Friday, December 22, 2017

Fiction Friday: Dear Contest Judge

This week I received my scores back from an RWA chapter contest for Girl's Best Friend, the contemporary romance I've been putzing around with in my spare time.

I always send at least a generic thank you to my contest judges. I judge contests, too, and it's a lot of work, especially if you're going to do it well. But this particular contest was set up to allow the entrants to thank each judge individually, so here are my individual thank you notes.

Dear Judge #1,

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise to judge my contest entry. The great score you gave me was gratifying and your comments made it clear you truly enjoyed my story. Writing is such a solitary occupation and a little encouragement really helps.

Thanks, too, for the suggestions you made about some of my phrasing. You were right on the money and I'll be tweaking my manuscript to reflect your suggestions.

Jeanne Oates Estridge

Dear Judge #2,

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise to judge my contest entry.

Although my entry did not final in this contest, it won another contest awhile back, resulting in a request for a full manuscript from an editor at SMP Swerve. At the time, I didn't actually have a completed novel, so I didn't submit. Even after I completed a first draft, and then a second, I knew there was a pacing problem with my first chapter, so I continued to drag my feet about sending it out. The suggestions you made will finally let me fix the darn thing and move forward.

Jeanne Oates Estridge

Dear Judge #3,

Thank you for sharing your time and expertise to judge my contest entry.

Jeanne Oates Estridge

Why, you may ask, is my response to each judge so different? Because what I got back from each judge was so different.

The first judge made it clear, from comments sprinkled throughout the manuscript and on the score sheet, that she really liked the story.

The second judge was a lot more critical, but her criticisms were truly helpful. Even though she scored me lower than Judge #1, she was my favorite.

The third judge's score was substantially lower than the other two, and that's okay. What was less okay was that she didn't explain why. She made no comments in the manuscript and only one, in the final, "overall manuscript comments" box on the score sheet, stating that it lacked "the dynamic prose, great dialog, chemistry, and forward propulsion of a '5' entry."

That's not useful.

I don't mind being told that I suck. What I mind is not being told why.

I get that judging contests is time-consuming. Depending on the quality of the entries, it can even be grueling. But if you volunteer to judge a contest, you have an obligation to provide the entrants with actionable feedback.

That doesn't mean you'll always be right. I judged some YA entries this summer only to realize later that I truly don't understand that sub-genre well enough to do a good job. But for each entry I judge, I include comments, in the manuscript and on the scoresheets, telling them what works and what doesn't, in my opinion. And if it doesn't work, I do my best to explain why.

Am I being too demanding? What do you expect from contest judges?


  1. What I expect from a judge is what the contest promises me. If it promises me critiques, I expect critiques.


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