Saturday, January 29, 2011

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

Gotta Love It by Audra Harders

Call me a glutton for punishment but I love to judge contests. A contest junkie? You bet! I can’t afford to enter all the contests I’d like, so I judge ‘em instead.

I’m absolutely floored when magnanimous friends of mine volunteer to chair contests for their chapters then moan the blues about not being able to find judges for all the entries pouring in. Are you kidding me? People won’t judge five - count’em 5 - creative pieces of genius begging for words of wisdom to guide them on their way? The disheartened coordinator shakes a heavy head at the task before him/her, while I shake my head at the blown opportunity.

What a learning experience each entry poses. I prefer to say I offer feedback rather than judging– you know, the whole judge not lest ye be judged thing–an opportunity to pass on a part of the knowledge I’ve gleaned over my 14 year career of writing. I can’t say I offer a whole lot of wisdom to the contest entrant outside of technique pointers and personal opinions. Rather, I’m totally selfish about the whole thing. These entries teach me what writing is all about, teach me to view the world through different eyes. I can spot a pro a mile away, and say a prayer for a publishing contract on their horizon; I can spot a newbie a hundred miles away, and say a prayer for a compassionate mentor to enter their lives. Each person courageous enough to offer their work as a sacrifice on the pillar of subjective criticism deserves a Badge of Courage.

To the pros, I sympathize with you and I’m feelin’ your pain, scowling at the fact this masterpiece of brilliance in my hot little hands (or on the computer monitor) is still on the aspiring market. I’m not an editor, nor do I have ambitions to ever be one. Its got to be the most confusing profession on the face of the earth. I often scratch my head and wonder what in Godiva Chocolates are editors looking for when all in the space of 30 pages, I’ve laughed, cried and scooted up to the edge of my seat? To all of you gifted writers I offer my thanks for entertaining me with unique plots, winsome writing, and the dedication to continue submitting your talent to the next contest.

Newbies, hey, we’ve all been there. I think I love judging your work even more than the pros. I see your heart, I feel your emotions. Enthusiasm bathes your plots like diamonds in the rough-sometimes very rough : ) Yeah, I can see it. So, you need to perfect your craft, don’t we all? Remember, aside from the Instant Successes who have their own issues to overcome, we have all poured our hearts into learning to present a great story. I praise God daily for nurturing deep within me the seed of storytelling, for giving me the desire to throw everything including the kitchen sink at a pair of characters that eventually leads them to a happy ending. Newbies often run headlong with such excitement. I see it in the entries that have no POV, whose writing is passive, who run off on tangents that leave me cross-eyed and flummoxed. Those are craft techniques that we all must learn, practice, perfect and incorporate. BUT, the ideas are works of art. Life experiences uniquely yours make me smile and nod, and humbly remember years ago when the only body part worthy of my attention were the eyes, and gazes were the sum total of the action of my plots.

Writers are not made, we’re chosen.
Welcome to the club : )

Audra Harders writes “rugged stories with heart” featuring cowboys who haven’t a clue about relationships rescued by ladies who think they have all the answers. In real life, she’s married to her own patient hero, has two teenagers about the leave the nest, and is surrounded by everything conducive to writing about farming, ranching and cowboys at her day job in the county Extension office. She began writing right after her son was born and sold her first book to Steeple Hill Love Inspired mere months before that same son graduated from high school. Surviving those years in between remind her God does have her plan for her life…and that He has a tremendous sense of humor. You can visit her at her website and her blog. Don’t be shy!

This post first appeared in Seekerville November 29, 2007.

Don't forget...

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



  1. I can't say I love judging. However, I did judge three last year. I know I should offer to do more, but I always wonder if I'm offering a good enough review.

    Always up for a critique as I have more than one story.

    Also, I have a coupon for a free dozen doughnuts from Krispy Kreme (if I buy a dozen). Will pick them up and make them available. :-)

  2. Audra,

    This was so CHEERY! What a neat post!

    And great perspective you have. Thanks for sharing it and your joy in general.

    It's the weekend.
    How about breakfast pizza as a long-time friend calls it? Quiche to the rest of us... in a variety of flavors.

    Helen's got the coffee under control and Walt brought Krispy Kremes. Dig in!

  3. Coffee pot's set.

    Like Walt, I don't really love juding. I always feel inadequate and uncertain if I'm telling them what they really need to hear.

    I'm thankful for those like Audra who love it and are willing to give of their time and knowledge.


  4. I've judged quite a few contests over the last ten years though not nearly as many as I probably should have. My biggest fear is that I'm too tough--being a first reader for LI has made me very discriminating. So I have to always make sure I encourage the writer too, even if that means complimenting them on their layout.

