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.