Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Declaration of ... Dependence

We need each other to learn the skills to get a book published.

We’ve been talking about contests from the point of view of contestants. Today I want to talk about it from the judge’s angle.

First let me say, I’ve judged a lot of contests. And no doubt all those locks of hair I’ve been asked to donate as keepsakes are in fact being used on Voodoo dolls.
Between pin pricks, let me give you my take on judging writer’s contest.

Yes, judges can be unkind. Maybe they really loathe your work. Maybe they’ve had a fight with their husband and are thinking “Romance is for SAPS” while they’re reading your book. Maybe, despite the fact that they’re writers, they mean to give you solid encouragement and advice and instead they just sound like nit-picky nags.
No matter what the case, you need to remember that what you’re getting when you get judge’s comments is the same thing you’d get if someone picked your book up off the store shelves. A reader. Readers have baggage too, you know.

The price of the contest is worth it just to get your work in front of a reader.

In all the contests I’ve judged I can only remember once judging an entry of someone I know. And that’s our own Ruthy Logan Herne.
I judged the whole entry and gave out the scores, good scores may I say, before I read the synopsis. It was then that I got it.
CLICK! I’m judging Ruthy’s book. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!
In her snop she referred to this being part of a series and the names clicked because I’d read the first book.
Well, I didn’t change her score…that would be WRONG.
However, I did go back and say things that were TEN TIMES MEANER!

Okay, that’s Ruthy’s version of it.

But from my angle, I knew that I had the work of a very experienced and skilled writer in my clutches. I knew she could take it. I even knew she’d welcome it. (Right? Back me up here, Ruthy…or at least back me up once you start speaking to me again)
That’s one of the things I do with entries. I can tell very quickly if I’m holding the work of an experienced writer or a new comer.
If I recognize experience, my comments get much more detailed, much more…possibly an author might say…meaner. But that’s because I know they’re close, knocking on the door to publication. They’ll understand my criticisms, they’ve heard it before and they’ve grown their rhino hide.

If I’m judging a beginner my comments are kinder, more rooted in encouragement. And I speak in broad terms.
--You didn’t set the scene here.
--I don’t know what she looks like yet.
--This is great dialogue on this page, it’s the strongest in the whole submission. I know you can do it because you did it here, so go bring the rest up to this level.

Kinder comments usually go with lower scores. So if you feel like you’re getting a tough…even mean…critique, but you scored really well, someone respects you and would like to help you kick down that stubborn door to the publishing world.

Has a harsh contest judge actually helped you? Have you gotten bad scores with comments so kind you're thinking the judge should have scored you higher?

Tell us about your experiences at the hands of the Mean Old Judge.

Just keep in mind that your comments live for all time in cyber space. :)


  1. Oh, Mary, I'd love to have you as a judge!

    Ruthy judged me once and gave me my highest score for that contest! So don't pick on Ruth. I love her!

    Well, my experience has been that the "mean" judges give me the LOWEST score. They just didn't get my story--DID NOT LIKE IT! I haven't entered that many contests, but it seems my scores are always all over the place. I once got a 95, 84, and a 58, all on the same entry. (And you can imagine how I felt about the judge who gave me a 58.) Of course, the score doesn't matter, it's the comments that are valuable. And I always get valuable comments. Sometimes the judges don't seem to know what wrong, they just know something's wrong, and if I mull over it I can usually figure out what it was they didn't like.

    Anyway, I do appreciate judges. But it seems I always get that ONE judge who gives me a score that's at least 20 points lower than everyone else. And I think, God, why did you let that judge get MY entry? *Huff*

  2. This, Melanie, is why God created discrepancy judges.
    I actually love the contests that have those. It's saved me a few times.
    In fact...wait a minute...didn't I have to have a discrepancy judge in the BARCLAY???


    Because Ruthy scored me so low someone had to be brought in? Why a 99 a 98 and a 52????

    A contest I ultimately WON?

    Let's don't go into the fact that I've still never gotten that book published...for pretty much the reasons Ruthy said.
    THAT is beside the point.

