Thursday, March 20, 2008

Contest judge comments

Camy here, your friendly neighborhood Genesis coordinator, talking about contest judge comments.

Now, I have to confess, I peek. I look at the comments of the judges as they return their entries to me.

In addition to being head coordinator, I’m category coordinating the Historical Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, and Women’s Fiction categories of the Genesis contest, so obviously I’m not looking at ALL the judged entries for ALL the categories, just my three categories.

But I’m not judging any entries in this contest (conflict of interest), so I figure it doesn’t hurt to look at the comments. And it helps me to evaluate if a judge tends to score high or low, or if they give lots of comments or only a few.

Here’s the facts—most judges in the Genesis contest are not habitually low or high scoring judges. Judge #A might happen to score Entry #1 lower than the other two judges who got that entry, but Judge #A will NOT typically score ALL her entries low—just that one entry will happen to be a low score.

In fact, the majority of judges in the Genesis are very temperate in their scoring. The maximum number of points is 100, with 60 being all 3s—average. Most judges might score one entry in the 90s and one entry in the 40s and the rest will range in between.

Before you gasp, think about it—it’s a bell curve. Only a few will have high scores and go on to the finals. Only a few are bare beginning writers. The rest fall in the largest area of the bell curve.

Anyway, I was going to talk about judge comments.

Some judges have obviously taken at least an hour or more to score that 15-page entry, because they’ve got Track Changes comments and suggestions all over the place.

Some judges have a bare handful of comments.

As a coordinator, I kind of wish judges would write more comments, or longer comments, but as a writer, I also have realized that my own editors don’t wax poetic on a point.

They say something once, like “The heroine is not likeable in the opening chapter.” And they expect me to fix it. They don’t tend to give me long paragraphs about WHY my heroine isn’t likeable.

Here’s one thing all the Genesis judges have done—they filled out the Summary sheet on the scoresheet that lists five different areas of writing craft (Professional Impact, Story, Characterization, Conflict, Dialogue) and an overall Strengths/Weaknesses section. The judge comments in that Summary sheet are all rather useful.

I am fervently hoping the entrants realize that many judges say a LOT in very FEW WORDS.

It’ll be up to the entrants to read carefully and figure out how to fix things.

“The story confused me in chapter two.” (Maybe too much going on, or too many characters, or inadequately explained motivations and actions)

“The dialogue was stilted.” (Maybe the entrant needs to have people read her dialogue so she can hear them herself.)

“I don’t know who the main character(s) are.” (Point of view might be muddled, or the main characters simply aren’t even in the first chapters, which could be a problem since most editors want to know who the book is about fairly quickly.)

“There’s no romance in the entry.” (The entrant entered the manuscript in the wrong category, or if the book really is a romance, they need to put some of that in the first 15 pages—this is typically a requirement of the genre.)

“Character was not sympathetic.” (This usually means there are several things in the first pages that make the reader not like the character—actions, or thoughts, or attitude, or inaccurately explained motivations. Here’s where crit partners instructed to look for where the character is unsympathetic can point out nuances.)

These comments are similar to what my editors have told me in their revision letters. I am hoping the entrants realize that the comments, while not profuse, are very useful.

Sometimes, I see the same comment on the same entry given by two different judges. That’s usually something to pay attention to. If Judge #A says she didn’t like your heroine, and Judge #B says he couldn’t relate to the heroine, that’s saying the same thing—make your heroine more sympathetic.

Some judges say completely disparate things—“great dialogue” and “stilted dialogue.” Well, one liked your dialogue and one didn’t. It’s personal preference.

However, if another judge agrees and says you have “stilted dialogue,” then maybe it’s something to address.

Or if another judge says you have “great dialogue,” then don’t stress about the “stilted dialogue” comment and just work on constantly improving your dialogue skills.

Regardless, judge comments are far more valuable than the number of words used. I am hoping the entrants this year realize that and are able to use their comments to greatest advantage.


Tina M. Russo said...

The single most challenging part of judging a contest is to slap yourself every time you want to do something that might change a writer's voice.

Finding that very fine point of providing constructive suggestions without actually rewording or rewriting takes practice. You can get away with an actual reword suggestion with someone you know well but it's just a real no no with someone you do not know.

You cannot predict how they will react to your suggestions and you certainly do not want them to change their writing style or feel hopeless because of your judging comments.

It is a challenging experience.

Katherine Harms said...

