Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Best of Seekerville From the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

Contest Judge Comments by Camy Tang

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.

Don't forget...

Today is the last day to be considered for our weekly critique.
More info here.


  1. Hi Camy:

    Do you know if any writing contests have ‘control’ entries?

    On the state real estate exam they will have five questions that are not graded but the student does not know which ones they are. These questions are control questions and they are being tested under actual conditions before they are put on the exam for real. If the scoring is abnormal: way too many right answers or wrong answers -- the questions will not be used as worded.

    A control entry for a writing contest could be a work of known quality and would be used to grade judges. It would be nice to know what score the judges got on the contest you entered.


    vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  2. Great post, Camy. I'm so grateful to my judges in the Genesis. They gave me excellent feedback. I had one like you described who was so incredibly generous with the time she spent using track changes. I found those especially helpful because it was an easy way for her to let me know exactly which lines elicited strong reactions.


    My laptop's down, but then so was Blogger....


    Contest judging.... So subjective. But then so is reading, and tough judges OR judges that just don't get your stuff are sometimes tough to understand. But don't mistake one for the other: A tough judge really tries to offer advice to make your work better IN THEIR VIEW...

    A judge who doesn't get your stuff is just a critic without base... Enough experience and you can differentiate the two.

    VINCE!!! I don't think so. Interesting idea, but the subjectivity would mess with that, right? What you might think was a solid piece of work, another professional might find as flippant... But I don't know.

    Okay, leaving coffee, I'm not sure how y'all existed without coffee all this time! And Danish, Saturday morning pick-me-up breakfast because I'm working on an almost-dinosaur computer and have to work on a re-write of a fun book that's been on hold for 18 months...

    Dusted it off, almost done. THIS IS MY MOTHER'S DAY GIFT TO RUTHY:



  4. Okay, I had to jump through hoops to get in because of the Blogger snafus....

    I had to clear my Internet History, my cookies and then return to Blogger to re-establish myself. And then they let me in.

    I'm so sorry if anyone else is having these difficulties! And huge thank yous to all of you who valiantly tried to chat with me on Thursday...

    Love you guys THIS MUCH!

  5. Yay! My morning reading is back. Yep, reading Seerkerville is WAY more fun than the morning paper!

    Of course the top reason to enter a contest is to win. : ) But to me the other reason is to get objective feedback from someone who isn't close to the idea.

    Nice post, Camy.

    I'd be up for the five page critque or critque of a Woman's World story. (Wink, wink, Tina!)

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  6. CAMSTER!!! What a great archive to pull up after the finalists are announced!!! EXCELLENT!!!

    SUPER CONGRATS to all the finalists in the Genesis, ESPECIALLY some Seeker buds such as Pepper Basham (double finalist!!), Jessica Nelson and Renee Ann Smith -- we are soooo proud of you guys!! Onward and upward!!


  7. SUPER post - will definitely be referring back to this post.

    Enter me, please, for the five-page critique :)


  8. I missed Seekerville, too!! Hope the blogger problems are over!!

  9. Congratulations to all the finalists. Enjoy the thrill.

    Hugs to those who didn't move on to the final round. I wish you good scores and encouraging, helpful feedback.

    I judged the first round of the Genesis this year and was blessed by the experience. It's such fun to see the upcoming talented writers. Since I'm the grateful recipient of contest judges' feedback who learned tons as a result of it, I endeavor to give comments that will help entrants take their work to the next level, and I add as many encouraging remarks as a I can since it helps to know what worked well, too. =)

  10. Yay! I agree with Rose - give me Seekerville over the morning paper any day.

    And did I hear someone say this was all Ruthy's fault? Or was it just some weird coincidence?

    I'm going back to read my Genesis judges' comments again - for the third time. The first time I just breezed through them, thankful for decent scores :). The second time I paid attention to the comments that I agreed with - things I knew needed to be fixed, and made the changes they suggested. Now I'm ready for the comments I didn't agree with - why don't I agree with them? and which one of us is right?

    But all in all, I'm just thankful that these three writers took the time to read and comment on my work!

    I think I'm up for a 5 page critique, so enter me, please!


  11. YAY!!!! again for Pepper! And all the other Friends of Seekerville!

    Thanks for your insight, Camy. I found the comments to be very useful overall. Every. Single. One. said 'wrong category'. :p I wasn't surprised by that. Neither entry fit well in a particular genre. A bit more research later led me to believe contemporary/mainstream would have been a better fit but ah well. Even with that, the comments were very useful.