  3. Discrepancy judges are fine, except when the contest doesn't drop the lowest score!!! Which has been my experience. I once got a 100, a 90-something, and a 60-something. Then the discrepancy judge only gave me a 70-something. But really, I knew I didn't deserve the 100. I mean, come on. And I got a lot of helpful comments, especially from the lower-scoring judges.

    My experience has been, the low-scoring judges feel they have to say something really nice, like, "I really enjoyed your story," or "You have great voice." Then why did you give me a 58!!?

  4. Um, Mary, you have a short memory. You judged one of MY mss. just a few months ago! Actually, I think you've judged 2 of mine this year! I remember the first one because you absolutely did not get my "wimpy, troubled" heroine. You said she just needed to suck it up and get counseling. (Not at all surprising after I read a couple of YOUR books!) Oh, the pain of it all! I think you actually sort of liked my other entry. I think.

  5. No, I remember it, Myra. I just didn't find out it was yours until after I had mailed it out.
    So, yes, who knows what-all Seekers entries I may have judges. It seems like I've had to sit through a few screaming sessions in my life. Not just yours.
    I just didn't know it was a Seeker until all my damage was done.

    Wimpy, huh?
    Are you absolutely SURE that wasn't someone else?
    Sounds like Ruthy to me. Of course, she's taught me all I know about judging from her patented, in corporated, "No Pain, No Gain" school of contest criticing.

    So it's possible it WAS me.

  6. I thought discrepency judging dropped the lowest score?

    Does anyone know about this? Or are different contests different.

    Hey, maybe one of my next posts I'll write about the contest where one of the judges SENT MY ENTRY BACK AND REFUSED TO JUDGE IT BECAUSE IT WAS TOO AWFUL!

    Okay, well, oops.

    Guess that's a crique in and of itself, huh?
    That's the same book Ruthy pounced on. My walk into the Thriller category of Christian fiction.

  7. Okay, I have now officially spelled critique or it's derivitives seven different ways today.
    And it's early.

  8. Mary, Thanks for clarifying the judge point of view. I think its important, especially for beginners to know that comments aren't meant to be mean, but to be helpful. And we must remember opinions are subjective.

    The thing about judges comments and critique partners comments, they prepare you for the editor. I find working with an editor a piece of cake after working with you gals. LOL In other words it toughens your hide like you mentioned and keeps you objective instead of taking it peronally.

    Thanks Mary.

  9. Exactly right, Mary. The higher the score, the more nit-picky I get and though I don't think of my comments as mean, my suggestions for seeing things from different points of view do tend to get worded a bit stronger : ) Seasoned judges can tell a newbie a mile away. Yup, I just don't have it in me to hack down the fledglings. Great points, Mary : )

  10. One thing to remember is that a judge's scoring and comments are only one person's opinion. I never let one person's opinion dictate how I feel. I look for the consistent things in the judging.

    Did more than one judge mention this? If so, maybe I need to see what I can do about it.

    If I'm having a problem with something a judge called to my attention, I pray about it. I ask the Lord what I need to learn from that comment. Sometimes, the Lord has me give it a second look. Sometimes, He tells me to forget it. That's the most important filter.

    About the discepancy judges, I was asked by a member of my critique group to be one when the other judges had vastly different scores. I believe they use discrepancey judges to get another view of things.

  11. Did you really tell her that her heroine should suck it up and go get counseling? Mary, Mary, quite contrary . . .

  12. ROF, LOL, Mary, I will never forget that Barclay. I stared at those other judges and said, mouth agape, "You guys are judging an inspirational... You get that, right?"

    And they LOVED the blood and the gore (both broody mystery/suspense authors) and thought I must have gone over the edge.

    And Connealy, it wasn't really a 52, was it??????

    Oh, man, it probably was.

    Now Melanie, Sweetcakes, of course I loved your work because you're NICE to me.

    No, seriously, I had no idea whose work it was, and Mary's right, I've judged her stuff (back then) and smacked it, then have played with her since then, and loved what she's done, so I feel vindicated. And she didn't shoot me (although tempted) when we met face to face finally in Denver.


    Neither did Tina or Julie, God love 'em!


