Saturday, April 26, 2008

Being a Judge

I got a lot of questions last night (in the RWA chatroom) about being a contest judge. In, I think, all of the writing contests each entry has to be judged by a published author. I love being a judge, it never ceases to amaze me how imaginative and creative people are.

We published judges know how confronting it can be to enter your work in a contest, we've all been there, and I have to say its good practice. You have to learn to handle criticism if you are going to make it as a pubbed author. Writing is many glorious things, but to do it for a living you cop rejection and criticism frequently. Just wait until an editor gets their hands on your beloved book. They'll rip it apart. But, they are doing it so that your book is better, so that it will sell better, you that you will get better reviews. Contest judges have the same motivation. Their comments are to improve your work. Yes we can be wrong, but we are frequently reading a part of the story out of context, and yes we miss things, but when that happens just glide over the comment. Think, 'no, she's wrong, she doesn't understand that I'm foreshadowing (or whatever)' and move on.

Just remember that judges judge because they want to help you get your book published.

Judging is no small undertaking. I usually take on 7 - 10 manuscripts, and right now I have a pile sitting on the floor about the size of a ream of paper. I devote about 1 - 1.5 hours per entry. I read it through making mental notes and getting a feel for the whole thing and then whip out my red pen and highlighter and get to work. If something is good I say so, and I say why, same for if its bad or not working. The why part is incredibly hard. Its so easy to just say 'Loved it' and move on, but that doesn't help the writer. They need to know what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong and WHY.

Its also important to remember that when you enter a contest you don't get judged by one judge. Usually its three or four. This helps put each judge's comments in perspective as well. If they all hone in on one point then its clear that point must be changed no matter how vital or poetic. Though from my experience judges see your work very differently, which is fascinating in itself, its amazing how one person will pick up one perspective and another miss it entirely.

I truly believe that it was the comments of a contest judge that got Running Scared across the line and accepted for publication by Samhain. It was in the Emerald. This judge tore my entry to bits. You have never SEEN so much red pen. At first I was confronted, couldn't look at her comments for days, but when I did I saw that she'd been constructive. I could write, the story was good, she said, and then started to use a lot of words that included trite, boring, cliched and awkward (yes I did get rather pissed-off). But she was right. Totally right. I re-wrote the whole thing and sold it two months later. I always thank heavens for her (actually I have a suspicion as to who she was and have bought all her books!!).

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Suzanne Brandyn said...

Hi Cait,
I believe in your points about judging. It helped improve my current to be released, Passion In Paradise. It gained a score of 95 percent in the Emerald 2008.
I also think Judging is subjective. I have only entered a few comps through the RWAustralia, and the feedback from judges was great. In the emerald recently one judge didn't like my work. lol... I disregarded her comments and charged ahead with the positive comments and wella.... it is going to be published. I say to everyone who enters comps, especially when they get negative feedback from a judge. I say, read it whatever it says, go over it, think about why that particular judge has said something. In most cases after thinking, something clicks and you realise, hey, she's damn right you know. :)
I didn't attempt to judge anything just of late, but when my work settles down I will certainly be up there with my judges hat on. :)
And as you say, judges want to help the writer, and what they say is helpful towards their road to publication. I love judging entries. I get a real kick out of it. And true.... there is so much talent surrounding us.
Suz:)

Angie said...

What an excellent blog post, Caitlyn. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences both as a contestant and a judge.

It is so scary getting your writing out there. But you're right - it *can* be constructive and help improve the writing. This is why I've now decided I'm going to push past my fears of showing people my writing, and I'm going to enter some RWAustralia comps this year.

Rachael Blair said...

Hey Cait

I've been a bit blog absent of late... a few things going on making me rather exhausted, can't even be bothered reading... but just wanted to say, 'I hope I get you as a judge' - it's awesome to see how much effort you put in!!

Thanks
RACH!

Anonymous said...

Hi Angie - YAY on deciding to enter contests. I think its easier than a crit partner because you don't know who the judges are, and it takes that personal aspect out of it as well.
Good luck, let me know how it turns out.
Hugs
Cait

Anonymous said...

Aw thanks Rach. Hope its all going okay with you.
Hugs Cait

Jess Dee said...

Hey Cait.
A judge, huh? Lord, where do you find the time?
I'm not a huge fan of writing contests myself. The judging is too subjective. I do however see the value in it, and yes, the feedback can sometimes be a brilliant tool to aid in your rewrites. (Sometimes.)
I have every faith you did a fair and pretty damn good job.
Jess

Sami Lee said...

I think competitions are great for those just starting out and wanting to get some honest feedback. I remember my first and only contest entry was criticised with many of the same words as yours! That book was not able to be saved, but the experience taught me one of the most important things I've learned as a writer - how not to take criticism personally.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cait,

As an entrant in this years VP contest. I was fascinated to find your blog. This was my first contest and I can not believe the quality of feedback that I recieved. My only major downfalls were spelling, punctuation and my synopsis (all rushed & not checked properly)and I was lucky enough to recieve truly inspirational comments. So......even though it is probably very unlikely that you marked my entry I just wanted to say a massive thank you for taking the time and trouble to judge contests. You make a huge difference to us aspiring writers!

Sue

pomo housewife said...

I entered a contest a couple of years ago and it was very helpful... I didn't get around to thanking the judges. The positives were encouraging, and the negatives were spot on. Some of them I'd worked out for myself by the time they feedback came back, so it was great to know that I was thinking in the right direction.

pomo housewife said...

I entered a contest a couple of years ago and it was very helpful... I didn't get around to thanking the judges. The positives were encouraging, and the negatives were spot on. Some of them I'd worked out for myself by the time they feedback came back, so it was great to know that I was thinking in the right direction.