I am working on two contest entries right now. I realize that this blog referred only to one contest, but I hope the contest I enter will at least give me summary feedback. Sometimes critiques make me cry, but I get over that reaction. I love seeing what happens when I actually use a negative criticism to inspire a more powerful sentence. I hope I win the contest, but I also hope I learn something.

Janet Dean said...

Camy, you and all involved in the Genesis should feel proud of this wonderful, respected contest.

I stress about judging and usually take way longer than an hour per entry, but I'm working on paring that down. Mainly because too much input or repetitive input may overwhelm or insult the writer.

When judging, it's easy to suggest deleting the justs and thats or cutting redundancy, but when I think the writer needs to tighten her words, is it okay to suggest deleting blah, blah? Or is this rewriting the work?


Pam Hillman said...

Camy, great post for a number cruncher like me! lol

I have a love/hate relationship with contests that send a detailed spreadsheet with every entry’s scores to entrants and judges alike. You don’t actually know which entry is which because you only get the entry number and the judge’s number.

The cool part is that you can cross-reference the judges who read your entry against other entries that person judged. This isn’t such a bad thing if you final. But it’s not so much fun when you come in dead last out of 50 entries and discover one (or all) of your judges scored her entire batch of entries way, WAY lower than the norm.

Or when you discover that the same 3 judges (who all scored low) all judged the same 6 entries.

This was years ago, Mary, so I’m OVER it, totally!

Coordinators have a hard time assigning entries, I know. It’s got to be horrible, especially when an entrant lists 50 people who have read the ms. and the coordinator tries to make sure none of those people get the entry to judge!

But I do think that staggering entries among judges gives much better results than assigning batches of mss to the same 2 or 3 judges. If what I’ve just said is unclear to coordinators or entrants, holler, and I’ll try to explain it in detail a bit better.

Pam Hillman said...

Tina: I struggled with that (changing the entrants voice) the first few times I judged.

I knew a sentence/paragraph needed work, but didn't know how to tell them, only show them. I try now to tell them instead of rewriting their work.

On the flip side, I work better if someone SHOWS me by example what I did wrong. I'm perfectly okay with someone re-writing a paragraph for me. Shoot, they can write a whole chapter or even a book, and if it's good, I'll just plug it

But I realize that approach might not work for everyone.

Missy Tippens said...

Very good point, Camy, about how we can learn from contest comments and be prepared for editor comments. I've had the same thing in my revision letters (although have also had line-by-line specifics on some things). Sometimes it's just one little comment, and I have to figure out what to do. (Which was really scary!). So contest feedback can be a great learning experience.

I've been working on judging the Genesis this week. I spent at least 2 hours on an entry the other day, and I don't even have all the blanks filled in on the comments section. I only commented on those sections where I had given a 2. I hope what I did write was helpful! I tried so hard to be encouraging because the writing is so unique and creative.


Missy Tippens said...

Tina, I've had contest entries come back to me with writing ALL OVER the place on the manuscript itself. On one, the judge had practically re-written the thing--re-wording my sentences, changing sentence structure. It was crazy. The poor person probably spent hours on it! I'm thankful that I was far enough along that I didn't try to totally change my voice. Although, I don't think I could have changed it that much! It would have been like speaking a foreign language. :)


Mary Connealy said...

This is a critique group experience not a contest experience but a couple of times I've had critique partners who just couldn't quite get the hang of leaving your voice alone.
In fact, I honestly feel like I've got a book that's ruined because I listed to much to a critique partner.

Not you, Cara. You're probably too nice. You need to put the hammer down. :)

I just didn't have the confidence back then to ignore all the advice.
I believe one of the other critique group members, who was a published author, made the comment about her own chapters, "She left no paragraph untouched."

Melanie Dickerson said...

It's funny you should mention the opposite comments on dialogue. That's been happening to me. One judge says they love my dialogue and another says it's "stilted." So I went back and tried to figure out why a couple of judges said it was stilted and I found a couple of instances that did sound stilted. I realized it would sound much better if I changed some of the dialogue to interior monologue. And, Voila! It made a huge difference.

That was my point a few weeks ago. Sometimes you get a blanket statement, like, "The dialogue is stilted." But it might be much easier to fix than you think, especially if you get, "Your dialogue sparkles!" from another judge.