    And that year in the Barclay they dropped the lowest score, so there was no discrepancy, but I contacted Mary personally and explained why I'd done what I'd done, confessing that it was me (mind you, we weren't friends then) and going through the problems I saw with her. I figured that when she saw a win and a '52', she'd be sure to wonder...

    Discrepancy judging sends the contested work to an extra judge usually. Dropping the lowest score is used by some contests to be used in place of discrepancy judging, but I'd rather have the extra person on board. Some contests do neither.

    But either way, it's good to see what's out there, who's got what going on. If nothing else, it's a way to size up the competition. And make long-lasting friends.


  13. Lena, you little red-headed cutie, welcome aboard!

    Nice to see you here, kid.


  14. Hey, Lena. Hi. Thanks for stopping in.
    Lena was a huge part of helping me get my first contract, working over my manuscript, giving great, solid advice. God bless you, Lena.

    I'm starting to lose my memory for contests I've judged. The other Seekers know that so they can just..

    And my BARCLAY WINNER was a thriller?
    Has anyone read Left Behind? Pretty edgy stuff.
    Brandilyn? Colleen?
    Someone else add to the list. It's a growing genre.

    Yes, it was a wild ride, serial killer, all that stuff, but I thought it was a really powerful Christian story, too.

    Admittedly I could have made some different choices. The mutilated corpse floating in the fountain filled with blood, would it have KILLED ME to put a dress on her?

    Now I can see how I could make clothing work in that scene but at the time, well call me a purist.

    And my Barclay pin is really lovely. I had to buy a shirt to match it, but it was well worth it.
    Going to go find it now and wear it around all day.

  15. Advice from the nit-picky nag.

    Everyone from the newbie entrant to the old pro wants their judges to be qualified. That’s a given. Some of us are better judges than others. Personally, judging is not my calling. I have a hard time clearly pointing out the flaws and haven’t always taken the time to note all the wonderful things about a manuscript to balance any criticism noted. But I’m learning, and since I know my failings as a judge, here’s my strategy:

    1. Be fresh when judging. Don’t wait until the last minute. Space the entries out and only judge one a day if possible.

    2. Read through the entry once making comments on problems AND on things that are well done.

    3. Read the entry again if you felt really distracted and didn’t adhere to #1! lol

    4. Glance over your comments. Do you have a nice balance of criticism and praise? If not, try to encourage the author in several places. There is bound to be some interesting plot points, or dialogue, or cute scenes in there. (Okay, after reading some other comments, I understand the logic behind being tough on seasoned entrants. Still, a couple of “you go, girl” comments won’t hurt.)

    5. If the author has the mechanics of writing down pat, recognize that. Many times I’ve judged an entry and found a couple of typos, and maybe a few punctuation errors. Don’t give them a 1 for a couple of erorrs! lol

    6. Hmmm, what else??? Oh, I know what it was. Judging is one of the absolute best things you can do for your writing. After judging a handful of contests, you’ll be able to spot a winner from a mile away, and you’ll have a better understanding of how editors separate the wheat from the chaff. Since judging is subjective, your “winner” might not win that particular contest, but if you keep an eye on the author and/or her manuscript, you’ll probably see her work again and again in contests and eventually on the shelves.

    I know I did. I judged an awesome ms for the Golden Heart. It finalled. It won. It sold. And I was thrilled for this woman I didn’t know because I knew she had what it took to be a great writer.

  16. Mary, every contest has a different spread that determines discrepency juding, and boy are some HUGE before resort to that. I love contests that drop the lowest score...PERIOD.

    One thing I have heard said, is that you should be glad your manuscript brings out strong emotions in judges. It is actually a good thing that one likes it and one hates it. This is reflective of your future readership. You will have a following for sure.

    You should be concerned if your manuscript is vanilla-meaning all the elements are present, and your writing level is above par, BUT you have edited it to death or critique grouped it to death and it has zero spark. Beware the cookie-cutter manuscript.

  17. Oh, my gosh Tina, thank you so much. Never have I put such a favorable light on being hated.
    Thank you.
    God bless you.

