Contests are a way to get your writing out there for others to see, not just your friends, family, and critique partners. It's hard to get your entry back and not have a great or good score and still feel good about your writing, what's even harder to bear is to see that your score is darn near at the bottom of all the scores. It actually hurts to know that at least three people hated your writing.
I remember once, when I was in 8th grade, one of our neighbors had a baby. My mom took me and my sisters to see the little guy. I thought he was a cute little thing and told his mother that he looked like Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I'm sure the neighbor felt like I'd insulted her precious baby boy when I was actually saying he was cute.
This may be what some judges do when they give us comments we find offensive. As a judge, I can say that I try to be nice but I know that I'm a blunt person and there are times I'm not exactly the most tactful person in the room. Diplomacy is definitely not my strong suit.
I can still remember the comments from some of the first contests I entered. The ones that didn't make any sense. However, the ones that really got me going, ranting and raving and making my husband laugh, ended up being on the money once I realized that writing romance wasn't the same as writing papers for nursing school and college.
I can't remember those comments but the ones that confused me, that didn't make any sense--those idiot comments I now laugh about because I know those judges were reading something that wasn't even in my entry.
For example, I wrote that my hero worked on his ranch all day and then took care of his other business interests at night on his computer. One judge told me that no one wanted to read about the hero looking at smut on his computer. What? Huh? Where in the world did she get that? My husband laughed at this one and said she must be living with a man who only used his computer to look at porn. Think Denise Richards accusations of this about Charlie Sheen. Do you think Denise Richards read my entry?
One final judge, I can't even remember if she was an editor or agent, told me that there were only so many words in the English language. I had entered a paranormal. To this day, I have no idea what the heck she was talking about. I had used some mythological characters from the Polynesian Islands.
Now, one entry I remember judging was about wine. As a nurse I had a hard time with the entry because the heroine wanted to stash her wine and drink it when she was alone, this made her heroine sound like an alcoholic in the making. Okay, so I know many people do this but when the author wrote that there was no reason a pregnant woman couldn't drink wine--I had to take issue. Hadn't she ever heard of fetal alcohol syndrome? Hadn't she ever seen the effects? Was nine months so darn long to give your child a healthy start in life? Honestly, this entry bugged me. I didn't mark her down for this but I did point out that many readers may believe her and she was giving them advice that went against what their OB-GYN would tell them. What's even worse, some of them would believe her and not their doctor.
Why did this entry stick with me? Because she and a few other writers wrote an article for their chapter newsletter about the horrid judges they had gotten. What she wrote about one of her judges saying her heroine was an alcoholic wasn't exactly what I wrote and she totally ignored the issue about the fetal alcohol syndrome. I did ask her to please look up the signs and symptoms of an alcoholic and to do some research on fetal alcohol syndrome.
Another entry that still sticks with me was one where I had to judge the hero. So, I did. Then I read the synopsis. The hero hadn't even entered the picture by the end of the entry. Now, what the heck was I supposed to do? There was no way I could give her the highest score like I wanted because the guy who romped through those first pages with the heroine wasn't her true love. I had to go back and knock off all those darn points. I was so upset. She had a wonderful entry but due to the score sheet I couldn't give her the score she deserved.
This is why reading the score sheet before you enter a contest is of the utmost importance.
Read your judges comments with an objective eye. You're not always right and neither are your judges but complaining about the scores you receive sure isn't going to change them. However, it just may scare off some judges who do give a huge portion of their time to volunteer with very little positive feedback.
Another tip for your writing--judge. If you are entering contests, which you have to pay for, then you should be judging contests too. You pay to take classes to learn your craft, or you buy books about it, or you go to conferences. However, judging a contest is free and you will learn from it, maybe more than taking classes, reading books, or attending conferences.