And let me just say, I just mailed my two entries to my 7th contest yesterday, and I'm done. I'm not entering any more contests until the Golden Heart. I spent two days printing five copies of 50 pages for each of my two entries, spent 24 dollars on postage, and I thought, DONE. I am done. I have done my part in supporting RWA chapters all over the country. Hold the applause, please.

Mary Connealy said...

I'm done with my Genesis entries now. I went and tried to see what I'd said.
Here are a few comments that won't, I don't think, reveal what story it was.

The hero came off as a little weak. Very young.

Here's one that's pretty typical of my comments:

Here’s the deal, I loved the opening of this book, very compelling, gripping really, just the mood, the fear, the fierceness, excellent.
The second scene is too slow. I loved your heroine but that scene just stops things dead in their tracks, completely looses the pace of the first scene. Cut it in half.

I think I used the phrase 'cut it in half' in nearly every entry. :) Probably annoyed some entrants mightily.

Here's another: I had to fight to keep from skimming and that’s a bad sign.

Yeesh, how about this:
Lots and lots of internal dialogue. If you cut this scene way down that wouldn’t be so noticeable. But honestly, this is 15 pages of almost unbroken thinking. It’s done well, and it’s very readable but it just goes on too long.

This one is a little nicer, I hope:
I scored you pretty high, despite thinking the beginning needs to be much faster to the punch line because I found this very readable and I really cared about your heroine and I’d definitely read on, so please take my comments as advice I’d give someone I think is very talented.

Mary Connealy said...

I signed mine this year...well, most of them. :)
Not brave like Ruthy.

Lorna said...

I think God must be preparing me for some whopper sized comments coming back from my first contests. They should be back sometime next month, and, thanks to all of you, I find myself praying for the really hard judge who took the time to make those honest comments. I will look at them differently than I might have otherwise. Who knows, Mary, maybe you signed one of mine.:-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tina M. Russo said:

You can get away with an actual reword suggestion with someone you know well but it's just a real no no with someone you do not know.

Tina, I couldn't agree more. Judges should never take it upon themselves to redline an entrant's manuscript, or offer re-written sentences the way a crit partner would. It's pretty rude, as a matter of fact, because ya' know what?

We're not always right as judges.


Nope, it's true, our opinion and two George Washingtons will get you a cup of Starbucks coffee.

And that's the way it should be, except in Pam's case who wants her stuff re-written.

Are ya' kiddin' me, Hillman? I needed a spew alert there.

I totally understand what you said about doing it when you're new to judging, when you're not sure enough or experienced enough to know how to judge without a rewrite, but come on...

You would really welcome someone changing Mariah???


And, umm, where is Cheryl with the baked goods? Something???

Squirl! It's 1:44 on the East Coast, Cupcake, and I'm hungry. Come on out of the squirl's nest and load up the counters, eh?

Mary, I like your judging comments and I can always count on you to judge fairly (despite your feelings for your husband on any given day) and accurately.

And since the poor author can't even begin to read your writing, darling, it matters not what you say...

They won't be able to decipher it, LOL!

I can't agree with Camster on contest judges not following their own trends, and I've worked lots of contests including coordinating Genesis, Barclay, and judging a host of others and acting as a discrepancy judge.

Most coordinators I know rue that fact that you always have some consistently high or low scoring judges.

I think that's bound to happen in most contests. I'm more dismayed by the high-scorers who artificially inflate scores because they can't bear to hurt anyone's feelings than by the low scorers who seem to be in smaller quantity. Coordinators generally figure out how to weed them out over the years.

And then they do it, LOL!


Gina Welborn said...

So, Camy, is this your means to guilt me into juding the last of my Genesis entris? ;-)

Part of me says, send it back.

The other part of me says, puh-leez, you are quite capable of judging that entry; you just don't *want* to judge it because of the opening and you've allowed the opening to biaz your feelings toward the rest of the entry. Give it a chance. It may get really good.

I'll judge it. Tonight. After LOST. When half my brain is still mulling over Jack, Sawyer, Desmond, and Sayid. Well, not Sawyer. He's promiscious.

Missy, regarding that overly "helpful" judge....

I think it's important for contest entrants to remember that not all judges are born judges. I know. SHOCKING!!! Many even never get an ounce of training. Doubly SHOCKING!!!

Suzy in her first judging experience may give only number scores and one or two three-word-sentence comments. And since no one complains, she sticks with her "style."

