Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Judging Contests

I've been on the PRO loop for a few months now. And lately there have been a lot of pleas for judges to help various writing chapters judge their writing contests. I never responded. Why? I didn't know if I had the necessary qualifications to judge another person's writing. 

Yesterday I decided to ask about the process to become a judge. Obviously, there is a need for judges. I've benefited (most of the time) from entering contests. I decided to investigate and learn for myself if I could become a judge. It's time to give back a little to my writing community.

The floodgates opened. I learned I could judge NOW as an unpublished author with PRO credentials and a desire to apply the basic premises of judging to an author's work. I also learned I could take training on-line through another writing chapter's on-line courses as of, well, now.

I'm glad, but I'm also a bit nervous. After all, my own writing isn't perfection. Also,  I know grammar and punctuation are not my greatest forte (that's for line editing later on). But I've been a member of a Critique Group, had my own work judged and evaluated, and I believe I could be a fair minded judge. One, I hope, that brings along encouragement to a writer brave enough to send in his/her own work to a contest.

Remember the first time you sent in a contest entry? I know I was scared. It was a big, huge, monumental step. But I am glad I did send it in. I've only placed in one contest, but each one I've entered has given me valuable input about my strengths and my weaknesses as a writer. 

How do you feel about contests? How do you feel about the judging?  What's the worst/best critique stories in your contest history? 

Do you judge contests? If so, are you trained? Finally, if you are a judge, what advice do you have for me as I foray into this arena of writing? 


Karen Beeching said...

My best advice is to judge the overall story and try not to get too hung up on little details, especially if you think the research is in question. More often than not, judges may think they know police procedures or emergency room protocol only because they watch a lot of television, and they judge based on this. Big mistake.

Like any editor or agent, I'm reading in hopes that the story pulls me in and keeps me reading. If it doesn't (and it doesn't matter if I'm reading 15 or 50 pages), then I have to ask why the story didn't grab me. If I see grammar or spelling errors, I'm not so concerned with marking down for this unless I see quite a few. I think you can also tell if the issue is not so much the story but your reaction to the writer's style (which should not be marked down because you prefer a different style). Personally, I don't care for first person POV as much as third, but I would never mark down on this. If the writing is good, I get over this preference VERY quickly. I've given many perfect scores to authors using first person point of view. :)

Also, it's perfectly acceptable to write comments about some aspect of the writing, but note that you didn't mark down because of it, but just wanted to share where you think the author could have improved an aspect of the story.

Christine said...

Excellent advice, Karen. I will take it to heart. I agree that personal taste shouldn't come into play when marking a score. And I think it's important to remember not to be too picky about grammar items unless there are too many. I also believe it's good to share what worked in the story.

I know I appreciate constructive criticism. And right now I am bogged down with info about grammar and more--I'm constantly second guessing my sentence structure!

But at least I know about POV and no head hopping.

JoAnn said...

Excellent points, Karen. The overall story is the most important thing.

Sometimes judges get way too nit-picky. I know I'm guilty of line editing, but I don't score down on these unless they're so bad they take me out of the story.

When I judge, I read the score sheet carefully and answer each question as it's written. For example, in the LHAoE, there is a question that says "Does the lead character(s) appear likeable or redeemable enough to make you want to read further?". I have seen this scored low, with comments along the lines of "Editors don't like heroes who are professional athletes." That's not answering the question! If the judge seriously feels that the writer needs to know this info, she should write it at the end or on the ms.

My most memorable contest "horror" story: A judge hand wrote a page and a half about how my plot was a "land battle" and would never sell. And that I should abandon this ms and start on something that was marketable because I was "a good writer." I chose to ignore her, and continued to submit to other contests. It finaled in one, and the final judge was a Harlequin editor. She placed it last and when I got the ms back, there was a note on her letterhead attached that said (and I quote) "This is basically a land battle. They don't sell."


Good luck, Christine. You'll be a great judge!

M.V.Freeman said...

All right, I have a confession. I've entered contests, but none where I have received feed back.

That's going to change coming up shortly.

That, and I've never "judged", I believe I'll start soon...ok, after I've entered a few contests.

I really like what Karen and JoAnn had to say...and I agree, you'll make a great judge Christine! :)

Carla Swafford said...

Karen, I want you as my judge in every contest I enter. Pleeease.

JoAnn, what in the heck is a land battle? You can email me direct. Also I noticed you didn't mention your that placed FIRST by another editor.

My first contest was in the 1994 Golden Heart. That was when they returned the comments on your entry. I received an eight page handwritten dissertation from one judge and still have it. Really, all she should've written was "Buy a grammar book!" LOL!

I judge contests and I believe people shouldn't be a judge until they've entered at least five contests and have received the results back (good or bad). And, yes, I believe they should take on-line classes to improve their judging skills and not just to help other contestants but to make them better writers. Let me repeat that. The on-line class and judging will make you a better writer.

As JoAnn said, as a judge you should follow the score sheet. Don't let your personal grudges or taste interfere with giving the entry a honest score.

I recently received a score sheet that the judge wrote in the comment section that I had a strong voice and she/he said it twice and then gave me a 3 out of 5. What was up with that? Crazy.

Carla Swafford said...

Oh, meant to say the 3 out of 5 was for "Is the voice strong?"

Christine said...

Wow, thanks for all the comments and advice.

Carla, I had to laugh at the discrepancy in your scoring sheet. I've had the same thing happen to me. Or I'll have 2 judges give me super high marks, and one low ones in the same category.

JoAnn: I don't know what a land battle is either. And about the hero being an athlete being dissed. Well, I had a judge give me grief because of my hero's name (like is that relevant to the writing or story??).

M.V.: you will enter contests--because you're entering the GH this year with your MS -- I am making sure of it.

I agree that any judge needs training so I am actively pursuing it. I have entered a lot of contests--more than 5 for sure! But only one of them wasn't with comments: the GH. Carla, I don't know if I could have handled the GH with comments! And you kept your comments!!

I think the key is to remain objective, stick to the score sheet, and be true to the writer's dream in a kind, encouraging and constructive way.

We all know how hard it is to write!

Diane Richmond said...

Karen is right. Concentrate on the story line. I give credence to the other details only if they are a distraction. If the pacing is bad, the story line is confusing or the punctuation is so bad that I can't understand what is going on, then I comment. I always try to find something to compliment the writer about and I also try to provide some constructive ways to make the book better. I think you'll be a great judge.