    I would love to be entered in the drawing for the critique--I have a new sequel to the LIH that's coming out in July and with the pain meds I've had to take for my back, I'm just not sure if it makes sense.



  5. These looks back in time are neat!

    Thanks for picking the best ones to share.

    Eva Maria Hamilton at gmail dot come

  6. Audra,
    I'm so glad this post was repeated! I'm like you - I love to judge writing contests. I'm always blessed and inspired by what I read. I just pray the contestants receive as much from my comments as I do from their writing!


  7. I love judging, well, unless I get a snooozer. Sorry it happens. Fifteen pages of no action, even pretty, is still a snoozer.

    What I like is how I can see something that could be improved upon and then just as I go to write that comment, I realize I could be doing that same thing. It is such a great way to see the booboos in my own writing.

  8. I love judging contests, too. I love finding the awesome entries, as well as seeing the potential in others. I've made it my "rule" that I don't make any suggestions unless I can explain why. I once had a judge write blah, blah, blah down the side of my page. I get that they were bored, but why? Slow pacing? Bad dialogue? No setting--All the above?
    And I've learned so much from judging. And that's always a good thing.

    And like Walt, I'm always up for a critique.

  9. Wow. I can't begin to think I'm qualified to judge. Maybe someday. Right now, I'm just going to enter.


    But in the meantime...

    ROAD TRIP!!!

    Goin' to St. Louis with my BFF for the day :)!

    Captcha - hatenc - isn't that what Duke does?

  10. Krispy Kreme... We don't have them here anymore, Walt, and I'm still in withdrawal...

    Melt-in-your-mouth goodness...

    Oh my stars, Dude. Gimme.

    Audra, I know this is archived, but it's as true today as when you first penned it. I discover things I like (and therefore incorporate) about other people's writing, ideas, and new friends when I judge contests.

    Let me quietly add not EVERYONE WANTS TO BE MY FRIEND ONCE DONE....

    But Mary stayed friends with me, so that was a good thing.

    Even though my score got DROPPED when I was judging her entry and she WON THE CONTEST.


    My scores were dumped in favor of discrepancy, and as you can see, she's now world-famous and laughing at me.

    Every day.

    But hey. I Can Take It. I'm A Big Girl.


    I love the feeling of helping others when I judge. This might be slightly misconstrued on my part. Slightly-bordering-on-majorly.

    Some people just don't appreciate my wit and expertise. Pshaw.

    I'm judging the Rita. First time ever. I can hide behind a cloak of obscurity and anonymity. And yet I STILL FEEL guilty that a published book isn't an outright nine in my humble opinion.

    Dropping off practice strudels from The Edge, Jamison, NY's fine-dining establishment... Susan Langley makes GREAT STRUDELS and who doesn't love good strudel?

    Oh, yum. Grab apple, cheese or cherry today and tell me what you think!

  11. I have one more comment to add on judging. (And I would love to hear a comment on what I'm about to say from the master. Vince, are you out there?)

    I love the books produced by the group here as well as other similar books. However, I am not the typical target market. I have learned also that what grabs me is different from what grabs the targeted reader. I wonder if the comments I make aren't steering the writers in a different direction.

  12. Thanks, Audra, for such an encouraging post! Here I am trying to get up the gumption to enter my first contest, and I find out that the people judging are....people! People who were once newbies just like me. I can feel the anxiety level going down already.

    I haven't had a Krispy Kreme in...well, it seems like forever. Thanks! I brought a grapefruit/orange fruit salad - I hope everyone likes it.

  13. Audra, I thought I'd seen all the gems from the archives the original time they were published, but somehow I missed this one!

    I'm so glad you feel this way about judging. I hate to say it, but I don't really like to judge contests, especially unpubbed contests. I hate telling people--not in so many words--that they have a long way to go. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, so I hate giving less than a perfect score. But I can't lie, so I try to be kind but honest. For me, sometimes it's hard and I feel so conflicted. I've even been known to cry over the scores I give!!! Yes, I'm pathetic.

    But I'm glad someone enjoys it! LOL!

  14. This was interesting to read from the perspective of an never-before-entered-a-contest-writer. I find your approach very comforting, actually.

    I'm curious to know what the criteria for a contest judge is? I'm curious too about Walt's question because everyone's reading likes and dislikes are different. I'm amazed when I discover a book that I loved gets a poor review from someone else. It's all subjective in the end, isn't it? That's why I think contest judging must be brutal.

    Also -- are the judges aware of the author? Or do they read 'blind'?

  15. Walt, I tell them if I'm not they're demographic. I think that helps them to weigh my scores more accurately.


    Good writing is good writing and I think you can recognize that even if the subject matter or the style isn't your preference. So if you recognize the skill, but don't like the subject matter, or maybe don't agree with the take, I'd let them know that and then score it for the writing level.

