I just received the comments on a manuscript that I entered in an RWA chapter contest. It didn't final, and I was hoping I would get the comments before I entered another contest, so I was excited to see the envelope in the mail. I glanced at the first score sheet -- pretty high, but not perfect. The judge gave me some great feedback about what was weak and/or confusing. Very helpful.
The second score was lower, but still, the judges comments were about things I knew needed some work, and her constructive criticism helped me clarify it. Again, very helpful.
The third score was in the toilet. If the scoresheet were a geography test, I would have flunked with colors a' flying. There was no explanation given on the score sheet. Even though I was disappointed, I pulled on my portable thick skin and flipped to the manuscript to read her comments. Every single comment was positive, with several "good jobs!" and smiley faces thrown in for emphasis. I looked at the score sheet again. Had I misunderstood how to read the darn thing? Had she misunderstood? How do I reconcile the comment "Love this heroine!!" with a failing grade on "Is heroine sympathetic?"?
I'm just glad our own Southern Magic Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest strongly encourages judges to make comments and constructive criticism, especially if the scores are low. I know most writers enter these contests to get their names out there and their manuscripts in front of editors or agents. But some of us want to become better writers in the process.
So I'm begging you judges out there: Please give constructive criticism to the entrants. It doesn't take long to scribble something in the margin, and those scribblings just might help someone like me crawl out of the toilet with her dignity intact.
Care to share your experiences with judges' comments?