Thursday, June 5, 2008

What a Contest Girl Wants

My idea of the ideal scoresheet is more general in the questions, kindalike the one the Heart of the Rockies use merged with the ACFW Genesis one.
In addition to title and category, the entrant should provide targetpublisher and manuscript word count.
In RWA-chapter contests, the inspy category isn't broken up into genres. If the judge is viewing themanuscript as a single-title and the manuscript is a short contemporary, that could put the entry at a disadvantage.
A novel targeted to Heartsong isn't going to be like something targeted to Zondervan. Pick up Cheryl Wyatt's A SOLDIER'S FAMILY and Julie Lessman's A PASSIONMOST PURE. Read the first 30 pages of each. Force yourself to stopreading. Now, if you were judging them and assumed both were targeted toSteeple Hill, do you feel you'd give a fair evaluation of the long historical family saga with strong romantic elements? (Or is it a long historical romance with strong family elements?)
When you enter ACFW's Genesis contest or FHL's Touched by Love, you havethe opportunity to match your entry with similiar genre (or word count)entries. Not so in other RWA-chapter contests. Of course, you could stick your historical or romantic suspense in those categories, but you risk judges marking your entry as "wrong genre" because it's not in the inspy category.
What to do, what to do?
Simple solution: Include word count and target publisher on each entry. Until all contests adopt this policy, then consider including this information in your entry's header.
What other characteristic does the ideal scoresheet have?
It keeps point definitions very basic. Something that's done excellent maynot mean it's publishable. It may merely mean "ready for an editor" or just "great job." Scoring:
Or go to opposite extreme and make definitions very specific. I'm goodwith this.
1=you absolutely suck at writing; consider raising genetically enhanced
hamsters, turtles, and chicks and calling them "The Wonder Pets"
2=serious revisions needed
3=good but didn't impress me; get a critique group or dump yours and finda new one...or at least start listening to your crit group more
4=just a few tweaks or another layer needed
5=you are one ginormous fan-freakin-tastic writer; I want to read more
And every scoresheet should EMPHASIZE that a 0 and a N/A are not
acceptable scores. One of the worst things about entering a contest (besides getting a
stinkin' ONE) is getting scores with no comments. The HOW scoresheet asks
judges to... "Please circle the items that need improvement in each of the following
categories. These items are provided as a REMINDER of what to considerwhen judging and are NOT intended that the manuscript be judged solely byevery desciption after the story element."
_____ OPENING SCENE :: Starts in correct place, interesting hook thatdraws you into the story , good introduction of character(s) and plot
_____ HEROINE –Identifiable by speech patterns, mannerisms, thoughts; hasflaws and strengths; interesting/compelling; good physical description; sympathetic; likeable; not cliched; worthy of hero; has believable emotions and motivations; proactive with external story goal, not merely reacting to events. If not yet introduced, do you feel the exclusion detracted from the beginning of the story? (If not introduced and exclusion isn't distracting, do not deduct points.) _____ HERO - Identifiable by speech patterns, mannerisms, thoughts; hasflaws and strengths; interesting/compelling; good physical description; sympathetic; likeable or at least redeemable; not cliched; worthy of heroine; has believable emotions and motivations; proactive with external story goal, not merely reacting to events. If not yet introduced, do you feel the exclusion detracted from the beginning of the story? (If not introduced and exclusion isn’t distracting, do not deduct points.)
_____ SECONDARY CHARACTERS :: Contribute to the story without distracting from it; good physical description; likeable or understandably dislikeable; not cliched; have believable emotions and motivations. If not yet introduced, do you feel the exclusion detracted from the beginning ofthe story? (If none are introduced and exclusion isn’t distracting, do not deduct point.)
_____ SETTING :: When and where the story takes place is known; description enhances story and sets mood; does not stop the forward pace to convey information; reader can see and feel setting; characters react to their surroundings.
_____ DIALOGUE :: Natural, believable; well balanced with narrative, reveals character, provides necessary information, shows action, moves the plot forward, foreshadows coming events or allows a character to reflecton past events; natural for setting; well balanced with narrative. Character voices are consistent with their personalities and appropriate to their gender. Tags enhance the dialogue and are relatively invisible.
_____ NARRATIVE :: Well balanced with dialogue; introspection not overly heavy or overly light; interesting; necessary; progresses the story without stopping the pace to convey information; flashbacks, if any, areappropriate; backstory woven in naturally; pace appropriate for genre ortargeted line; scene transitions, if any, are smooth, appropriate,necessary.
_____ CONFLICT :: External conflict exists to prevent h/h from reaching story goal; reasonable amount of inner conflict hinted at without raisingtoo many unanswered questions; scenes build on existing conflict; conflict--physical and emotional--creates tension between characters; conflict appropriate for genre or targeted line. Sexual tensionappropriate for genre and/or target line.
_____ VIEWPOINT :: Point of view doesn’t bounce between characters excessively or inappropriately; changes are well-done and relevant; narrative sounds appropriate to POV character; POV is immediately identifiable with POV or scene change; appropriate for genre and/or targetline.
_____ STYLE :: Keeps reader in fictional dream; story presentation was smooth and interesting; actions and emotions “shown, not told,” senses were well used; research accurate, non-intrusive, interesting; strongaction verbs and concrete nouns used; sentence structure and rhythmenhances story, not distracting; avoids cliches.
_____ MECHANICS :: Generally accepted spelling, grammar, punctuation usage; fragments, if used, enhance narrative. (If ms is not in what you consider to be proper ms format, explain to author but do not deduct points because ms has been checked to meet contest format guidelines.)
_____ INSPIRATIONAL ELEMENT :: Grows naturally out of character or plot; spiritual struggles hinted at in hero/heroine and are appropriate amount for entry pages; not preachy or distracting; characters behave appropriateto their spiritual state.
_____ SUBTOTAL POINTS (highest possible 120 points) *
____ OVERALL APPEAL –Would you want to finish this book if it werepublished, and would yourecommend it to a friend? (Score 0 through 5)
_______ TOTAL SCORE (highest possible 125 points) Finally, the scoresheet should have more than unpublished/published criteria.
Judge’s Writing Experience (check 1 or more):
_____ Unpublished Author
_____ RWA-trained contest judge
_____ Published Romance Author
_____ Pubbed or Unpubbed Contest Finalist
_____ Published Fiction, Novel Length
_____ RWA PRO
_____ Published, Articles
_____ Golden Heart Finalist
_____ RITA Finalist
_____ Published, Other
_____ Freelance Editor


