So, I signed up to judge my first contest. I know a number of people who have judged and seem to enjoy it. I also know a number of people who have entered contests and their reactions range from excitement of finaling to grumbling about poor scores. I’ve been a part of several conversations where the comments by judges were discussed, and not always in a positive light. That is what I fear. Being That Judge.
When you think about it, what right do I have to judge anyone? Does being published somehow make me more qualified to determine what work is ready for publication and what novels need some work? I just happened to query at the right time to end up with a publisher, and I honestly believe a lot of this is luck. I know too many authors with fantastic books that do not have a publishing contract. It is all in the timing.
It is also the luck of the draw as to who you get as a judge. I’ve been very lucky because I have done well in the past. But, I have also read some judges’ comments that had me scratching my head, thinking Huh? Did they read what I read?
We all see things differently. What is a great novel to me could put you to sleep. Witty dialogue to me to sound contrived to you. Even my critique partners do not always agree. Sometimes I laugh at the discrepancies because I will need to decide which one is right or if I should just keep it as is. So, if you are in a contest, remember, it is only one person’s opinion. It is up to you whether you want to take their advice or not. You know your entire story and the judge only gets a glimpse of the beginning. That judge does not have any more power than you do over a manuscript, unlike the editor or agent you hope to connect with through the contest.
When we set out to judge, all we really can bring to the table is our own experience and what bit of knowledge we picked up along the way. The author of the work I judge may not agree with me, which is fine. Perhaps the other judges will see something completely different. But, I do make one vow. I will look at the entries before me with the same mindset as I do when critiquing for the group where the motto is “Critique Honest, but Critique Nice.” I vow to Judge Honestly, but Judge Nicely. I don’t want to be the judge who has an author reaching for a box of chocolates and glass of wine, mulling over whether she should continue to write. And believe me, there have been some authors out there that have been so upset by comments that they considered giving up all together. In other words, I vow not to be That Judge. I am nobody in the grand scheme of things, just as the other judges you get. They may be no more qualified than you but have decided to give their time and attention to a piece of work that is another author's baby. Don't ever let their comments question your ability. But, do celebrate when those good scores and comments come in. It means somebody got it and loved it, one more step toward publication.
Have you judged in the past? Tell me about your experiences? Or, have you ever received comments back that made you want to cry and give up? Aren’t you glad you didn’t?