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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Suggestions for Contest Judges

I've talked about what writers who enter romance contests should know/do, so let me turn it around and mention what I think judges should be doing.

  1. Write comments. Lots of them.

    You might have someone who entered the contest primarily for feedback--tell them what did and didn't work for you. Not just the negative either. Try to point out what you liked. Even if you just write "loved this" at the parts you particularly enjoyed, that's helpful. Judging an entry and offering nothing but a score isn't fair to the entrant, especially if you take off points. But even if you give a perfect score, let the writer know what you particularly liked. Yes, it will take more of your time. Yes, there are entrants who are only in the contest to final. Do it anyway.

  2. Don't nitpick. Know that there may be more than one correct way of doing things.

    I'm talking about punctuation/formatting type stuff here. Just because someone doesn't put a comma where you think they should, or puts a few where you think they shouldn't, don't be quick to take points off. If there are numerous typos and other flagrant errors, that's one thing. Disagreeing with someone's method of punctuation is something else.

    On the formatting, if the entry is clear and readable without eye strain, don't worry about counting 25 lines per page or suggesting they use Courier. Don't take points because they italicized instead of underlined or vice versa.

  3. Use some common sense.

    If you're reading a fantastic entry, one that's well written and you're enjoying, don't start over thinking the score sheet and taking points off because the hero and heroine don't meet in the first 10 pages. (Non-category romance) Trust that if the writer handled everything you've read well, that they'll handle things like the sexual tension between the h/h well too even if you don't read it for yourself in the entry. Too many judges take the score sheet too literally and it boxes in writers who tell a story that doesn't follow the "rules."

  4. Read the entry more than once.

    Yes, it takes more time, but you'll see stuff on subsequent readings that you missed the first time through. The first reading should be big picture reading--how does the entry flow without you stopping to mark missing commas? Just read as if it were a book and only stop to write on the entry if something leaps out at you. The second/third/etc readings are for marking up the entry and making LOTS of comments.

  5. Try to put aside personal bias.

    You don't like reading the "F" word in romance? Too bad. Other people don't mind. Don't mark an entry down because you're uncomfortable with the language. That's a personal bias and has ZERO bearing on whether or not the book is marketable. Don't mark an entry down because the characters have a career you don't like or one you think isn't marketable. Yes, we've all heard repeatedly that sports stars as heroes don't sell. Better tell Susan Elizabeth Phillips about that. She seems to have missed the memo and has written some damn good books that have sold very well. You're there to judge the writing, the plotting, the characterization and other elements, you are not there to pass judgment, you are not there to tell someone they can't have a rock star as a heroine. Judge the work, period. If you can't do this, contact the contest coordinator and ask to return the entry. Let a judge who can be objective read it instead.

  6. Be kind, but be honest.

    Imagine if it were your entry. Would you want to read unkind comments? At the same time, if something doesn't work, point it out--nicely. Offer suggestions--if you can--on how they might fix it.

  7. Remember there are different skill levels and judge accordingly.

    If you're reading an entry by someone who is a beginner and has a lot of problems, don't start pointing out every little thing. It could discourage them, or crush them. Pick the two or three biggest items that they need to work on and focus on them. Make sure you point out what they're doing right. And sometimes this is damn hard.

    With a writer that's almost there, I think it's safer to point out other, smaller things, but make sure your enthusiasm for their work comes through in your comments. Don't do nothing but rag on them.

  8. Do NOT rewrite the contest entry. Do NOT mess with an author's voice.

    This happened to me with Ravyn's Flight and it absolutely made me insane. A judge thought I used too many words and she actually went through my entry and crossed out what she thought should be gone and rewrote my sentences! =8-O Pointing out that she thought I could be more succinct is one thing, rewriting the entry is something else. That's interfering in VOICE. Don't mess with an author's voice. BTW, my editor did NOT have me cut. Ravyn's Flight was released damn close to the way I submitted it. Just a warning for a judge who thinks she can write the story better. Hands off. It's not your place to rewrite.
I took another pain killer last night because of the foot, so I can only hope I sound logical and have presented this information in some kind of organized format. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest thing is the comments. Write all over the damn entry if you have to, but point out what does and doesn't work for you and why. If you're not willing to do this, then a) don't judge or b) give them a perfect score. If you're taking any points off, explain why--and do it KINDLY.