It seems like it’s contest season across the board right now – writing contests, that is. I’ve both entered and judged my share. Speaking of which, I’m in the middle of judging two contests right now. One for published writers and the other for unpublished writers. For the published authors, you just send in a score. But most contests for unpublished authors require the judge to do a sort of critique throughout the submission. So I thought I’d post a quick five rules for judging. Here they are:
1) Be nice. We’re writers. We should know many words. One of my critique partners once received a comment on her contest entry that her heroine was “an annoying slut.” Now, while we laughed our heads off about this (because her heroine was awesome, funny and the darn book sold), someone just starting out in this crazy business might’ve gotten their feelings hurt. Or quit writing. So use the nice words to explain why an entry didn’t work for you.
2) Explain. So the entry doesn’t work for you. Why? Is it a first draft where the point-of-view bops from the hero to the heroine to the waiter to the dog next door – just in the first paragraph? (BTW, I’m making this up. I’ve never read an entry exactly like this.) If so, first explain what the heck point-of-view is, and then explain why it might be better to stay in one person’s head for a bit.
3) Use common sense. For the love of pete. If an entry has more adverbs than verbs, for all means make a suggestion that the writer use strong verbs and ditch the adverbs. But don’t zero in on the silly stuff. For example, I once submitted an entry where one judge just didn’t like it. She made numerous comments, including: “June nights are not cold in Idaho,” and “you should have a real lawyer read this for accuracy.” Interesting facts here: I’ve lived in Idaho my whole life and…I am a real lawyer. (Yes, I’m still ticked about this one. However, I still finaled in the contest because they threw out the lowest score and the other judges liked my stuff. 🙂 )
4) Meet your deadline. Keep in mind that the contest is more than likely run by volunteers who are counting on you to get your scores in on time. I’m finding that a lot about this business comes down to meeting deadlines. Might as well start now.
5) Be nice. Yeah, I know I already said this one. But it bears saying it again. The writer has put a lot of time, effort, heart and now money into writing this piece and entering this contest. How you respond reflects on writers as a whole. We’re nice people. We like to mentor and help new writers. Judging contests and being constructive in our comments is one way we do this. And it never hurts to add a positive comment once in a while, even if the book ends up in the dog’s point-of-view for the last forty pages. 🙂