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Thursday, September 9, 2010


At this point in the game, after fifteen years of learning my craft I am considering judging a contest. I’ve been told by the ladies on the blog to join pro status — that I was eligible years ago but I’ve been too busy...too tired... yeah, yeah hear my excuses. Either way, I’ve decided to take the plunge. Once I do that, I’ve decided to judge a few contests to help out.

I think the biggest pet peeve when I submit to a contest is the fact that I wonder just how qualified these judges are? How long have they been writing and what not? Most of them as you know are pro status. But all that truly means is they’ve been rejected a time or two, and survived. So with that said, I hesitated to become a contest judge because I thought to myself just how qualified am I? I mean my grammar isn’t the best but I know my strengths and weakness in my own writing. I know I’m pretty good with action scenes but I fall apart on love scenes. I know what show versus tell means, I know active writing versus passive writing and I know how to build a plot from the ground up. So what does that really mean?

As I’ve contemplated this for the last week or so, more and more contests are requesting judges. And I just simply haven’t held my hand up quite yet, not because I don’t want to volunteer to help my fellow writers but because I wonder what if I tell someone the wrong advice.

It would devastate me to know that I’ve done something or said something to hurt someone’s career in some way. The beauty of my crit group made up of these wonderful ladies here is that we’re all about building confidence — it was the very reason I joined. I’ve known all too often the devastating effects of the wrong word or phrase or even the tone of a critique. Listen, I know you need a tough skin to play this game and after fifteen years of playing, my skin is pretty thick. Trust me. But at the same time, I also believe you don’t have to be snide or rude to be helpful.

When it comes down to a critique that has shown me what I’ve done wrong and at the same time says you know it’s okay to make mistakes — we all do. Or a critique that tells me I’m a f***ing idiot for ever thinking this would work. Do I need to tell you what choice I’ll make. I’ve only gotten one crit like the second and to be honest the lady who gave it had better be glad we had several hundred miles between us and that is all I’ll say to that.

So now that I am considering giving feedback on another’s work, other than our little group, I have worried will I make the right decisions. Will I say the right thing? Will I be encouraging as well as be able to tell the truth?

Perhaps most of you didn’t go through this and think I’m crazy for worrying so. So be it. I’m not one to mince words by any means but I’m not really a confrontational person either. I’ve been on the other side of the fence and I really don’t want to be “that” judge. You know the one I’m talking about. That crazy — do—it—by—the—book — judge because there is no other way to do it. Yeah...you know who you are. So while I am contemplating making this decision I’d like to ask what are some tips or tricks you can give to a writer about to embark on the judge train? How do you balance your criticism with your praise? And any other advice on contest judging you can give would be much appreciated.


  1. Melissa,
    I think the fact that you even take into consideration you would be judging another PERSON'S work - not some unfeeling robot, but a real person - shows you are ready.

    When I judge a contest, I keep a few things in mind:
    1) Usually I don't get to judge in my genre, so I'm willing to acknowledge there may be a lot I don't know. Something that may be a no-no in Regency may be perfectly acceptable in romantic suspense, which is usually what I get. Or erotica, and I'm definitely not an expert in that genre.

    (2) I pose everything as a suggestion. Ultimately, it is the author's decision.

    (3) I share feedback I've received from editors or agents on past contests if I see the author has made the same mistake. Even then I let them know I was told this same thing by an agent/editor so she can decide what value the comment has.

    (4) I always find something positive and leave smiley faces. Everyone loves smiley faces.

    (5) I take the time to write a personal note of encouragement. I've been on the receiving end of a lot of kindness from other writers. Any of them could have looked at my beginning work and told me to give it up or made me feel like the worst writer ever. I admire these other authors who don't see everyone as their competition, and I strive to be like them.

  2. I should certainly be nervous--I'm still nervous entering any contests--hate that feeling that I'd have to be "best" rather than just good enough to win. I'd certainly appreciate feedback though.

  3. There are plenty of contests out there which offer judge's training. Usually if you read the questions asked and actually read the entry, you'll have no problem.

    I think you should go for it. It's a great learning experience.

  4. I think you're ready to judge a contest. You understand a writer needs feedback that won't destroy their psyche, so I'm positive you'll be a valuable resource to them. :)

    I used to teach classes to people in a different creative endeavor, and if they were struggling or veering off towards disaster, I would say what I liked about what they were doing, and then I'd say, "You might want to try such-and-such", and show them what I meant. It was up to them to decide whether it worked for them.

    I try to do the same when I judge contest entries. It's an enjoyable experience, helping someone else, AND learning more about your own writing.

  5. Thanks ladies for stopping by and Samatha I really love the fact that you take the time to write a personal note on the entry. I think I'll take that piece of advice and tuck it away.

    Sheila I think that was another pet peeve of mine as well. I would pay to enter these contests and then I would little to no feedback at all. So I felt like I had wasted my money. So you can bet I'll endeavor to give feedback on every entry.

    Clarissa I would love to know which contests offer training, I'll hit you up this afternoon with an email lol. I think it's a great idea to train our judges so we don't get ridiculous feedback that may or may not be right.

    Donna I love how you phrase it, "You might want to try..." that's an excellent suggestion and I'm going to use it if you don't mind lol. You've actually got me looking forward to trying this out.

    As always you ladies are wonderful for your suggestions and comments. Thanks!

  6. Melissa,
    I've only judged one contest, but I made sure that with each entry I pointed out something positive along with whatever it was I thought they may want to take a second look at. It is not, imo, the judges job to ever tell any would be writer you are not good enough. Maybe that person is just starting out with writing. You can't get better at something without practice and CONSTRUCTIVE feedback. I gave examples every time I gave feedback when I judged. Don't just go through and say 'show don't tell.' This person may have no clue what that means. Give them a concrete example they can learn from. That's my advice. But you sound ready and willing to me.

  7. Thanks Julie, I believe you're right about many of them being new and not knowing the popular phrasing. I still remember the first time I heard the term show versus telling. Oh man, it took me forever to get the courage up to ask what the heck that meant. lol.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I was going to say that the mere fact that you are worrying about it shows you're going to be a good judge...but then Samantha said it!

    So now, I'll just say that you will do fine. Each entry you judge will teach you different things, and they will all need a different kind of critique. You'll feel your way through. I definitely think judging contests keeps us sharp as writers...you learn much about writing by seeing how others do it, right and wrong.

  9. Thanks for stopping by Heather, we always enjoy your comments! And I'll just say for Samatha, great minds think alike huh? LOL.

    I think you're right about using judging contests as another learning tool. That's an excellent way to look at it.