  18. I judged a couple of contests. As a judge, I am most challenged when a book grabs me by the throat and won't let me go until I'm finished reading that chapter, and it leaves me wanting more. Then, as I go through the score sheet, I discover the author didn't describe the hero or didn't let us know what the spiritual aspect is. I HATE marking people down when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the book will be published one day.

    In fact, that's what happened a couple years ago. I ignored the score sheet because I could tell the spiritual aspect would be forthcoming in future chapters because this book was FRESH, INNOVATIVE, WELL WRITTEN, and GRIPPING. I worried that the author might get negative feedback and that she/he may or may not quit because of it. Or worse - they may change the marvelous book just because someone deemed they had to follow the "formula".

    So, after the contest winners were finally announced, I searched for the author. Guess who? Audra Harders!

    What really gets my dander up is when writer's loops decide that ALL excellent marks should be ignored because they are not true marks. Grrrrrrrrr! In this case, Audra had a totally awesome, saleable book that was far above any I'd read in a long time! Yet, no doubt, she was told to ignore my score because of how high it was.

    So, does this make me a bad judge, and the score a bad score?

    Jeanne Marie Leach

  19. YAY Audra! Thanks for writing, Jeanne.

  20. MAAAAAry!
    You could not be mean if you tried. So there, did I just undo your career as a judge?:) I still like that phrase 'rhino hide'. The concept of it sucks, but the wording remains quite interesting.

  21. It's not pretty, Cooper. I've made grown men cry.
    Women have run screaming from me, into the streets in curlers.
    But, this is fundamental, they all thank me later....much....much.... later.

  22. Mary, at the risk of offending
    you ... you are one of the funniest people I know!

    I actually have a soft spot in my heart ... or wait, maybe it's my head ... for "mean judges." I can honestly say that not once has my craft grown from reading the glowing comments of a "nice judge." But the mean ones ... ahhhh ... THEY are the suckers who have pushed me to great lengths just to prove them wrong!

  23. Pam, great point about learning from judging! I think I would almost have to say that judging entires has helped improve my writing more than entering contests.

    Once I started judging, I started making note of what things made me love the stories and what things bothered me. I try to think of all those things as I write. For some reason it's easier for me to learn objectivly like that. Not so much emotion involved as when my manuscript has been torn to shreds by a judge. (Not Mary, I'm sure!) ;)



  24. Hey, Mary!
    Didn't you judge me in the Touched By Love? Or do I have you confused with another Mary Connealy? :) Shortly after the contest was over the Seeker loop was formed and, as they say, the rest is history.

  25. I remember one contest where my entry required a descrepancy judge and the lowest score wasn't dropped, which made it impossible to final. That's no fun.

    I agree, Missy, that judging others' work has improved mine. I hope my comments have helped the writer. But I'm too chicken to sign my name so I'll never know. J

  26. You know, oddly enough this reminds me of a lesson I was taught at a seminar...I'm a teacher in my day job.
    Okay, rats I can't remember it exactly...how telling is THAT???

    But here are the levels of what you learn and how well you retain it. Worst to best.

    1) hearing it
    2) reading it
    3) working with it--math problems or writing out answers
    4) teaching it to someone else.

    They say you retain about 90% of the things you teach.

    Well, this is obvious in that of course to teach it you have to know it well enough to pass it on. But making THEM the teachers as a teaching technique works pretty well.

    We need to think about judging that way. That it's not just helping the contestants, it's helping us a judges, become better writers, too.

    Wow, Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
    Step right up!
    Line up to judge!
    You get more than you give.

    (add the music of a carousel and maybe the scent of cotton candy and you've got a sideshow sale's pitch--picture me wearing stilts and long striped pants, okay?)

  27. Jeanne, I know what you mean. Sometimes we have to mark the scoresheet in the best way we can AND just flat out explain in your comments on the scoresheet how wonderful you thought the book was.

    This goes back to the entrant getting the opp to review the scoresheet in advance if at all possible. If it's not online, most coordinators should be happy to forward it to an entrant. It's very likely Audra knew that particular aspect of her story was missing in the first chapters and entered the contest anyway.