  1. This is actually quite awesome. Maybe we could start our own contest in Seekerville. (in our spare time).

    The Seekerville Contest for Unpublished Romance Writers. Of course we wouldn't be RWA or ACFW affiliated. So maybe we could call it the THE SEEKERVILLE ROGUE CONTEST FOR THOSE STRANDED ON UNPUB ISLAND????

  2. Hey Tina, maybe readers Island could help out also?
    Well writen Gina.
    i was thinking when you posted on the blog the other day that you could do a post here of what you answered in the blog and today its there!

  3. OMIGOSH, Gina, this is totally awesome!!! If only every contest went by your rules, girlfriend!

    And, Tina, I honestly think a Seekerville contest is a cracerjack idea!! (Sorry for the old-fashioned noun, but I haven't eaten breakfast yet and I'm hungry ...) Maybe we should bat that one around for a while?


  4. GREAT post, Gina.

    Tina...I LOVE the Rogue contest idea! LOL!


  5. I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks for most fiction contests for Christian authors is that Christian is a single category. It's just a serious problem if Julie's historical family saga romance and Camy's sassy, Amer-Asian chick lit and Debby's romantic suspense and Missy's sweet family romance and Cheryl's sweet PJ romance are all in a contest together.

    How does a judge exactly choose?

    I just...I think it was the Rita? not that long ago and I think I signed up to judge a category. But the books that came were all over the place HQ Next, short inspy historicals, long, contemporary romantic suspense.
    Is that the way it always is? Of course they've never let me judge before but I figured I'd get a genre.
    Great contest sheet, Gina.

  6. This is great. So when's the contest?
    Is the prize a critique by one of you venerable, wise Seekers?
    If so, I'm in.

  7. Wow, Gina. As usual, you are very thorough and knowledgeable! Great scoresheet. You have such coherent thoughts, girlfriend.

    I had a judge in the Genesis this year who wrote all these complimentary comments in several areas of my scoresheet. But she gave me 3's and 4's out of 5. I never figured out what she didn't like or what she counted off for. I mean, from her comments you would have thought she was giving me a final score in the 90's, but it ended up being in the 70's. It was as if she just didn't want me to final, but didn't know what to criticize. I don't know. It was frustrating and confusing.

  8. I can only imagine what the prize might be for Seekerville contest. A canoe, maybe? Oars?

  9. lol, Mary, how about a jet to pubbed island?

  10. Thanks, gals, for liking the scoresheet.

    When reviewing scoresheets, I realized I didn't like ones that asked vague questions. Is the hero multi-dimensional? Umm, what exactly does that mean?

    Well, does he have identifiable mannerisms, speech, and thoughts? Does he have quirks? Strengths? Flaws? If he's not completely heroic, is he redeemable or compelling enough that you're willing to look past his flaws and gruffness in hopes that he'd change, and he will change 'cause this is a romance.