    I remember one story I judged years back that was blatantly anti-conservative, anti-Republican. I mean, she SAID so. Her writing was good, and I judged her (I'm assuming it was a woman) on that, but then I wrote her a note on the side, asking if she was weighing the effects of making 50% of the reading pubic angry? And she wrote me back that she thought about that and changed the content, not the tone.

    I think that's the best we can do, and since I know I've mucked that up occasionally, I totally sympathize, Dude.


  16. Audra,
    I agree. When I have time, I like to judge or just critique friends' work. I learn so much from the process.

    That picture looks very much like one from ACFW?? Hmm.... ;-)

    I'd LOVE a 5 page critique. Trying to get my ms ready for the Genesis...maybe. Still not sure

  17. Hi:

    I’ve been down with a virus and have limited energy.

    As a copyeditor I found it hard not to correct copy that was not written the way I would have written it even though it was not in error. I would be worried about imposing my style or voice on others as a judge.

    Here’s a question: Should it be disclosed that a judge is male? I think it should be disclosed because then the contestant can either give the comments added weight or less weight.

    If a judge wrote, “Men talking together would never say that”, it would mean more if the judge was a man.


  18. I judged for the first time last year. Three entries and I signed my name to all of them. One entrant contacted me for further correspondence. Apparently I was a hard judge because she said the same ms finaled in another contest. She didn't win either contest, but I've agonized over that score. I made a new friend over that ms, but as an unpubbed writer, doubts linger over my marking.

    On a bright note, I was going over my own contest results the other day and found one that Ruthy judged 2 years ago. Yes, she was very hard on me but her words of encouragement make me smile every time I read them. (I wonder if that's why she keeps hugging me. LOL)

    Please consider me for the weekly critique drawing. I need all the help I can get.

    Anita Mae.

  19. Oh my goodness, what a conversation going on here! I'm sorry, I'mt tardy - but really, blame it on hubby. He gets up this morning all excited about the property search expedition he went on yesterday so we just had to Google Earth it and fantasize. We sold a place, so now we have to reinvest or else! Sooooo, he's looking for property down in Fowler, CO.


    Anyone familiar with Pueblo? Well, this is east of there. No Walmart, no King Soopers, no Kohls.

    Glad he just wants to farm the place not move there...

    I hope!

    Okay, give me change to catch up and I'll join the fun...although I did hear something about Krispy Kreme donuts...

  20. Hmm, sounds like we're kinda split on the enjoy/dislike aspect of judging.

    Patty, I always tell the the truth, I just don't go overboard. Had too many judges do that to me in the past. I think your insight most of all would be verrrry helpful!

    Edwina, bless your heart. I always feel blessed by having the opportunity to offer feedback on entries because they give me so much in return.

    Exactly, Debra!! What a way to critique my own writing! Funny how the mind snaps to attention on a booboo someone else made and subtly - or not so - reminds you that YOU made the same error. Gotta be able to laugh at yourself!

  21. Lindi! I'm still rejoicing over your sale to BelleBooks! Now when you judge for contests you'll be able to check that Published Author box. I got all giddy inside the first time my cursor moved over that box, LOL!

    Ruthy, you are just too good a judge NOT to offer feedback in contests -- we'll let that one of Mary's just slide on by, LOL! Having once been an editor, you have an eye for all things publishable. And really, your bite isn't all that bad, no rabies shoots needed.

    And Pepper, you're another one for a fine eye for judging flaws presented on a silken pillow. With your finesse and command of small talk, you can make any unearthed booboo sound simple to fix. Remember, I've seen you in action on

  22. Okay now for all you who say they don't like judging, you are FAR in the majority!

    Helen, just as long as the entrant understands that you know you're giving an OPINION, it's up to them to take the advice or not.

    Walt, I'm with you on the typical market. That's why I leave my opinions open ended. Like Ruthy and her anti conservative entrant, if you pose the question in a manner of conversation, asking them to just think about what they've written, isn't that the best you can do? I absolutely HATE when judges tell me I'm doing something wrong. Wrong to who? And why do you have that opinion? Much less, why should I care what YOUR opinion is? I try not to be confrontational, rather more conversational.

  23. Okay now for all you who say they don't like judging, you are FAR in the majority!

    Helen, just as long as the entrant understands that you know you're giving an OPINION, it's up to them to take the advice or not.

    Melanie, I'm a very middle of the road judge. I'd rather have my comments speak for me than the score numbers. Right, wrong or indifferent, I know what kind of scores are needed to final. If the work is final quality, I award. If not, I rarely award below the middle of the scoring range. Why break someone's heart? Better to tell them why they're not good enough to final and hope they take it to heart rather than devastating someone's hopes.

