So since I tend to dabble in judging cross-romance-genre, and at one time was not picky about who I judged for, let’s talk about what made me picky. . .
SCORE SHEETS!!! Most contests have their score sheets nailed to the minutest detail in order to showcase comments and feedback in the best light. . .
And then there are those that don’t.
My greatest pet peeve: contests that offer an extensive score sheet and a written critique. These elements are great for the contestant, you really get a lot of attention for your writing dollar. When these pages are coupled with entries that ask for no more than your first chapter, it’s Tylenol- time for ye old judge. C’mon now. A four page score sheet AND a page critique on a 25 page entry?? How many times can you rephrase: "The story sounds good, but dialogue would be nice," or "Who’s your hero?" or "The pacing need to be kicked up a notch" etc. These score sheets are my worst enemy. Even I get bored reading my own comments. A simple "where’s the romance?" ofttimes was ‘nuf said.
Running a close second are the contests that offer no score sheet, but offer an in-depth analysis of your opening. Not a bad thing if you were one of those students in school who loved essay tests. Without the back up of the multiple choice score sheet to cover all your bases, the poor, tired judge needs to come up with 250 - 500 words about someone else’s mss, when they could be creating for themselves. One would think that since the judges are all novelists, this method would be a piece of cake. In some respects, it is; in others, it’s almost easier to pull out the purple ink and start critiquing from page one and hope your editing says it all.
Finally, there are the contests whose criteria has evolved, but the scoring system hasn’t. Take for example, the small town contest that has grown from simple Contemporary and Historical entries to offering every flavor of sub-genre under the sun, yet, they haven’t revamped their score sheets to reflect special features like fantasy, suspense, or mainstream elements. You’re given a score sheet that asks if H/H are delightful people and if it has a happy ending. Boom, you’re done. Well, not quite that simplistic, but you know what I mean. Where am I supposed to ask what species of extraterrestrial creature they featured on page 5?
Remember me? I'm the one who loves to judge? I want to give writers an opinion based on my knowledge. Not a pounding into the ground; not a thesis of my opinion; not expounding dated profiling in response to today's excellent writing talent.
Now, if you want an example of a well-done score sheet, among many stellar others, look at this year’s Genesis (ha! Couldn’t resist the plug, LOL). 15-pages and an optional synopsis, and the scoring system reflected the simplicity of it all. Straightforward, informative score sheets and the opportunity to add tidbits of advice on a separate page made for narrative response. Loved it.
Look through the contest section in the RWR and take note of all the different contest opportunities offered. Many new contests have been formed and just as many have disappeared off the radar. Now look at the choices again and realize how many contest have withstood the test of time. Many elements come into play when the average, everyday author searches for contest fame. Some go for the final editor reading their work. A few go for the prestige of a coveted medallion or plaque.
And then there are those who truly enter for the feedback.
Money is tight all over. God help me as a contest judge, I don’t ever want to short-change anyone.