Friday, August 8, 2008
The Ultimate Empathizer by Donnell Bell-Guestblogger
Today we have another guestblogging contest coordinator. I had a wonderful time working with Donnell when she coordinated the Daphne. I am SO thrilled that she's coming back to coordinate that stellar contest. And, I'm excited for you all to get to know her more today here on Seekerville. Isn't her pooch cute!?
With that, I'll turn the table over to Donnell....
The Ultimate Empathizer
There’s an Indian proverb that says, “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Good proverb, sage advice, and one I respect. Especially when it comes to contests. You see, when it comes to contests, I am the ultimate empathizer. I’ve been an entrant, a judge and finally a coordinator. So, if someone says to me, “You can’t understand,” be careful. I just might surprise you.
On being a Contestant:
My first contest, a brand new fiction writer, I entered the EMILY. That’s right. One of RWA®’s most prestigious contests. I’d come from a nonfiction background and I was pretty sure I was Pulitzer Prize winning material. I entered Loving Montana. Oh my gosh, it was brilliant writing. It contained every adverb known to man; switched POV so many times even my characters marked me down; and listed so much critical research and back story, to this day I’m still astounded I didn’t final!
But perhaps the silliest thing these Emily judges marked me down for was …get this. I didn’t have a hero. Can you believe it? On the score sheet that said on a scale of one to five, how appealing do you find the hero …two of my judges gave me zeros. One judge, out of the goodness of her heart, gave me a one. And I’ll never forget what this gracious lady said on the score sheet. … “Your writing is good. I wanted to mark you up, but we never see a hero. You need a hero. Is there a hero?”
That’s been a while and her comment still makes me laugh. So when I say I’ve been there, I have. I’ve made every mistake known to contests. What did I do about it? I honed my craft. These days before I enter, I study the score sheet, keep a grip on my galloping POV and now very nearly always include a hero.
I also learned the “alleged” rules of Romance. Now if I break them I do so deliberately. By the way, to those Emily judges. You rock!
On being a Judge:
At a chapter meeting, and again a brand new writer, one of my chapter mates asked, “Donnell, will you judge the contest I’m coordinating?” I shuffled my feet and scratched my chin and replied, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t think I’m qualified.”
She said, “You read, don’t you?”
Yes, I read. And reading does NOT qualify you to be a contest judge. Contest judges know the so-called rules; they also know when to ignore them. Contests judges know when someone’s written a compelling tale – it’s one that makes them “feel,” and for days after, they’re still thinking about that entry and crossing their fingers that it sells. Judges understand POV, understand when an entrant is head hopping, and also understand when the POV switches work. Contest judges acknowledge that an entry is somebody’s baby, somebody’s hard work she’s entrusted to you, and understand that just maybe this is a brand new writer whose spirit can be easily crushed.
Further, contest judges know that out there, some frazzled volunteer coordinator is counting on them to make that deadline, to make those kind-but-honest comments and to take the same kind of pride in judging that that oh-so-nervous contestant has done in entering.
On being a Coordinator:
For those who know me the term Mama Lion doesn’t do justice. I’m protective of my entrants, protective of my judges, protective of the coordinators I work with and very aware of the reputation of the contest I coordinate. If you enter, I ask you to follow the rules. If you judge, I beg you to follow the instructions and meet the deadline. No, you don’t get paid. Yes, it’s from the goodness of your heart. But it does earn you undying gratitude, and esteem from your colleagues in this field.
All three areas to my contest life involved a learning process. I’ve been there. When you bomb in a contest or miss finaling by a hair’s breadth, I’ve been there. When you judge the entry from hell, and worry this person will never write again because you found no redeeming value in the work, but you tried, I’ve been there. When a judge goes silent and refuses to communicate, or an agent or editor is too overworked and forgets they agreed to judge, I’ve been there, also.
I am the ultimate empathizer. What’s more, I tip my hat to all you wonderful people aiming for the stars who empathize, too.
Donnell Ann Bell is published in nonfiction, an award-winning writer and a 2007 Golden Heart® finalist. She also has held most every committee position on the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense contest, rwa.mysterysuspense.org. This year she returns as the Overall Coordinator for the Daphne. Check out her joint blog, http://fivescribes.blogspot.com/ or her web page, www.donnellannbell.com