I've read through all my entries and have moved on to reading fulls. Thanks to everyone who picked me as a possible mentor. I took the responsibility very seriously and tried to remember how I felt when entering contests. (I was never picked for a major contest, by the way, but got my agent from querying.) So I gave every entry my attention and consideration.
I received one hundred and fifty entries, give or take a few. I read each query. I only skipped reading the pages if the genre was very obviously not SFF. There were five or six of those. Last year I read the entire chapter sent to me. With double the entries to read, I had to nix that practice this year and read at least four pages on each entry, but often not all the way to the end. I wish it were otherwise, but time constraints have to be considered. If the pages held my attention I went all the way to the end.
I used labels in my gmail to help tag each entry. Some tags are for the pages and some for the query. Examples of those for queries are rhetorical question, short query, lacks stakes, interesting concept, tight query, telling, synopsis-like query, confusing. I saw a big increase in the use of rhetorical questions in queries this year. (You might want to reword those so they aren't questions anymore.)
I based my decision much less on the state of the query as reworking queries is one of my strong points.
Mostly my decision was made by the pages. I had many more tags for the pages, such as starts in wrong place, good writing, overdone concept, grammar/punctuation, great characters, can't get close to characters, telling, info dumps, bad dialogue, engaging, funny, head jumping, rambles and several more.
One of my most frequently use tags was "just not for me." I'm afraid with 150 entries and only one pick many times it really came down to my subjective opinion. Is this the kind of story I would want to read over and over? I am looking for the one I love the most, so great interest and attachment to the pages is critical.
Often there was nothing wrong with the pages, and the writing and characters were strong and engaging, but the type of story just wasn't for my tastes. Not really fair, but the nature of contests.
I also consider other things such as will agents go for this concept? Does it have enough unique elements to stand out? Can my vision for revision be completed in time? And to a lesser degree, does it translate well to a pitch. I say lesser on that one because adult entries get less love in contests. Whether that's because more of the agents want YA or other things, I'm not sure. I just know that most of the adult entries are going to find their agent after the contest ends and from querying so pitch-ability is a bonus.
I've requested a few fulls and will request more shortly. My plan is to read requested pages right up to the deadline, even if I find "the one," with the idea being to give feedback on the ones where I request additional material. I want to be able to send as much feedback as possible. Sadly, I don't think I'll be even able to read all the ones I marked as maybe or yes. I just promise to do my best and give it as much of my time as possible.
So there's where I am at this time. I found great talent in the slush and great potential. Not every story is at the same level of readiness, just as none of us are in the same place of our journey as writers.
The true benefits of a contest isn't agent requests but learning new skills as a writer and making contacts with other writers. We all continue to learn and grow no matter our place in the journey.