Josy in her first judging experience may spend three hours per entry giving the punctuation rule for ever grammatical blunder, explaining why head-hopping weakens the scene, and dissecting all the characters' GMC...all the while tossing in an occasional "If this is a romance like you claim, where's the sexual tension?" If someone does complain, Josy is told she can't judge that contest again and figures she's ruined her chance to ever judge again so she doesn't.

Entrant You/Me wonders "Why can't I get a judge who is either a Suzy-Jo or a Josy-Sue?" Something about double-named juges is rather comforting. That's why when I get brave enough to sign my scorsheets, I'm going with Gina-Marie. Hyphens are nice too.

My contest-judge advice (and I can really only give that because in the last 6 years I've entered contests a total of 8 times, while in that same amount of time, I've judged near 50 contests) is...



Critical comments and/or low scores does not always mean that the judge hates your story, hates your lead character(s), hates any story set where your story is set, or hates kittens, puppies, cute babies, and anyone else's writing but hers...or her cousin Mabel's.

The "mean" judge could have been having a bad day OR could natually be a negative person.

She could have given all 3s because she didn't want to explain her scores OR because she didn't know how to explain why she scored as she did.

She may have given you a ONE on your GH entry becuase she's a grump OR she hated your entry OR because she wanted you to have a funny story to tell time and time and time and time and three times more again. (I promise I was not Mary's judge. I'd never give anyone a ONE no matter how drecky the story was. Okay, I might have thought ONE but I scored TWO.)

Finally to those who get offended by a rewording suggestion: QUIT BEING SUCH A BABY. Geeze, Louise.

If the judge rewords your entire entry or at least most of it, then, call me crazy because Ruthy already does, MAYBE MAYBE MAYBE that judge is trying to tell you really really really need to work on your writing skills. And not just one aspect. All of it.

Granted, she may have gone a bit overboard in her conveyance of her feelings. Still...

Compare your sentence to the reworded one. No. Give your sentence or paragraph and the reworded one to someone and ask that person to tell you which sentence "sounds" better.

And quit using "this is my voice" to justify crappy writing.

Tina sent me a craft of writing article last week-ish. My first thought was "Ouch, is she trying to subtly tell me something?" Then I got to thinking, "No, Tina isn't subtle. She'd tell me straight up." Once I stopped taking the article personally (two of the looooooongest seconds of my life), I realized some of the writing style habits that I'd fallen into actually weakened my writing.

And last week when Mary was jabbering on about too much backstory in the opening of one of her GENESIS entries, I thought, "Gee, have I married myself to what I'd written in story X because I thought that info needed to be there?"

Yesterday I cut almost two pages in story X's second chapter. And now I'm debating eliminating the pseudo-villian's pov. Do I really need these scenes and his thoughts?

As writers--published and unpublished--we need to constantly be evaluating our craft and see if and where we can improve.

When was the last time you read a craft of writing article or book?

Reading fiction is great, but IMHO fiction doesn't help us improve craft like articles and books on craft. Same with judging contests.

Great post, Camy. I really did need the reminder to finish judging my Genesis entries. :-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Gina, you're a hoot.

Good points. I'll try not to be so crabby...

(I don't really TRY very hard, I just say that to sound like I care. You understand)

And, no. Tina is not subtle with those she knows are tough enough to take it. She's solid and bossy and Italian which means she's a great guilt-inflicting mother.


And she's not afraid to carry that over into other aspects of life.

And guys and gals, let me make this perfectly clear:

I love the Genesis contest. Seriously. I have won and placed in several categories and have nothing but respect for the contest because it's been good to me and for me. My contention is that no contest is perfect, judging is not only subjective, it can be selective, and there are no guarantees.

Which is why I fought hard for them to relinquish their fist-tight grip on the one-entry-per-person rule...

Because judging isn't guaranteed and I'm not afraid to hedge my bets with additional work, so two entries is a good way to help ensure a chance to final.


Gina Welborn said...

Oh, Mary, I forgot to tell you a ONE story.

My cp entered her now-published novel in a contest and got straight ones.

And her judge was an editor.

She's been greatly tempted to send that editor an autographed copy of her books and the four sequels.

One ONE I can understand, although not on a GH entry. An entire scoresheet of ONEs says the coordinator should have chunked the scoresheet and found the entry a new judge.

Gina Welborn said...

On a contest note...

I'm coordinating the long and short contemporary categories of the Touched by Love contest. The deadline is April 1st.

I have two e-entries and four paper entries.

