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Sixfold: A crowd sourced literary competition

Are you a copywriter who has dreams of publishing legitimate (i.e. non-marketing) prose or poetry? Then take a look at Sixfold.org. This outfit puts on regular literary competitions you can enter for the very reasonable fee of $5, plus a commitment to read and critique 18 fellow competitors’ work.

Entries are submitted via the web, and each is assigned to a panel of judges (there are controls in place so you don’t critique your own work). You receive six stories in each of three rounds with no author identification. As a critic, you rank the stories from 1 (best) to 6 (least-best) and write a brief explanation of your vote. I found this a challenging and stimulating assignment.

In the first round, it was pretty easy to identify stories that would rank toward the bottom but harder to determine the order toward the top. But you have to take this seriously because only the top two move on to the next round, and the writer of the story will have access to your critique and know how you voted. It’s a (mostly) transparent process, like Yelp for writers.

Again in the second round, you read, critique and rank six stories and the top two move on to a third round. In the third round, the highest-ranking work gets a $1000 award and the top 15 get publication in the quarterly Sixfold Journal. At this level the writing is very, very good for the most part and I felt challenged to be very clear in my critique. I needed to have a reason for placing the work where I had, and I had to explain the reason in a way that was useful to the author.

After the competition ends, you have access to a complete list of the entries ranked in judging order. You can read the stories, and click through to whatever bio info the author has provided. More important, you have (password protected) access to the votes and critiques on your own entry and the more rounds you made it through the more critiques there will be. I was fortunate to get to the third round (I placed #20, just out of the running for publication, among 265 entries overall) so there were lots of critiques and some were very useful. Specifically, there were enough criticisms of the way I chose to end my story that I’m going to go back and fiddle with it.

The one thing I didn’t like, though I understand the reason for it, is that participants have the opportunity to be as anonymous as they wish both in their critiques and their entries. You can hide your work, or your name, or both, in the publicly available results. This allows a writer to submit a work to gauge acceptance without publishing it. It also allows an established writer to submit anonymously. 5 of the top 15 stories are currently listed on the results page as “Document [number]” and aren’t available to be read. Most of the lower ranked stories are anonymous in the results, suggesting that a new author was simply looking for feedback which is entirely legitimate.

As a contestant, I’d like to know the identity of my reviewer so I can read their work and understand any inherent bias or perspective. It’s frustrating that User 2707 gave me a 1 (which, confusing, is the worst ranking for tabulating score, meaning I was 6 out of 6 in his rating) and said simply, “Thanks for letting us all read your story! I enjoyed it.” Would he/she have been so dismissive without the protection of anonymity? There were also some reviewers whose critiques were not available; I got a ranking but not an explanation. It’s a glitch in the system, I assume

All in all, the positives far outweigh my concerns, and I’m a big fan of sixfold.org. Already thinking about what to enter for the July competition.

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