Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Judge not lest ye be judged

I apologize for the brimstonyness of the title of my post - it did seem appropriate when talking about contests.

Let me start first by saying when I first saw this week's topic, I thought we would be talking about running contests, not entering them, so I thought I had it made, considering I'm currently running a contest to promote my upcoming release, Wolfsbane 2: Leader of the Pack from Amber Quill Press [shameless plug here, and another apology].

Once I realized this topic concerned entering contests, I had to switch gears and think about my take on writing contests. I haven't entered very many, so I may not be the best authority, though one I did enter certainly brought me desired results since the 'prize' was a publishing contract and getting my foot in the door with a publisher who not only put my first print book in my hands, but also continues to provide me with a wonderful home for my stories.

I've acutally judged more contests than I've entered, and speaking from the standpoint of a judge, I'd have to say that while winning or even finaling in a contest can give your career a wonderful boost, the most important thing you can do when entering a contest is prepare yourself for what may ultimately seem like unnecssarily harsh criticism from judges.

First round judges for writing contests, often the ones who score entries and determine which ones will go on to the hands of final round editors or agents, are usually volunteers. Many have few credentials to judge other than belonging to the organization running the contest, and a good portion of the time their assessments are based on their opinions as readers, not any inside information on what will sell and what won't. While first round judges can often give you excellent advice, don't become despondent if their scores or comments seem completely out of line with what everyone else is saying about your manuscript.

Are judges sometimes wholeheartedly wrong about manuscripts? Yes. I've been there myself. Having recently discovered a contrest entry that recevied a very low score from me garnered a two-book deal for the author from a well-known publishing house, I realized my opinion as a judge was nothing more than my opinion and therefore hopefully disregarded by the author. I hope she didn't lose sleep over my comments, which while not harsh, certainly didn't reflect any insincere optimism about her story.

So ultimately my advice on contests is: enter for the experience and the opportunity to put your work before someone who's opinion can help your career, but be prepared to take it on the chin from first round judges, use their advice to your advantage, and don't sweat the small stuff or the low scores. More often than not they'll have no bearing on whether or not you ultimately sell your book.

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Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Bernadette, it is interesting what floats your boat, and what doesn't as a reader/judge. I've probably entered more than I've judged, although, that's changing.
But, it gave me an insight into what did appeal as a story, more than another idea I had. And, I discovered about 30% loved my writing, 30% hated it and the other 30% thought the story was great, but I should go back to grammar school. Can't blame them since I was inventing different ways to write.

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

It's all subjective. I just hate to see authors utterly devastated by remarks made by contest judges [not that judges should be cruel, though some are] and then authors start thinking their ms is trash when it has the potential to snag a big contract even if a judge hates it.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Contests can be enlightening and also frustrating. I had a judge tell me I couldn't sell my book because my heroine gets pregnant in the story. (something a judge should never do, by the way - comment on the saleability of a book)I sold that book - as part of a 2-book deal to a well-known NY publisher. Fortunately, I knew when I read the comments they were useless and I ignored them and kept plugging along. So, not all judges are created equal, and you have to learn to sift through the weeds. But do sift! It's worth it.