If you have a long or short contemporary story--unfinished is fine--then consider entering it in the contest. I haven't heard yet from Kelly if the board is taking my scoresheet suggestions, but still, the scoresheet is a pretty good one. Not as good as the Genesis, though.

And if you are a FHL member, consider volunteering to judge.


Missy Tippens said...

Another comment on voice. My friends (not online, I'm talking about friends who hang out with me in person and are not writers) say they can hear me talking in my writing. It's like I'm telling them the story. That's what I'm talking about with voice. If I made all those sentence structure changes that judge suggested, sure it might make my sentence stronger, less wordy. But then I'm not Missy who grew up in Kentucky and has lived half her life in small-town Georgia. I'd sound like, oh, I don't know, maybe Ruthy. Now don't get me wrong, I love to hear Ruthy talk! (Although sometimes it's hard to understand her, or to keep up--which makes me feel a little dimwitted because I can't think as fast as she can talk). But it wouldn't sound like me or my writing anymore if I used a Western New Yorker's sentence structure.

Anway, that's what I'm meaning when I say voice. It's a really hard thing to describe.

Melanie, good luck on all those contests! You need to make a spreadsheet like Pam to keep up! :)

Gina, I bet with the e-submissions on the TBL, you'll get a whole slew of entries in at the last minute. Thank goodness for email subs! No overnight postage. :)

Katherine, good luck on your entries! And Lorna, you too! I hope you both do well!


Mary Connealy said...

Gina said: Yesterday I cut almost two pages in story X's second chapter.

Once you've begun to obey me, everything gets simpler, cupcake.

Mary Connealy said...

My friends (not online, I'm talking about friends who hang out with me in person<<<

So, Missy, you're saying you have actual human being? Such an odd concept, whatever do you do with them?

No, don't tell me. I'm too confused to understand it anyway.

Gina Welborn said...

Anway, that's what I'm meaning when I say voice. It's a really hard thing to describe.

Which is why I'm wary of scoresheet questions on voice. And not everyone has a "fresh and/or unique" voice that comes through in their writing. NOR do I think having one is vital to becomeing a best-selling author.

On a side note...

My 4-year-old stuck gum to our dog because she wanted a dalmation. My 10-yr-old is now cutting the gum blobs out. I didn't have the heart to tell the culprit that a dalmation is a white dog with black spots not a black dog with white spots. The poor dog's coat is mutilated.

For those of you pondering having children, take note. Girls are not all sugar, spice, and all things nice.

Once you've begun to obey me, everything gets simpler, cupcake.

Great. With me now under her spell, she's one person closer to taking over the world.

I think friends are those things who talk sense into you when you're about to scalp your 4-yr-old.

Ausjenny said...

thanks again for a good post and good replies. Im off to have breakfast and then to our Good Friday service

Missy Tippens said...

ROFL, Mary!!! I won't tell you about it. It might hurt your feelings.



Camy Tang said...

Tina's absolutely right, some judges cannot resist the urge to rewrite, and that's not helpful. I honestly think just a short comment is better than someone taking time to rewrite my work. A suggested deletion or rewrite is fine, but more than a handful of those is impertinent, in my opinion. It's the ENTRANT'S story, not the judge's.

As for Pam's concern, for that specific reason, no entrant has the same judge for multiple entries in the same category. Each entrant has 6 or 9 completely different judges, if they entered more than one entry in that category. I assigned judges this way on purpose, so no judge would get more than one entry from the same writer.

I have to agree with Ruthy that no contest is perfect. It's simply impossible.

However, I have to disagree when she says she thinks most judges follow their own personal trends. I think she was talking about scoring--some tend to score high or low.

Last year AND the year before, I did a spreadsheet (here's more love for you, my number-crunching Pam).

I took all the judges' scores and sorted them by judge to see what each judges' range was.

Last year, out of 140 judges, I had 6 who were high scoring judges and 2 who were low scoring judges. The rest all had normal ranges (scores ranged from 50-100).

Other contests might be different since we invite our judges versus just sending out a blanket email for anyone who wants to judge, but I make sure I try to ask people who judge well.

My point is, most of those 140 judges were temperate judges--they didn't judge way high or way low. They might have scored one or two entries high or low, but they also scored other entries lower or higher.

Also, most of those intemperate judges are not judging the Genesis this year.