    I understand why inspys get lumped into one category in most RWA chapter contests. The inspriational element sets it apart, but that doesn't mean it can't compete against other genre books. The only difference between an ABA romantic suspense and a CBA one is sex in the first and Christian faith in the second.


    Yet some judges will balk at an inspy in a non-inspy category.

    Mary, maybe you got such a vast varity of genres because they were all leftovers. So they sluffed them off to you.

  11. Oh, sorry about the hard-to-read formatting. I should have sent it to Mary as an attachment instead of in the body of an e-mail. That way my spaces between paragraphs would have shown up. Whoops!

    I'm not technically minded.

  12. Okay, if you want to do a Seeker contest, here's my idea.

    Once a month, have entrants send in the first scene of their ms, word count not to exceed 4k. Or maybe less. Discard entries not chosen.

    Post entry, along with scoresheet.

    Anyone who wants to judge can read entry and send it to the Seeker coordinator for that month. Give a specific limit to judging, anything from a day to a week. Then the coordinator sends the scoresheets to the winning entrant.

    Also, since folks can learn from reading scoresheets as well as from judging, have the coordinator pick a few scoresheets to post (keeping the judge anonymous if preferred).

    That way Seeker-ites can discuss the scoresheets and "interpret" what the judges mean by comments and scores. You know, put things in perspective.

  13. Oh, and the winning entrant's name doesn't have to be given.

    Just list title.

    If the entrant wasn't to admit it's her entry, that's fine, but at least she could stay mostly anonymous if she wants.

    Same with judges. Names could go on scoresheets or not. Only whoever is the Seeker coordinator that month would know.

  14. I love the post and the contest idea!!!!!

    And we could 'insure' the win to the poster we like most!!!!


    Did I say that out loud????


    Someone hit 'erase'.


  15. And if we really like the entrant, we could say all sorts of nice things so that, by chance, any editor was reading, s/he'd see how awesome we think the entry is.

    Then s/he's e-mail one of the Seekers and ask for the name of the entrant.

    Then s/he'd read the full of the ms and offer a contract.

    Since the contract would be so amazing and the entrant was so thankful to the Seekers, she's insist 1% of her paycheck go to each Seeker and anyone else who judged her entry.

    Like always, I'm full of brilliant ideas.

    My word verification is dog-legged puddle.

  16. Gina, brilliant scoresheet! It would make things so much easier and clearer to both the contestant and judge.

    I love the idea of the contest. It would be fun.

    Now, I'm off to check the weather since we're suppose to get blown away again tonight.

  17. Love the scoresheet, Gina! I like how it's split up into those categories.

    The contest idea sounds fun! But I don't want to organize it. :)

  18. Gina, your awesome scoresheet makes an excellent check list for writers' wip. Great job! I'm impressed.


  19. You can win IMAGINARY chocolate.

    I don't know about criticing someone's work online, in public. I see a lot of potential for RAGE.

  20. Mary, the Rita just changed to this shotgun judging approach the last couple of years or so. I'm not eligible to judge, but I wouldn't care to judge that broad of a range of books anyway.

    Gina, mine's nzoju. Makes me sneeze!

  21. You know, Mary's hit on something that we haven't talked about much...mainly because we're pretty busy discussing what we liked or didn't like about a contest, our judges etc. And there's a lot to discuss there.

    But GOOD contests, and wonderful contest coordinators get all kinds of flak from disgruntled entrants all the time. Seems like we even had a topic on that from one of our contest coordinators once. Camy maybe?

    I'm just saying that the road goes both ways.

    I've heard of workshops where editors and agents crtiqued a query letter or the first scene in front of everybody.

    Paperback Idol maybe? Yikes!

  22. Very insightful post, Gina. It would be great if contests would adopt a uniform score sheet -- especially one as detailed and balanced as your suggestions.

    BTW, I just got my score sheets back from the Winter Rose. One judge in particular clearly didn't relate to my story or characters, but she very professionally scored the ms. based on my technique, not how much she did or didn't like the story. I made sure to thank her specifically for both her honesty and objectivity. Too bad more judges can't do the same.

  23. You know...back to Gina's scoresheet. As a judge, all those detailed questions sometimes blow my mind. (As an entrant, I devour them, disecting each comment, trying to figure out just what the judge was trying to tell me!)

    All of the contests out there, (and I've entered almost all of them) have this type of scoresheet with a numerical scoring system and a comment section.

    The exception is the Golden Heart which is this "On a scale of 1-9, is she the prettiest girl you've ever seen?" contest.

    I'd love to see a hybrid:

    20 questions worth 5-10 points apiece with comments, BUT before judges even think about trying to answer the 20 questions, they slap the GH score on there.