  24. Kav, every contest I've judged has been blind. I don't know who you are and you don't know me. Even though I don't sign them, I do list the contests I've won or finaled in, just to bring perspective to my comments. As far a criteria? Nowadays, most chapters offer a judging class to teach their judges what to look for, and hopefully tact in answering.

    I have no patience for mean people and tactless judges. I firmly believe in the adage:

    Don't step on me on your way up cuz you might need my hand on your way down.

    Ain't that the truth!!

  25. Audra, I can't say I love judging with all the angst of scoring, but like you, I've gained more than I've given.

    Love that handsome hunk on your cover!

    Sorry you've been sick, Vince. Hope you're feeling 100% soon.


  26. Vince, hope you feel better soon.

    Disclosing that I'm a male is something I think I do, though I don't know if I do it every time.

  27. I've just begun entering contests "with a passion" - and this is so very interesting to me! Looking forward to that "feedback stuff," yanno?

  28. I love judging, and I learn TONS!

    But I don't like having to send scores back, because I waffle over scoring too low, or too high, or my comments being too harsh, or not firm enough.

    Or, Heaven forbid, confusing the author even more.

    Now, the GH is easy. Just give the ms a number.

    Even if it is a ONE.

  29. Hah!

    Anita Mae, I always sign my name in the Genesis. Most Christians WILL NOT kill me for my sometimes horribly incorrect opinions.

    I cite Mary as an example of that.

    And you still talk to me! Huzzah!


    Depending on the amount of chocolate consumption that day, I may have needed an intervention.

    But you didn't QUIT so it couldn't have been that bad. Phew. ;)

    VINCE: I agree, it's good to know when it's a guy's feedback because that feedback is important. And I'm glad you're doing better, my friend!

  30. And since it's the weekend and we're more informal, thank you all who've offered prayers for my sweet father in law.

    He came home yesterday for hospice at home. God bless him, a sweeter, gentler guy you won't meet. The hospital folks were wonderful, but I'm glad he's home for however long God gives us.

    And he likes my food, too, so you all have that in common!

  31. Beautiful post, Audra, and incredibly inspiring.

    And I greatly admire your attitude toward judging contests, my friend, especially having a full-time job in addition to your writing as you do. I used to judge a ton of contests, but my anality prevents me from doing so now. It would take me HOURS to pour over an entry, read it, critique it and then draft a summary that I hoped would be honest yet inspire and motivate at the same time.

    WHICH is precisely why I quit sending out Christmas cards 20 years ago -- I felt compelled to write a book in each and every one. Which meant I either had to not write a book in each one (unthinkable!) or start writing out my Christmas cards in July.:) Needless to say, I gave 'em up. Some people can be trusted with Christmas cards and contests, but God have mercy on my sorry soul, I am definitely not one!


  32. Joanne, remember all the feedback you receive is nothing but opinion. Pick and choose the direction you want your story to go!

  33. Julie, I have a solution. Send a preprinted card WITH your book. LOL!

    I have had to cut back on the contests I judge. It hurts because I love giving back knowing all the thoughtful encouragment I"ve received over the years.

    NOW I have Rita books to judge.

    I have to keep in mind time does not expand to accommodate all the things I want to do...

  34. Great post Audra!
    And as the contest coordinator of The Sandy, I thank God every year for generous people like you who enjoy judging. Actually, I have dozens of repeat judges who enjoy judging 'cause they like to give back, but they also enjoy the reminder of what makes a good story.

    Truth be told, I judge for 3 contests other than the one I run and I think the secret to enjoying judging, is to not judge too many so it becomes a burden.

    Could that be a key factor to the enjoyment? Don't do too many?

  35. Pam, I love the Golden Heart! Never been on the finaling side like you, but reading the entries often made me realize I still needed work.

  36. Hey Theresa! You run an awesome contest in the Sandy. I love judging the YA for you. I always want to make it to the Crested Butte Writers Conference too, but work seems to get in the way. Bummer.

    Hey guys, if you want to check out a great contest, go to

    and read about the contest and the conference.

  37. Audra,

    I've just recently started judging a limited number of contests. I'm finding that I somewhat enjoy it, but my problem then becomes time. But, I figure when I enter a contest someone gives of their time for me so this is a small way to pay that back by passing it on.

    Would love to be included in the critque drawing!

  38. Vince, I would have given the comment about male POV a lot more weight if I had known it came from a guy. Just my two cents.


  39. Hi,
    Would love to be one of your first five pages critiqu-ees. Subgenre is paranormal. Haven't quite gotten to the point of picking a targeted publisher.

  40. What a wonderful post, Audra! Now I can look at my first draftof my first book and not think "Oh Gaaaawd, you stink!" Thanks for that! I'd love to be considered to the critique.