Camy here, your friendly neighborhood Genesis contest coordinator, talking about contest judge comments.
Now, I have to confess, I peek. I look at the comments of the judges as they return their entries to me.
In addition to being head coordinator, I’m category coordinating the Women’s Fiction category of the Genesis contest, so obviously I’m not looking at ALL the judged entries for ALL the categories, just my three categories.
But I’m not judging any entries in this contest (conflict of interest), so I figure it doesn’t hurt to look at the comments. And it helps me to evaluate if a judge tends to score high or low, or if they give lots of comments or only a few.
Here’s the facts—most judges in a contest are not habitually low or high scoring judges. Judge #A might happen to score Entry #1 lower than the other two judges who got that entry, but Judge #A will NOT typically score ALL her entries low—just that one entry will happen to be a low score.
In fact, the majority of judges are very temperate in their scoring. The maximum number of points is 100, with 60 being all 3s—average. Most judges might score one entry in the 90s and one entry in the 40s and the rest will range in between.
Before you gasp, think about it—it’s a bell curve. Only a few will have high scores and go on to the finals. Only a few are bare beginning writers. The rest fall in the largest area of the bell curve.
Granted, once in a while you’ll get that one judge who scores everything a 20, but also remember that once in a while you’ll get that one judge who scores everything 90 or higher and it might help propel you into the finals. And I’m certainly not going to complain about a high scoring judge when it benefits me. :)
Anyway, I was going to talk about judge comments.
Some judges have obviously taken at least an hour or more to score that 15-page entry, because they’ve got Track Changes comments and suggestions all over the place.
Some judges have a bare handful of comments.
As a coordinator, I kind of wish judges would write more comments, or longer comments, but as a writer, I also have realized that my own editors don’t wax poetic on a point.
They say something once, like “The heroine is not likable in the opening chapter.” And they expect me to fix it. They don’t tend to give me long paragraphs about WHY my heroine isn’t likable.
Here’s one thing all the Genesis judges have done (or should have done)—they filled out the Summary sheet on the scoresheet that lists five different areas of writing craft (Professional Impact, Story, Characterization, Conflict, Dialogue) and an overall Strengths/Weaknesses section. The judge comments in that Summary sheet are all typically rather useful.
What you have to do is realize that some judges say a LOT in very FEW WORDS.
It’ll be up to you, the entrant, to read carefully and figure out how to fix things.
“The story confused me in chapter two.” (Maybe too much going on, or too many characters, or inadequately explained motivations and actions)
“The dialogue was stilted.” (Maybe the entrant needs to have people read her dialogue so she can hear them herself.)
“I don’t know who the main character(s) are.” (Point of view might be muddled, or the main characters simply aren’t even in the first chapters, which could be a problem since most editors want to know who the book is about fairly quickly. There was the First Three Pages column in the March 2011 RWR that illustrated that point.)
“There’s no romance in the entry.” (The entrant entered the manuscript in the wrong category, or if the book really is a romance, they need to put some of that in the first 15 pages—this is typically a requirement of the romance genre.)
“Character was not sympathetic.” (This usually means there are several things in the first pages that make the reader not like the character—actions, or thoughts, or attitude, or inaccurately explained motivations. Here’s where crit partners instructed to look for where the character is unsympathetic can point out nuances.)
These comments are similar to what my editors have told me in their revision letters. When you enter a contest and get your entry back, realize that the comments can be very useful even if they’re not profuse.
Sometimes, you see the same comment on the same entry given by two different judges. That’s usually something to pay attention to. If Judge #A says she didn’t like your heroine, and Judge #B says he couldn’t relate to the heroine, that’s saying the same thing—make your heroine more sympathetic.
Some judges say completely disparate things—“great dialogue” and “stilted dialogue.” Well, it could be just personal preference—one liked your dialogue and one didn’t.
However, if another judge agrees and says you have “stilted dialogue,” then maybe it’s something to address.
Or if another judge says you have “great dialogue,” then just don’t stress about the “stilted dialogue” comment and just work on constantly improving your dialogue skills.
Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Out now is her romantic suspense, Formula for Danger. She runs the Story Sensei critique service, is a staff worker for her church youth group, and leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she ponders frivolous things like knitting, running, dogs, and Asiana. Visit her website to sign up for her quarterly newsletter.
This post first appeared in Seekerville March 20, 2008.
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