    Question, then I'm outta here for awhile: Do you think judges scores tend to be fairer when the scoring system is based on 20 questions for a 1-5 point spread, or 20Qx10Pts for 200, or even 10Qx10Pts for 100?

  24. Oh...sorry, here's a novel idea! lol

    How about having 4 judges. The first two judge the entry and only write their comments on there. The second two have to read the comments (without reading the entry) and come up with the numerical score. lol

    What a horrible thought! I can imagine trying to come up with a numerical score based on some of the comments I've given...and received ... over the years.

  25. Not sure, Pam. I just know that it's awfully hard for me to decide on a number from 1 to 9 for a GH score. And when you add in that you can give tenths of a point . . . it's just grabbing numbers out of the air for me! Personally, I think 1-5 is a more manageable range. But I wouldn't mind having half points being allowed.

  26. Pam, you are over-analyzing. Go chill, girlfriend!

  27. Pam said: when the scoring system is based on 20 questions for a 1-5 point spread, or 20Qx10Pts for 200, or even 10Qx10Pts for 100?

    I hate having to do this, Pammy honey, but you are grounded from commenting for the rest of the day.

    I do know that I truly agonize over scores I give out. I mean later, too, after I've hit send.

    Sometimes, if I whine to a contest coordinator, they'll email me back and say, "You were in the ballpark with everyone, so I think you nailed it."

    Instead of, "Wow, you gave a 100 and the next highest score if a 62."
    Yikes, girl. You gave a five to someone who otherwise got all tens.

    Toast. I am so toast.

  28. I judged a contest once where the scoring range was 1-10. At first I thought it would be easier than the 1-5 range. Nope.

    I agonized.

    Should this be a 7 or an 8? Should this be a 5 or a 6? Was fabulous enough for a 10 or almost fabulous, thus the 9?

    1-5 is so much easier becuase I can tell the difference between a 4 and a 5. The hardest to decide is a 3 or a 4.

    And 1s...well, I figure for being brave enough to enter a contest, the entrant should get at least a 2 no matter how bad.

    Pam, I can't process your numbers. My eyes are still crossed.

    Regarding rage...I think that would be headed off by whoever drew the entry. If one is so utterly poorly written, I wouldn't have a problem tossing it back.

    Plus make the entrant sign a waiver like RWA contests do.

    Over at, I coordinated (and I'm not volunteering here) about 20 contests over a period of three years. They ranged from best first line to best villain scene to best query letter.

    Yeah, we had an occasional complaint, but overally, the judges were constructive in their criticism. And I'm sure that was because the judges posted their scoresheets.

    Anonymous posting of scoresheets lessens the opportunity for the author to freak least in the direction of the judge.

    Plus, you wouldn't have to post the scoresheets. The prize of the contest would be having the Seekers (or whoever else wanted to participate) judge the first scene of your manuscript.

    Post the entry and scoresheet.

    Have judges copy scoresheet into a word doc, fill it out, and e-mail to the month's Seeker contest coordinator.

    Coordinator e-mails them to the entrant.

    Wa la.

    Posting a couple scoresheets on blog for Seekerites review is optional.

    Then again, maybe someone else has a better contest idea.

    Gotta go wash dinner dishes.

  29. Gina, Great post and what terrific ideas for the score sheets. Having received scores and having scored, I really like more info. It makes it easier to understand what you've received and gives a better direction on what to give. I especially liked the part where the judge marks their level of expertise. I've entered some contests that have that. It makes a whole lot of difference in how I interpret the score if its from a reader or a pubbed writer.

    Mary, I don't like the RWA format either. Pam was right. That change came a couple of years ago. You used to judge in a category which made much more sense, but they thought it was unfair for example if your book was in a group of five with Debbie Macomber or a group with all beginners, your placement would be different. So their theory was if it was a hodgpodge of genres, each book would be judged on its own merit and not compared with the others. That's good in theory, but in spite of the fact they ask you what genre you don't want, I always end up with a book in a genre I don't particularly care for and how is that fair? If I have a hard time reading the book, how am I going to judge it fairly.

    A super detailed score sheet like Gina recommends would certainly help. Thanks Gina.

  30. Gina, I loved your post . . . especially the statement about if something has not yet been introduced. That helps! Sometimes the writer doesn't include everything in the first three chapters. No need to take off points if the story still works.

  31. Ginakins, this was a great idea-planter. Sure you weren't a farmer or a Shaolin priest in some former life????

    Great job, kid.


  32. Okay, I was WRITING last night (1.5K, thank you very much) and didn't KNOW I'd been grounded, or I would've stuck my tongue out at Mary and came in here swinging.

    Now that I've had time to sleep on it, I'll be really nice and not do that. It wouldn't be a pretty sight.

    Ah, Myra knows me well. I'm the analyst of the group. It's my strongest (or is that weakest?) trait?