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Judging Writing Contests (and the Crit Winners!)


*Drum roll*  And the winners of the critiques the bottom of this post.  :)

First, I wanted to talk about judging writing contests.  This year I decided to not only enter RWA's Golden Heart, but to volunteer as a preliminary judge.  The way it works is you are able to judge in any category except the one you entered in.  They send you six fifty-page partials and the accompanying synopses, which you are responsible for reading and judging.  

When I first started reading them, I realized how quickly I could tell if something was going to be good or not.   I know we've talked about agents making decisions quickly and how important that first line, page, chapter is, but this drove it home for me.


That first line and paragraph are like a little snapshot of what to expect in the book.  If it was overwritten and tell-y, the rest of the pages tended to be the same way.   If it was confusing, the story was often convoluted.  On the entries that had first pages that hooked me, the rest of the story was really good too.  So had I been an agent reading these, there are a few I would have put aside pretty darn fast.  (However, for the contest, you're required to read all of the pages, so I went ahead and did that.)

The other thing I discovered in this judging experience is that it's hard to give a score when you're not allowed to give feedback.  For most of the chapter level contests, you get detailed feedback from judges and a score sheet.  However, for the GH, you just assign one score (from 1-9) and give no feedback.  This is so difficult.
I know how much love has been poured into each of these manuscripts (not to mention the fifty bucks paid to enter the contest), so it pains me to assign a low score and not be able to help the writer out by telling them what I see that could be worked on.  However, I'm also not going to assign a higher than deserved score simply to be nice because that's not fair either.  I have to be honest in my opinion.  I just have to hope that if someone gets theirs back and all the judges assigned them less than stellar scores, they'll seek out beta reader feedback to try and figure out what went wrong.  Or, they have the option of going the these judges were idiots and failed to recognize my awesomneness route.  That can work, too.
Of course, I could be saying all this and then get back my own back with low scores, lol.  Hopefully not.
Alright, so now for the winners of the crit contest.  Congrats to....
List Randomizer
There were 43 items in your list. Here they are in random order:
  1. Julie Dao - WINNER!
  2. Aubrie - WINNER!
Woo-hoo for Julie and Aubrie!  Ladies, please email me your ten pages or query letter (your choice) for critique (click the little @ button under my picture on the right).  I look forward to reading your work!
So has anyone else out there judged a writing contest?  Have you participated in submitting to any?  Did you get feedback or just a score?  


**Today's Theme Song**
"In My Opinion" - The Kooks
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


Reader Comments (14)

I came to your blog from Susans.

Sounds like you learned a lot from judging others. That sounded kind of weird.

I see what you mean about just getting a score and not any feedback. That would be hard to give and receive.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

I'd really like to know why you aren't allowed to give feedback. I can understand them saying you don't have to, but can't? If you find out why, let me know. Sanks. Great post, btw.

Lynnette Labelle

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynnette Labelle

Lynnette, You enter your scores online. The contestants don't get their copies of the manuscript back, so literally no way to get them feedback even if the contest did allow it.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Oh my- that would be painful to have to assign scores with no feedback. I would hate it- the people with low scores would be crushed and have no idea what they needed to improve.

I wonder if you could mention that to the powers that be? Or maybe that's not the purpose of the contest.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Thornton

Stephanie, most of the local chapter contests offer feedback. Since this is the national biggie (think Oscars for unpublished romance writers), I'm guessing that it's too many entries to do that efficiently.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Wow! I won! I'm so excited. Thank you! I'll email you right now!

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAubrie

I've never been a judge, and the few contests I've entered didn't even send the scores back. It was either you won, or didn't.

My crit group sometimes uses the PNWA critique sheet, and I just refuse to use the numbers. I'll offer feedback in the topic areas, but putting a number is just to hard for me.

Great post Roni. Sounds like judging was a good experience for you.


January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Hole

Congrats to the winners!

No, I have never judged a writing contest, or participated in one. Probably should. Someday I'm sure I will.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEva O'Dell

Roni, sounds like a great experience. I've never been a judge. I did teach english for fifteen years so I real a lot stories that I had to comment on and assign grades.

I've entered a few contests. PNWA and The Sandy give detailed critiques.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Greci

I used to be a poetry judge for Barnes and Noble. It was the same thing, 50% of them we could throw out right away. For those contests, though, we were just looking for 1st - 3rd place.

I try not to enter too many contests because there's usually a low rate of return on your hard work.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFalen

I think its great you got to judge work this way. I've never done anything like that!

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

AHHHHH I WON!!! I never win anything! Thanks Roni :) I'll e-mail you my ten pages. I have never judged a writing contest but I really want to someday. It sounds really time consuming but I think it would be a great experience, especially to gain insight on weaknesses and strengths in your own writing.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Dao

I have never judged - but this process sounds tough.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelli

Ah...those lucky, lucky ladies. Your crits are pure awesomeness:)

January 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTina Lynn

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