Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Judge's POV

Judging a contest is an important responsibility, challenge and privilege. Judges don’t want to short change anyone who submitted an entry developed over weeks or months of blood, sweat and tears. As writers we’ve invested so much of ourselves in our work it’s hard to expose our manuscript to anyone, let alone strangers who probably won’t be as kind as our friends. But we do it anyway and hope it’s worth our entrance fee and the long wait to get the results.

We deserve a judge who takes our submission seriously, regardless of what stage we’re at in our writing career. Judges know this because they’re writers too. Contestants are at all different levels in their craft.

Contest judges offer advice and encouragement, pointing out weaknesses along with strengths. Negative comments can stick in the throat and gag us. They’re hard to digest. We want constructive criticism—as long as it’s positive and flattering—though we probably benefit more from those helpful hints and blunt assertions that say our writing isn’t perfect. At least we know where we need to improve. We’re professionals, or hope to be soon. We can take criticism, right?

When I was first asked to judge a contest, I hesitated. But I realized I should give back a little bit. After all, I’ve received so much from the writing community, including comments from lots of judges in many contests. My writing has really benefited from their help.

What surprised me was how much I learned from judging. I discovered some contestants write much better than I do, sorry to say! This unfortunate fact makes me more determined to work harder, learn more and improve. I also learned to empathize with judges. They have to state the good and the bad without crushing anyone’s ego. (And we writers often have fragile egos.) Judges want to encourage, not discourage a writer, but they’re not cheerleaders. I saw how seasoned contestants plunge right into the action of their story to grab my attention. They create likeable, lively characters with obvious goals, motivations and the potential for strong conflict. On the other hand, some manuscripts wander around without apparent purpose. I spotted some of my own flaws in a few of the entries and I noticed how others avoided those same mistakes.

Overall, I was amazed at how many wonderful writers are out there in the land of the unpublished. I hope they’ll soon be discovered—right along with yours truly! And I hope if you have the opportunity to judge a contest, you won’t hesitate. I promise you’ll receive a lot in return.


  1. I need to go do some judging right now!
    And way to go on the contest yesterday.

  2. Amen, amen, amen!!!

    If you're entering contests, then you should be judging too. Not every time you enter, but at least in a fair ratio.

    One more Genesis entry and I'm done. Of course, I said that last week.

    I think I signed up to judge the Lone Star again. Can't remember the category.

  3. I've got some judging coming up. I've been doing it for the past few years, and I'm happy to say that I've always taken it seriously, even if I was just learning all of the writing lingo and do's/don'ts myself.

    Judging helps me to see what's out there--at least what's being submitted to contests--and get a sense of how my writing might measure up, as well as give me a sneak peek at the upcoming new authors.

  4. Great post, Cara. I did the same thing when judging--found problems that are similar to the same problems I have in my writing. What's interesting is that I could think more objectively about the entrant's mss and could make suggestions. I then took those suggestions and tried to apply them to my own writing.

    Congrats again on your placing yesterday!


  5. Gosh, Cara, I NEVER looked at judging contests that way before, but I wish I had because it's so true -- you do get a lot out of being a judge and definitely learn some things in the process (she says as she works on her Genesis entries ... :)

    And I had to laugh at your discovery that some contestants write better than you do!! I discovered the very same thing, and it's pretty humbling ... but oh so good for the soul!!


  6. That's what I was so afraid of the first time I judged--that the entries I was judging was be so good, I wouldn't know what to say! But that didn't happen. :-)

    I just volunteered to judge another contest. Aren't you proud of me, Gina?

  7. I agree with Patricia. I take judging seriously. Best case scenario, I read them and comment and then go back a few days later and reread.

    I probably should pay for the honor of judging, okay except those pull your hair out teeth gnashing entries. I learn alot.

    Those light bulb moments where you realize you are guilty of the same writing sins.

    And too be fair, we all, well most of us are guilty of causing some poor judge to have a recurrent twitch thanks to our newbie skills ONCE UPON A TIME.

