No scoresheet. No comments. No precise interpretation of the scores. A first timer might feel a little intimidated by the freedom of judging RWA®’s Golden Heart® contest.
As a writer who has judged the GH and dozens of RWA®chapter contests, I thought I would share a few judging tips I’ve picked up along the way. These tips should apply to all writing contests, not just the GH. But please keep in mind that these are guidelines I’ve created for myself and not hard fast “rules” put forth by any writing organization.
Go Ahead. Give the Perfect Score. Sometimes as judges, we feel like we are expected to find fault or mark off for violations of imaginary ‘rules of writing’. But it’s a horrible feeling to see your favorite entry eliminated and know that it might have won if only you hadn’t nitpicked. Focus on story. If you loved it, if it hooked you, give it a perfect score.
The 1’s are for the Cat. I have never given a one, but if I did, it would mean that the cat ran across the author’s keyboard and typed utter gibberish. Ones serve no purpose other than crushing the newbie author. In any contest, a three carries the message that improvement is needed without being unnecessarily hateful.
Love Your Category or Bump Up the Ones You Hate. In a perfect world, everyone would only judge their favorite category. But if you end up judging a category you never read, take the time to ask around and find out what’s expected in that subgenre. And if you know you hate a certain story element—such as the secret baby or the reunion plot-- bump up your score just a little bit to make up for your subconscious negativity.
Don’t Send it Yet. I never send my scores on the same day I judge them. I have found that certain unrelated factors—fatigue, interruptions, the number of entries I’ve judged that day—can affect my judgment. So I wait a few days, and then I look them over again to see if I’ve been consistent. Did I always count off the same number of points for the same type of problems? Was I too harsh on the ones I didn’t like? The stories that have stayed on my mind for days might get bumped a little higher just for having that “keeper” quality.
When in doubt, Pump it Up. You may have noticed that these tips are all about pumping up scores, rather than counting off. And that’s because writing contests serve two purposes 1) recognizing excellence and 2) encouraging new writers. As long as you’re not sending a lousy entry to the finals, it’s okay to score on the high side. Don’t be the evil judge. There are plenty of other judges out there willing to play that part.
So there you have my tips on judging writing contests. Did I leave anything out? I would love to hear how you judge your GH contest entries.