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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Dubious Art of Contest Judging

Please welcome my special guest blogger, Raven Raye!

I have had the honor, and yes, it is an honor, to judge many contests. I love judging contests. Someone has the guts to send their blood and sweat in to you and let you pass judgment. That being said, I myself have been a contest queen. I didn’t have a critique group and very few people I knew had the time to be a beta reader. I know there are sites that have beta readers, but I don’t trust them; look what happened to Stephenie Meyer. Needless to say, I have the same fear a lot of you probably have: someone will steal my idea/manuscript and publish it under their own name. Need I mention what happened to Gene Roddenberry before Star Trek came out?

What I’ve learned from those contests, oh yes, what I’ve learned. The scores I got on those first few entries might have scared anyone else away from writing for good. Failed! Worse than failed! One judge told me she hated my heroine so much she was (sniff) TSTL. I know what that means… now: Too Stupid to Live. Another judge said she didn’t know what some of my words meant and they pulled her out of the story then admitted to not liking paranormal; another awful grade. I was devastated. Criticism like this is an abuse of the position; those people should not have judged. I did get some constructive comments, which I cherished like gold leaf on the page. I took their advice and took dozens of online classes, signed up for writing groups like Savvy Authors, followed writing blogs; basically anything I could do to absorb writing knowledge. I learned.

After scores in the 20s and 30s, I made major changes and got scores in the 80s. That was more like it. My grammar was awful so I read blogs about that, tried to notice subtleties in books I read; I bought books about grammar. I learned.

My 80s scores again rose to 90s and a couple perfect scores. Then I began finaling, winning and getting requests. Heaven!

My personal mission when I judge is not to make someone feel the way I did when I got a 27, but to offer critique, not criticism. As far as I’m concerned, no entry should ever get below a 60. As far as ‘grades’ are concerned, if this is what you think you’re doing, does someone’s manuscript really deserve a failing grade? A 60 is below average meaning it needs work. I just got done judging the Molly. One of the entries had POV issues, grammar issues and a few other things needing help. However, the potential for conflict was there and it was a wonderfully imaginative premise. It got a fair grade and critique. Constructive critique. This means you tell them the problem with a certain spot and offer suggestions that may help fix that problem. Maybe tell them how you resolved the same issue in your novel.

All in all, judging is a wonderful opportunity to give back to a community that helped me and support new writers climb the same ladder. So remember, when you’re judging, you have the honor and responsibility to judge the work at hand. You’re not comparing it to Linda Howard or Stephen King; you’re judging the entry based on predetermined criteria. Judge wisely.


Raven's first release is Broken Prophesy. Here's the blurb!
Only Killian’s bloodline was created with the planet. No other can accept the Seal and no human can carry the seed to bear the Heirs of Aeden.

Killian, King of the Fey, is in love with Marcella Rowan, human and forbidden to his kind. An errant Angel, seeking revenge, awakens creatures thought long dead or mythological. Marcella’s life in danger and against the Divine Council’s orders, Killian saves her from death—by claiming her as his soulmate. As earthly and other-earthly creatures polarize toward good or evil, Marcella and Killian must survive the forces driving them apart. Only their love can unite the worlds of magick and mundane. Only their love can force their peoples to put aside bigotry, jealousy, and fear to overcome the evil tearing the earth apart. Only the magick they make together can repopulate Earth’s garden in Aeden.

Broken Prophesy is available through the follwing retailers:
Soul Mate Publishing
Amazon
B&N



18 comments:

  1. Great post, Raven:) I've been fortunate to always have fantastic critique partners, so some of what you experienced never happened to me.
    I agree very much with your advice on being a judge...it is a critique, not a criticism, and for goodness sakes don't judge in a category you dislike. It would be like wading through mud to read something that you couldn't stand. Judging should be as pleasant as possible. It's better for you (you actually look forward to the read) and the entrant:)
    Congratulations on your book also! Fabulous cover girl, and eye-catching excerpt:)
    Lo

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    1. Thanks, Lo. Never did understand when I got criticism from a judge and their opening comment was "I don't read paranormal, but..."
      Thanks for commenting.
      Raven

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  2. It is always a challenge to level honest criticism or suggestions in a manner that does not cause harm. Unfortunately, many writers just starting out take everything personally. Which is why I make it clear, whether critiquing or contest, "This is MY OPINION. Take it, leave it, your call." I am a big proponent of "It's YOUR story, tell it YOUR way."

