I wanted to talk about something today that may be a touchy subject. Discrepancy judging in contests. And the reason I’ve been thinking about it is that I served as a discrepancy judge a while back.
I know that different contests do it differently. Usually, if there is too large a variation in scores, then they bring in a discrepancy judge. Some contests look at the new score and throw out the lowest one. Others will average the scores. (Those of you who have coordinated contests can tell us more about the specifics.)
What I wanted to talk about today is what I learned from the experience. First, let me say that as an entrant, I've have had a discrepancy judge a few times. So I’m very appreciative of the opportunity! But as a judge, it was a hard, hard job--a lot harder than regular judging for me. What I found was that every single time, the scores I gave were closer to the lower scoring judge. And I was really surprised by that, because I tend to be very generous with my scores.
So what I decided (and this is totally my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth :)) is that the reason the coordinators ended up having to call in another judge is because one of the judges was too afraid to be totally honest about the manuscript (and was maybe trying to be nice and encouraging). I don’t think it was just a difference in taste. I think the high scores may have been inflated. Yep, I'm saying this even though whenever I've had a discrpancy judge on my entries, I wanted to say it was the low judge that was off. :)
Now I know there are cases where a judge gets bent out of shape because an entry may hit her hot button. I had a judge once that I swore must have hated men! My hero could do nothing right. And I was really upset when I got the results of that contest, because she kept me from finaling. But now that I’ve seen similar situations from the other side, it makes me want to go back and dig up that entry to look at it again. Maybe the lower-scoring judge was being more honest and helpful than I thought at the time. (My experience as a contestant was also that the discrepancy judge scores ended up closer to the lower ones--which didn't help my finaling status at all but seems to be proving my point.)
It’s hard to set aside the ego and to look at an entry objectively. That mean ol’ judge didn’t like my darling manuscript. She rejected my baby! (Yes, I've had similar thoughts.) But that’s what we have to learn to do. An editor will look at our manuscript very objectively with readers and the marketing department in mind. We have to learn to do the same.
So I'd like to make a suggestion. If you’ve had a discrepancy judge lately, then set your bruised feelings aside and look at the low-scoring judge’s comments. If she’s a man-hater and is spouting derogatory comments, well, okay. Just ignore it and move on. But if the scoring is halfway rational, then truly consider what the judge has to say. It may be that the judge who gave the nearly perfect score didn’t take the time (or didn’t have the guts) to give some constructive feedback.
Take that feedback and be honest with yourself. Is there something there you could work on? Is there some nugget of truth that could help take your writing to the next level? (And I’m talking to myself here, too. Readers and booksellers will be giving feedback in published contests soon.)
We all have room to grow. And that low-scoring judge may be the key to finding a gem of advice.
So, what do y'all think? What has been your experience as a judge or as a contestant?