    I was highly amused by opposite comments on the same entry - great dialogue! dialogue needs work! and nothing on dialogue but a 3 or 4 on the 3rd. /sigh/ Same with 'grasp of punctuation/grammar/etc'. One judge a 2 another a 5 ;).

    Anyway - thanks again to all of the judges, coordinators etc!

    Would love the 5 pages!

    carol at carolmoncado dot com

  12. Yay! I have SO missed my Seekerville time =)
    How funny was it I was reading this whole post going "OMG, they are SO talking about me!" LOL, till I hit the bottom and saw it was an archive.

    So I guess all my newbie mistakes aren't unique to me. That's encouraging in it's own way =)

    Can I leave funnel cake for breakfast?

  13. Hi Camy:

    This is a great post.

    I think you could come out with a Kindle book called “How to Speak Judge in Seven Days” as if it were a language phrase book. It could be very funny yet totally informative! There could be sections on, faux amis, useful idioms, and so much more.

    Everyone who enters contests would have to have copy. No kidding!


  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Hi Ruth:

    On subjectivity:

    While writing is open to differences of opinion, there should be a way to objectively rate excellent work and terrible work. There has to be at least that much objectivity in order for a contest to mean anything. Right?


  16. Hi Ruth:

    Your post from the other day just disappeared!

    Did you break blogger?

    Was it something I wrote? I never got to read any of the comments. But I think I got the titles to your books mixed up so I am glad it’s gone. Whew!

    I bought all the ingredients for, “Meg’s Allegany Maple Fudge,” and I didn’t see anything about ‘salt’ or ‘temperatures’.

    I do a great job of cooking because I can ‘see’ the chemistry happening. It’s science. I actually visualize what’s happening to the molecules.

    The family thinks I’m crazy. They can’t make fudge come out right. It’s always awful. The last batch the women made was really interesting. You’d pick up a piece of fudge, press on it with two fingers, and the whole thing turns into powder!

    They can’t wait for me to try. Any hints!


    P.S. I think the first time I posted this Blogger didn't like it. I had to delete it.

  17. Blogger is back again. HURRAH! Obviously we are addicted... :)

    Glad to see everyone!

    Super post, Camy. This is good whether we are participating in contests or not because it gives us things to work on, and is a good reminder that reading is in the eye of the beholder too.

    Congrats to all the finalists (waving TN girl Pepper!) and entrants too. It takes some courage to put your work out there!

    I've only entered one and some of the things they said in a similar fashion, but others seemed to have been a matter of personal taste. One judge "got it" and the other did not.

  18. Hi KC:

    One judge "got it" and the other did not.

    This also happened to me in the extreme. It was like an “A” and an “F”!

    I’m really not sure anymore if it is safe to write anything anyone has to ‘get’!

    While it is said that ‘even a melon grown in the shade will ripen someday’, maybe we should only write ‘pre-gotten’ prose. There just isn’t time for all judges to see the light. : )


    P.S. I’m going to a book signing in an hour. It will be my first time in a Lifeway Christian bookstore. I’ll be interested in seeing how many Seeker authors on are the shelves (figuratively).

  19. Thanks for the pointers. I'm working with a critique group online and sometimes find it difficult to sort through the comments. I've entered two contests but won't hear from the judges until June. I look forward to the comments to improve my writing.

    Please enter me in the critique. I have a new WIP I would love some feedback on.
    teaching by writing at yahoo dot com

  20. YAY for all the finalists announced, including our own sweet PEPPER! So stocked!

    (would love to be entered, thanks!)

  21. This is helpful. Thank you, Camy!

  22. Good morning Seekerville!!

    First an unofficial congrats to friends of Seekerville who finaled in the Genesis..waving to Mary C and Pepper and Jessica and Renee Ann...have only skimmed the will officially congratulate everyone Sunday.

  23. Second! I did a huge mailing today.

    The post office is a scary place. I found a little substation and they are so nice. So if you are waiting on something, 99 percent chance it is on its way!!!

  24. Vince, I found Ruth's post and will put it up Sunday. But alas Blogger went back in time to save their databse so all comments are lost. We will make up for that, I promise.

  25. Funeral cake? Okay do not tell me.

  26. Whew, I think my withdrawal symptoms are lessening!

    What torture yesterday! Almost all the blogs I read were missing! I didn't know what to do with myself. I think I felt like a teen who lost their cell phone!

    Glad to see everyone's back. Congrats to the Genesis finalists! Best of luck in the next round!


  27. Great look behind the scenes Camy!

    I totally agree with your section about comparing what judges have to say, that can be very useful.

    Have a Great Weekend!

  28. Thanks for the great post, Camy. It's been helpful as I go over the judge's comments for the second time. Glad I entered as the comments and suggestions are invaluable. Major congratulations to all the finalists who regularly come here.