    Now then... what happened to Stephenie Meyer? What did happen to Gene Roddenberry before STAR TREK? I don't know either one of those...:)

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    1. Thanks for stopping, Will. I'd love to have an entry judged by you. You're very level-headed. Are you kidding or serious about those other two?

      Stephenie's 5th novel was leaked onto the internet by one of her beta readers.

      When Gene Roddenberry pitched his 'Wagon Train to the Stars' idea to TV suits, they peppered him with questions like the use of changing sets, looks of different kinds of aliens; then they politely said it's not for us. A few months later those same execs launched 'Lost in Space.' Grrr

      Thanks for stopping, Will.

      Raven

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    2. Sadly, what happened to Roddenberry is SOP in Hollywood. Back in the 1990's, I submitted a script for a weekly series that was ultimately rejected. Second season premiere of the show was full of my dialogue, one scene in particular was duplicated, and bits and pieces were scattered throughout.

      It's okay, though. That script eventually became STREET HEAT... I showed them...:)

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  3. I'm with William...what happened to Stephanie Meyer and Gene Roddenberry? Spill!

    My 'stand-on-the-soapbox' issue regarding contest judges is they seem to want the whole story wrapped up in 25 pages, or less. People, this is an entry, not THE BOOK. Also, I've taken to signing my name on every entry I judge. Knowing my name is there reminds me to phrase my comments in as positive a manner as possible. Since doing this, the thank you notes after judging are now 100%. Got one just today and the author told me she'd almost given up writing but after reading my suggestions, she's very encouraged. Accountability is everything.

    Raven, congratulations on publishing! Your book is next to be read on my Kindle! :)

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    1. The scoop: Stephenie's 5th novel was leaked onto the internet by one of her readers. And when Gene Roddenberry pitched his 'Wagon Train to the Stars' idea to Execs, they asked him questions about changing multiple sets, different kinds of aliens; then they said it's not for us. A few months later those same execs launched 'Lost in Space.'

      Good idea about putting your name! And you're right--Accountability! Thanks for the comments and I hope you enjoy Broken Prophecy. Hoping to finish book 2 by the end of the year.

      Raven

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  4. Great post, Raven.
    I totally agree. When judging, it is your responsibility to be fair and constructive, to help a fellow writer achieve. Not to score with a heavy hand or be critical. And even when an entry needs a complete overhaul, never, EVER be disrespectful. Bonus - judging also teaches YOU how to be a better writer. You become more conscious of mistakes. Good juju goes all around.

    Congrats, Raven, on your book!
    Jenn!

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    1. It's all about the juju. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Raven

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  5. Awesome post, Raven. I totally agree on the judging aspects. I try to be encouraging and provide good feedback. I'm always happy to judge and find myself working with paranormal, more often than not. I feel competent to judge this category since one of my long-time critique partners writes in this category. There are categories I do not feel competent to judge and I always make that known to the contest coordinator. It looks as though all your hard work has really paid off. So glad to see you harvesting the rewards.
    *hugs*
    ~JD

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    1. Thanks, June! I love to judge contests--I learn so much.

      Raven

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  6. Raven,

    Entering contests is a great way to learn and to grow. But you are right, you need a thick skin. Judging contests is another way to learn and grow and it is a way of paying it forward--helping out another writer, but I'm a firm believer that it should always be with kind constructive critiques.

    Great post. Congrats on the release!!

    CC

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    1. Thanks, Christie. You are the epitome of paying it forward. You really helped me and I put my personal thanks in my acknowledgements.

      Raven

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  7. Contests are a great way to hone your craft and thicken your skin.We all wish for those judges that take their time and really offer their sincere help and advice...but sometimes reality is totally different. Unfortunately, that's just a slice of life and things like that will happen with agents and editors as well. I've had the privilege of reading/critiquing your work and hopefully it was a bit helpful. Great blog BTW!!

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    1. A lot helpful! I thanked all my crit partners, too. Would not have made it wothout you guys. And reality? Puh. That's why I write fiction. :) Thanks for commenting.

      Raven

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  8. I learned a lot from entering contests. I've also learned much from judging them. But I agree with you. There is no reason to give a score so low it is painful to the writer.

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    1. I would hate to discourage someone so much they gave up writing. Everyong has a story to tell. Thanks for stopping by, Susan.

      Raven

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  9. Thank you, Suzan for having me on your site. And thanks for all the great comments, everyone.

    Raven

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