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Sunday, May 15, 2011

That Judge!

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?


  1. I've been a judge a few times, as recently as a month ago. I enjoy it, because I learn so much about writing, and I get caught up in new stories. People are endlessly creative, that's for sure. :)

    I don't want to be "that judge" either. I really take my time with reading the entries, and make sure I'm happy and comfortable before I sit down to do the score sheet. :) I try to point out things that confused me or made me re-read a section. I also try to read the synopsis last, so it doesn't affect how I view the pages.

    I always feel inspired to write when I'm done judging a contest. So that's a good thing too!

  2. Donna, I hadn't thought about the synopsis. I will save that for last each time. I would rather read it cold instead of knowing what is going to happen before I start the story.

  3. I did get some comments once from a judge that, at first glance seemed harsh. But when I looked at them again, once my pulse had settled, I could see her point. In that case, the comments were useful and had a positive influence on my story. Not one judge yet has made me what to throw in the towel though. LOL

  4. I enjoy judging and hope I'm never "that judge". One thing I do is acknowledge that I don't write a certain subgenre, so there are likely things I don't know. (I seem to always get romantic suspense and erotica. *shrug*) I don't want to set myself up as an expert, especially if I don't write in the subgenre.

    I always write my comments as if I will be sitting down face-to-face with the person, so that my comments are respectful. Then I sleep on it and recheck my comments before I'm ready to send in the scores.

  5. I think I will do that, Samantha - face-to-face and then sleep on it.

    Heather, I am thankful nobody has made you want to throw in the towel because I love your stories. On the otherhand, something like that could have prompted me to make a trip to see you to talk some sense into you and then my husband would have gotten the trip to Australia he has always wanted. Hmmm, negative comments could have actually benefited me in this case - LOL.

  6. I am not entering contests just so you can visit Australia to smack sense into me. LMAO