  29. How nice to have blogger working again! YAY!

    It's a beautiful day in GA!

    Prayers are with all those in the flood zone today.

  30. Enjoyed the post Camy. I also enjoyed Ruthy's on Thursday and tried to post (would have loved to be in your giveaway) but unfortunately Blogger was down and now it seems her posting is gone from the Seekerville blog. Sigh....

    I pray everyone in Seekerville will have a blessed, blessed day.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  31. Thanks, Tina. It's so great to be with Jessica and Pepper. Congrats to all of the finalists.

    I'm lucky that I was swamped at work while Blogger was down, but it sure is nice to have it back.

  32. Vince, that's an interesting scenario. My problem would be, we'd give a "control" entry to a judge and they "fail," so to speak, so then we'd need to scramble to find a new judge for the other "real" entries the judge scored. It's very hard to find judges, especially last minute, and just the thought is raising my blood pressure, so I don't think it would be feasible for the Genesis.

    MaryC, I'm glad! I try really hard to screen the judges before they are asked to judge the Genesis--we don't just allow anyone to judge. They have to be vouched for by someone else who is a good judge/critiquer.

    Ruthy, good point, subjectivity could skew the results of a "control" entry too. I hadn't thought of that but when you mentioned it, I realized you're right about that.

    Rose, I agree—I like to enter contests to win! :)

    I echo Julie's congrats to the Seeker buds Finalists! Woohoo!

    Thanks, Joanne!

    Thanks, Jackie! I think they're fixed now.

    Keli, thanks SO much for judging for us! You were a fantastic judge!

    I like Jan's idea that it was all Ruthy's fault. LOL Jan, you have a good method, I do the same thing—I look over critique comments two or three times, and the last time is when I really pay attention to the stuff I didn't particularly agree with. If I can come up with a logical reason why I didn't agree, then I ignore it, but if I can't, then I either ask another critique partner and/or try to fix it in my manuscript. :)


  33. CarolM, unfortunately, you'll come across disparate judge comments no matter what contest you enter. In fact, you'll come across disparate editor and agent comments, so I guess you can consider the Genesis good training for that! :P

    Nancy, that's really cool that it applied to you so well! I'm so glad! All us Seeker ladies have experienced the exact same thing in this post, so you're in good company!

    Vince—ROFL!!!! I love that!!!! And yes, you can objectively rate excellent work and terrible work, but usually that happens before the person is asked to judge. I only allow people to judge who have been vouched for by other judges whose judging I have seen and respect.

    KC, like Ruthy said, some judges will not "get" your work. What I did was actually tweak my manuscript according to the one judge who didn't "get" my work, and it made it more accessible to a larger audience, and then it got bought by Zondervan, so even though I didn't *like* that judge's critique, it actually helped me sell my first book. :)

    Christine, online critique groups are the BEST! I've been in two or three and they've all been really helpful to me, in different ways than entering contests. Contest judges give different types of feedback, I find.

    Casey, I was excited to see Pepper double final, too!

    You're welcome, Karen!

    Tina, I totally agree, I hate mailing. I use the Merchant Services service of PayPal to print postage (first class and media mail) and then my hubby drops them off at the post office for me on the way to work.

    Susan, Blogger was having so many problems but I'm glad it's back now!

    Eva Marie, yes, I totally compare what judges say against each other. It's always the most helpful to me!

    Pat, thanks! I'm glad this was helpful for you!

    Debby, I'm praying, too!

    Cindy, I think Tina is going to repost Ruthy's post.


  34. I received many excellent and thoughtful comments on my Genesis entry. Admittedly, though, I was sad that I didn't make it to the semis.

    However, I'm extremely happy to see Pepper's name as a double finalist. Couldn't happen to a nicer person.


  35. And I have greatly missed Seekerville. :-)

    (And I'm also in for the critique.)

  36. I am reposting Ruthy's post. Come back tomorrow and see.

  37. Walt, I'm glad your comments were helpful!

  38. Congratulations to all the Genesis Finalists! :)

  39. Boy, I'm glad to see Seekerville again! Ha. Anyway, Camy, I enjoyed this post a lot. I think judges must be like teachers-- some are called to it and some aren't. I think judges can be honest without being ugly, and those who take the time to really try to help writers are special. Agree?

    Congrats to everyone who finaled in the Genesis!

    Please enter me for the First Five Pages Critique.




  40. Coming at this a little late, but thanks, Camy, for this post and for all the hard work you put into the Genesis. Can't imagine the hours spent.

    Congratulations to all those who are going on to the final round!!