Sunday, June 20, 2010

Judging Diva

Ahhh, contests.

We’re all familiar with the hit-or-miss world of contesting our babies (AKA WIPS). Some of us do it a tad more than others, but we’ve all seen the results splashed across various loops.
I’m not here to tell you why you should enter. Oh, no. I’m going to tell you why you should judge.
Entering is the easy part. (Nail biting aside, yes, it is. It’s out of your hands as soon as you hit send and you go back to work. You do go back to work on it, right?) Judging is quite a bit harder and takes more time but I’ve learned far more judging than I’ve ever learned from entering.
The first reason is simple. Judging is a way to give back to the romance writing community, to use your skills to help a fellow writer. We’ve all got strengths we can use to read others’ work and offer suggestions where needed. Yes, we’ve all got weaknesses, too. I’ve found carefully reading the entry and scoresheet and honestly answering the scoring questions balances that. Follow your instincts. All you need to be is fair.
Here’s the biggest reason. Craft. I’ve learned so much about craft from the entries I’ve judged over the years. This, for me, is hands down the most valuable thing. It’s how I learned about conflict, saw how other authors of varying skill levels employed it or not. Pacing. Description. Voice. POV. Characterization. Dialogue. Tension. Sexual tension. Emotion. Everything. I’m not saying I used judging as a proving ground. I wasn’t a brand-spanking-new writer when I started. However, it’s seeing all these things in action over the years in many different entries by many different writers that I’ve been able to see how they work--or don’t--and take that to my own writing.
Finally, some caveats. Judging does not mean you rewrite another’s work. It does not mean you sabotage someone who is a better writer than you or competition for your CP. Ever. That’s unethical and shame on those who abuse the position. If you truly believe you can’t judge an entry it is your responsibility to let the coordinator know ASAP so she can assign it to someone else. (That’s what you would want for your own entry, right?) Don’t sign on if you can’t devote a reasonable amount of time. Give the entries the kind of treatment you’d want for your own baby. It’s not fair to simply give random scores and call it a day.
If you can, sign up the next time a call goes out. It’s free. You get to help a fellow writer along the publishing path. Judging is a big responsibility. But by striving to be fair and investing some time you might even learn a little something that helps you grow as a writer.


Carolyn Hughey said...

Great post, Ami!! I'm a firm believer in judging fairly and providing good feedback. I think the points you've made also happen with critique partners -- some turn out to be good, others . . . well, you get the picture.

My hope is that all those who make the mistake of brow beating instead of helping will recognize themselves in this article.

Good job!

Mona Risk said...

I like your post Amy. I judged a lot of contests, includung the Golden Heat and have learned a lot from seeing the good I should follow and the bad I should I avoid.

P.L. Parker said...

Good insight.

Sheila Tenold said...

Great post, Ami! I'm judging again this month and happy to give back to the RWA...and, as you said, I always learn more about our craft during the process.

JACLYN said...

Nice article, Ami.

I've judged a lot of contests including the Golden Heart for three years. I've learn a lot, especially POV, which drives me crazy.

Mona told me to highlight my hero in blue and my heroine in pink so the POV stands out, marvelous.

I've received more compliments in my judging and have learn so much more.

On one GH entry, I judge an entry and the author was so pleased she asked if I would judge her whole manuscript. I have and two more of her books. We have become fast friends.


Jill James said...

Ami, I love judging contests. I try to judge 3 or 4 a year. I like to give back, to help, and to see what others are working on. I feel like I might be seeing a future trend or a future published author I'll want to buy from.

The most common mistake I see in contest entries is starting in the wrong place. Most of the entries I judge could cut the first two or three paragraphs and THEN start the story.

Ami said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!:)

I love judging. Carolyn, you're right, it's not really different from a crit partner, but the fact you can be anonymous sometimes lets people think they can behave like petty children.
Mona, I love to judge the GH. It's my favorite.
P.L. You're welcome. :)
Sheila, I think I learn something new with every contest--not always earth shatteringly huge, but things that make you go 'hmmm'. :)
Jaclyn, I love that she found you and you've made a friendship out of it. That's great. :) POV really can be a bugger and it's one of the easier things to see in judging, I think.
Jill, I agree. I recently judged one where the story didn't start until the end of the entry--25 pages in! It can be so hard to see that in your own work.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by! :)

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

I've judged a ton of contests, though with working full time and on constant deadlines and teaching online writing classes, I've really had to cut back. I still judge our own chapter's contests, and the Rita and another published author's contest. :) It's a great way to see what works and what doesn't! :)

Joanne said...

You are so right. Not only can you give back to our wonderful community of writers, but I've learned something new every time I judge.