This year, we have 165 judges (some dropped out), so I'll be doing my spreadsheet again to see what their ranges are. So far, I haven't seen a high or low scoring judge in the entries I've received, but I don't know about other categories.


Missy Tippens said...

Oh, no, Gina!!!! That's priceless!! :) I hope you took a photo! :)

Missy--who's glad her baby is now 11 so things like that don't happen anymore. (Of course, now there are hormones to swing like a roller coaster.)

Missy Tippens said...

Interesting info, Camy!


Gina Welborn said...

I feel the need to pipe up and say I'm not advocating rewriting contest entries. LOL. Sorry if I came across otherwise. Whoops.

More than two or three tweeked sentences is probably pushing it. Then again, I think it depends on if the sentences are of differnt "problems."

If a judge re-wrote an entire page, then the judge probably went overboard.

But I've heard fellow writers on loops or fellow cps complain about a one-sentence rewrite. To me, that's being overly sensitive. But then maybe because I'm like PamH in that something I need to see an example to understand what the CJ or CP was saying, I then figure showing a contest entrant how to tweak her sentence to make it stronger is okay.

I figure if I explain that the revised sentence is only ONE example of how to improve the sentence, then the entrant or CP won't freak out.

My first CP was couldn't handle a rewrite in any form. If I told her the scene was too bare and put an ADJ (code for put an adjective here), then she told me I was stepping across the rewriting line. We didn't last long as CPs.

I like CPs who rewrite a bad sentence or paragraph for me. That's one less problem for me to fix. :-)

First I show y'all how cranky I am today and now I'm sharing my laziness. Great. Pretty soon I'll have no hidden flaws.

Did I mention the deadline to enter the Touched by Love Contest is April 1st?

Debby Giusti said...

Camy, thanks for your great comments about judging. Fact is it's hard to be on the judging end. IMO, most judges want to help the writer . . . they want to give positive input that can move the writer along towards publication . . . they want to provide that gem of insight that will provide a eureka! moment for the writer. At least that's how I see it!

Good luck to all the contest entrants! I'm hoping everyone wins! :)

Missy Tippens said...

LOL. Gina, we'll love you even if you do show all your flaws--all two of them. :)

How's the poor doggie?


Tammy said...

Oh boy, I've got so much to comment on. Shame on me for not joining this discussion earlier today.

First, I like when a judge or CP makes a suggested rewrite once, maybe twice, as an example or explanation. One CP did that then when similar "problems" came up she simply said something like 'see comment A on page 1' I think that's helpful. Though I expect it more from a CP than a judge.

Second, I think a low score with supportive, constructive comments is wonderful. OTOH, a high score with grumpy, hyper-critical comments makes me wonder about that judge's sanity ;0

Gina & Missy: I've got an 11 1/2 year old daughter...hormones already kickin' in. Help! And a 2 1/2 year old son who thinks our dog (husky) is his personal pony. Kids are great. Right? Also, friends are the people who tried to talk sense into you when you were thinking about having children. They failed, but you love them anyway!!

Finally - to Gina...I promise to get my TBL entry to you by deadline. Most likely e-mailed :-) And how do I volunteer to judge? I'd be interested in hearing from others regarding judging for contests other than TBL. Like maybe Genesis next year?

Tammy Doherty
2007 TBL finalist

Gina Welborn said...

Missy, the dog is...well, his tail isn't drooping anymore. And he is staying as far away as he can from the 4-yr-old. His coat is all chopped up.

I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't judge that last Genesis entry last night. Maybe today. Or tomorrow.

Tammy, I'll look for your entry. E-mail Kelly Riley about judging. Her e-mail addy is on the FHL TBL contest rules webpage.

Katie said...

So what do the scores actually mean? I entered 2 books in the Genesis contest last year--my first contest. Out of 6 judges total for the two books, 5 graded me in the high 80's to high 90's; one made clear in their notes that they disliked pretty much everything about one of the books-and gave me a 48.

I've never understood what the scores actually should mean to me in terms of, how am I actually doing as a writer? I mean is the fact that both books scored fairly highly an indication that I have some level of skill or that the judges were just being kind or what?

I learned from all of their comments and I learned most of all from the low-scoring judge, so it's all good. Having never entered a contest, I was not really sure if my scores were good or what? I know it shouldn't matter, but it sort of does to a new writer with three unpublished books.

Tammy Doherty said...

I have another comment that's led me to a possible suggestion. Because Seekerville is such a great place to learn (it sticks better when you're having fun doing it!)

