and we’ll let you know what happens when the judging is over” or “you were a finalist, but it’s all over. Attaboy.” And it breaks my baboon heart to read the excitement of recent entrants/quarterfinalists who go from elated to crushed as a veteran entrant reluctantly clarifies.

I think “honorable mention” is just as confusing. It sounds like a much higher placement than it is, since most contests don’t make honorable mention of ten to fifteen percent of entrants. Honorable mention in colloquial usage corresponds to fourth or fifth place and a mention in the results, not to the eliminees in a quarter-final elimination round, the full list of whom—500 people? a thousand?—will not be mentioned anywhere.

Just for comparison, in the Strange New Worlds contest there were three winners and no finalist terminology at all. The twenty or so honorable mentions were all published in the anthology. Every SASE came back with a checklist showing where your submission placed in comparison to others.

I’m not saying WotF should go that far, but amateurs are easily confused when your contest has quarters, finalists, and quarter-finalists, or honorable mentions who aren’t actually mentioned. The only place where you can explain the terminology is in the rejection letter itself.