    So how bout that Golden Heart. I feel let down..I don't know anyone who finaled personally.
    I feel like I went to the party and missed the birthday cake.
    I will do a generic rousing cheer for the finalists. WAY TO GO.

    But I admit, it is more fun when a pal finals.

    Well maybe we need to adopt a Golden Heart finalist.

    Yeah!! Let's find a finalist online and post to their blog and tell them we are adopting them.

  8. Tina, I was bummed, too, until I realized I do know a couple of the finalists. One from my local RWA chapter, and another I've met through blogging and FHL--Kit Wilkinson. She's off the wall excited! Maybe we can adopt her and get her over here to help clear out the funk of disappointment. But she's on vacation right now. The "poor" thing is at the beach. :)


  9. Since there are sooo many finalists..I took the Italian bull by the horns and narrowed it down to the 4 inspy finalists. Contact has begun..yeah I saw Kit's blog she is on vacation. What was she thinking, lol.


  10. Okay Ladies...Help me out. I just went to fill out my conference registration...what do I want on my badge???? Title??? Organization??? What do I put?

    And I think it's good to judge contests too. Not just to be fair but like critting you see bad things in others' work that you might do but don't notice and I think it makes you more aware...of good things too...

    Okay, help me out...

    And thanks for all the congrats. Much appreciated.

  11. AHHHH, here I am hunting this woman down and she appears in Seekerville. Kit please email me privately. I can't talk in front of an audience.

  12. Okay, badge.


    Whatever groups you belong to in RWA or make up one, like I did.

    If I were going this year I would put Seeker.

  13. I'm anxiously awaiting the results of one contest, but instead of fussing and complaining that things aren't moving as fast as I would like (and I would like for them to move very fast), I'm grateful someone out there is taking time to read my entry and to provide feedback. Life is busy. Conferences are coming up. It's tax season. Yet you're taking time out of your schedule to help an aspiring author. I'm grateful, and I'm praying for you as you strive to fulfill your duties.

  14. You're right, anonymous. I've been amazed before at the time judges have obviously spent on my entries. Most really want to help. Like you said, they take time out of life to do the judging. And I'm grateful. (Even if it's painful sometimes and coming up with gratefulness is like pulling teeth!) :)

  15. Sounds like alot of good sense there.
    often we do get back more when we do things like this.
    (not that im a writer or judge) But it applies to other aspects of life also.

    ok i have asked before but didn't get a reply or i missed it what is inspy?

    i may have been told and forgetten too.

  16. Hey KIT!!! Great to see you here! Congrats on your GH final!!!!


    GREAT POST! Judging contests is a great way to give back. I always learn something each time I judge too.

  17. Hello -

    I'm a long time lurker on the Seekers - I enjoy this friendly group. It's a nice blend of information and comraderie. Great post, as usual. Kit, congrats on your GH final! Great question about the badges, I didn't know either, so I think I put "Historical Romance Author" on mine - duh! Anyway, I'm a finalist in the Regency category, so we can cheer for each other in SF.


  18. Congrats Anne and Kit!! Yay!

    Cara, you're dead-on! I'm going to be judging a contest soon. Even though I worry about the time it will take, I always come away learning more about the craft of writing and what makes an editor sit up and take notice.

  19. Anne and Kit!! Congratulations!! I'm so thrilled for you!

    Enjoy every moment.


  20. Yes. I agree with Anne. I love checking out Seekers once or twice a week. Sometimes the follow up comments are as good as the post. Fun place for a writing break.

    Ladies, thank you all so much for the congrats and well wishes.

    Congrats to all the other finalists, the Winter Rose Finalists and the Great Expectation winners too...
    There were 2 requests from the inspy cata. Way to go!!!

  21. I have been chosen to be a judge for the first time in my life so this will quite different from me. I am not a writer but strongly considering it. I am an avid reader for many many years (I'll keep that secret or my age right now).
    I see some comments from people whom I have read their books, websites, etc. on this blog to you. God Bless.