Everyone agrees that judges are readers & have "types" of stories they like better than others. Carrying that further, I would hazaard a guess that a judge who writes for, say, LIS will look at an entry through LIS-tinted glasses. That is, she's got her mind set with Steeple Hill guidelines. If the entry is intended for a House that publishes longer suspense stories, it's going to move a little slower (never too slow, though) and will likely have more secondary characters and/or sub-plots. The LIS author-judge may score the entry lower because it doesn't follow the guidelines her publisher has drilled into her head.

Now, I'm not saying this is true or that all judges are this way. An experienced judge shouldn't be like that. I'd hope! After reading all your comments, though, I see even the nicest judges had a learning curve in the beginning.

What this train of thought led me to is the question of target lines/houses. The first time I came across a contest that required the target line to be part of the entry header, I didn't enter. Because I had no idea what to put. Of course I have my dream publisher list. But they're all houses that don't accept unsolicited/unagented work so don't have guidelines on their website. What if I targeted the wrong house on my entry - would it cause me to lose? Even if it was the absolutely best written novel ever? Maybe a future post for Seekerville could address the issue of target markets? I have a better grasp, now, of guidelines/requirements for many of the publishing houses & lines but it's taken a lot of bouncing around from blog to blog to gather the information. Having it all, or a good chunk of it, in one place would be helpful to new writers.

Tammy Doherty said...

Oh,and I'll put in a plug for TBL...having contemporaries divided into long and short categories helps define the target market without the author having to know. That's great for newbies :-)

So if you haven't entered yet - get moving! (ya, that means me too!)

Missy Tippens said...

Katie, sometimes it's just plain old hard to know what the scores mean! :) But if you had two out of three judges score highly, then you should feel good about it. Of course, you can take helpful feedback from the other judge. But it just may mean that judge didn't care for your particular story or writing style. You just never know.

Just be proud of the two high scores! On the Genesis judge directions, it says that an average entry will score in the 60's, if that helps you any. Mainly, a contest is good to get subjective feedback and to get a chance to get your work in front of an editor. Since it is subjective, it's not always an indicator of how you're doing as a writer. So if you do enter a contest and get low scores, don't get discouraged. The very same entry could win another contest. You just never know!

Tammy, you made a good point about how a published judge will be influenced by her publisher guidelines. I would hope she could set that aside and look at an entry for its merits, not for how well it would sell to her publisher. Personally, I make comments when I feel something might not work for a publisher, but I don't count that in the scoring (and tell them that).

I love your suggestion of having a discussion on that! We'll be sure to do that sometime. If no one else does it before my next turn, I'll blog about that.

Thanks for the comments and suggestions!

Katie said...

Tbanks for the info Missy, I really appreciate it!

Melanie Dickerson said...

My advice would be not to let the Genesis contest be the only one you enter. Enter a few more. Some contests will be harder on you than others, and you can take advantage of the feedback from other judges. For instance, some contests are judged by a lot of published authors. The feedback from them will be different than from unpublished judges.

Camy Tang said...

Thanks for answering for me, Missy!

Tammy made a good point, which is why last year several people suggested that the Genesis allow people to list their word count in the header of the manuscript. We did that this year, and hopefully it will make the judging even better. A suspense judge who sees that the complete manuscript is 60,000 words is going to judge an entry differently than if the complete manuscript is 80,000 words.

Melanie's absolutely right--enter more than one contest. The Genesis is about 60-70% published authors judging, but other contests have all published authors judging, or contest-winning writers, or isn't there a contest judged by all Golden Heart winners/finalists?


Tammy Doherty said...

Camy - the word count in the header is a fantastic way to 'categorize' an entry. I'm glad Genesis did that this year! This is my first year entering, so I didn't realize this is a new feature. Maybe everyone who is involved in the planning of chapter contests (and is reading this) could suggest making this part of their rules, too. The ones who don't already, anyway.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

While I would never intentionally try to change an author's voice, I always wonder if I am too heavy handed when I judge contests. This post helped. I tend to like deep POV so I am often on a vandetta against "telling" words. But I've been trying not to comment on stylistic sorts of stuff.

Thanks for the great post!


luv2read said...

It's nice to hear an authors perspective on contests.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...


I don't know how you have time to do all that you do!! Thanks for your service to writers. You're awesome.

Thanks for deciphering the judges comments.