Thanks again to all of you for participating in this contest. I hope you feel you've received some helpful feedback—either confirmation that you're on the right track or some tips and pointers on where you need to improve.
I decided to pretend that I was looking for stories for an imaginary Christmas magazine. As I evaluated each piece, foremost in my mind was the question, Would I accept this story, as is, for publication in my magazine? I've included my answer in my commentary. If the answer was yes, that doesn't mean the piece was perfect. It means it was close enough and would only need a slight bit of editing before publication. If the answer was no, I've tried to indicate what you'd need to do to fix it.
I also included what I liked best about your story, it's strengths. As you consider rewriting your story for an actual submission, build on those strengths.
Although the majority of my comments are critical—pointing out what you did wrong—please know that I believe every single submission could be publishable with time and work. All of your stories touched me in some way. I hope each of you will come away from this contest feeling that you have learned something and with a renewed determination to continue writing.
With every contest, it gets harder and harder for me to choose a winner. Rarely is there a submission that stands out as a clear winner, without first having some debate with myself on the merits of the competition. This contest provided lots of debate.
For the first time in the history of this blog, the readers (you) and the publisher (me) actually agreed on who should be a winner in the Published Author category. Since Reader's Choice takes precedence, that left me having to narrow down down my winner from six* very good stories. I liked each of them for different reasons. I finally chose by asking myself which one I would buy.
In the Unpublished Author category, I couldn't make up my mind between two of them. I argued with myself all night and finally decided to make it a tie. (I'll provide the extra prize.)
With all that said, let's see who the winners are:
Readers Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #10—Arrows to Heaven by Tristi Pinkston
Publisher's Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #21—The Crooked Christmas Tree by Roger Bonner
Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category: Christmas Story #14—A Dark and Cold Miracle by John Parmley
Publisher's Choice Unpublished Author Category (tie):
Christmas Story #19—Believe Mr. Thomas by Don Carey
Christmas Story #11—Walking in a Weevil Wonderland by Melanie Goldmund
Winners: Please send me your mailing address within the next thirty days to claim your prize.
A very BIG thank you to the authors who provided prizes for this contest. I hope everyone who submitted a story took the time to read the sponsor bio page and to visit the websites of these very generous authors. If you haven't, please do so today. It would also be nice if you sent them a message letting them know you appreciate their generosity.
For those of you who did not win, if you want to take credit for your work, please identify yourself in the comments section of your post.
*#4, #6, #7, #20, #21, #26