Saturday, January 31, 2009

Are You Judging Me?

The other day I was talking to a friend who received the results from a contest she had entered. Much to her surprise, the manuscript that had been named a finalist in one contest, scored near the bottom in another. How could this be?

I've thought about this a lot in the last few days and I think I have come up with a couple of reasons. Sometimes it is a matter of where you enter the contest. Several of the comments she received reflected the judge's unfamiliarity with occurences that were routine in the area where the story was written but a rarity in other locations. Finally, all judges bring their personal tastes to the table.

As the first phase of the Linda Howard Award of Excellence comes to a close, I would caution each entrant to review their comments with these two things in mind but also look further than your initial gut reaction. I now have two reads on the comments from the first contest that I entered. Immediately after reading the comments from my disappointing results I vowed to never return to a Southern Magic meeting--let alone enter another contest. Now, a year later, I've gone back to my critiques. I still take exception to the personal bias comments but I find that I must grudgingly admit that the comments about too much back story, and not enough dialogue in the opening were dead on accurate.

Don't let one contest's results stop you from entering another. Read the comments you receive, then put the critique away for a couple of weeks. When you read them later, look past the things that make your blood pressure raise and honestly look at your writing. I have, and now I think that it's time for me to enter another contest.


M.V.Freeman said...

I have to admit, I have some trepidation about entering contests where you get the comments back.

I like your suggestions, and I think that if I ever have the opportunity to judge, I will keep that in mind.

Now, maybe I should just get ready for a contest and quit lolly-gagging around...:)

Misty Wright said...

I look at it like this. We enter contests to get feedback. Therefore, when I read an entry, I read it like it was my CP's book. I tell what I think works and what doesn't. These are just one person's thoughts. It doesn't mean that the one person that really matters will not like it.

I read the comments I've recieved and put them away. Once I come back to them a little later I can see what they are talking about.

Carla Swafford said...

Oh, Diane, AND you came back to Southern Magic! And we're all glad you did.

Christine said...

I only enter contests where there is feedback and/or an editor in the final phase of judging. I've received so many different reactions to the same story/words that I set them aside, wait a while, and then revisit them when my heart isn't on my sleeve. Where there is a correlation, I take note. Where there is just nothing but subjective opinion that doesn't agree with the majority, I toss it.

It's good to enter contests as it will toughen us up for the editor's red ink...

Karen Beeching said...

Contests always surprise me, as an entrant, judge, AND coordinator. As an entrant, I've received more often than not, three entries--two with high scores and one with a low score. I'm talking a score low enough that, if I were in grade school, I would have received an F. An F!!! Meanwhile, two other "teachers" thought I received an A. Hello? What happened? As a judge, I rarely give a low score (and certainly not an F ... which you only get when the dog ate your entry, right?), unless something vital was missing from the entry, something that left me not understanding AT ALL what I just read. As a coordinator, I'm constantly shocked to see entry after entry that has the same kind of discrepencies I mentioned earlier (as an entrant). One A, one F. What?

I've been involved with contests for a few years now and I've come away understanding one thing ... it's all subjective. Each contest mentions that word in their rules and guidelines for a reason.

As Christine said, we'll come across this in publication as well and I believe it's just one of those bummers in life where we'll just have to take it on the chin and move on.

I'm so glad you came back too, Diane!!!

JoAnn said...

Whenever I judge, I try to be encouraging no matter how bad the entry is. I mean if someone wrote it on a paper bag in crayon, I'd probably compliment the color they chose. I'm honest, but not brutal, and certainly not snarky. As coordinator of one category, I've been very disheartened at what some judges have said on the manuscripts of my "charges." I really see no point in sarcasm. It's not constructive at all.

Naima said...

As having been that entrant who has received everything from encouraging to "snarky"--to borrow JoAnn's word--I have definitely come to realize that contests can be valuable because of the feedback, but also go with your eyes open that it's subjective. Like Karen, the ones I've entered have 3 judges critiquing the entry. There are always 2 scores that are within 10 points of each other and the 3rd is somewhere near Venus!! LOL! I take what I need after putting my hurt feelings aside because they didn't somehow realize they were judging the work of the next Nora Roberts...I don't know why they didn't get it...and then put the rest in perspective. I, too, realized that I had a long beginning and changed it to have the action start right away. So, I still keep entering them because of the opportunites they represent. And I for one am soooo glad you came back to Southern Magic. I mean, if you hadn't, I would have never learned the word "reciprocity"! LOL! That is soooo going in my manuscript!! LOL!!!

Crystal-Rain Love said...

The same manuscript that took 2nd place in a contest tanked in others. During my time of entering contests, I have received scores back that made absolutely no sense. We're talking about two perfect scores from two judges, and a third judge who gave me few points at all. I even had a judge who stated she didn't care for vampires. Why was she judging in the paranormal romance category then?
The funniest thing of all is that I submitted two entries in the last contest I'd entered. Both were completely ripped apart and belittled. The romantic suspense ended up getting me my first publishing contract with Sapphire Blue Publishing and has received rave reviews. The paranormal romance got me an 8-book contract with Imajinn Books... and both of those deals happened within a month of getting back those dreadful scores. I laughed so hard I cried.

Christine said...

I remember being in a meeting up north at my old writer's RWA chapter. The leader asked people to raise their hands if they were contest judges. The mixture was quite a surprise. From that experience, I always try to tell myself, consider the source.

And now, back to entering contests and trying to get published.

And isn't getting the last laugh the best feeling?