Tuesday, April 5, 2011


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.



Mona Risk said...

Excellent post Denise. I will never forget my first contest. A judge told me my heroine sounded like a slut. My poor heroine! Good thing that the two other judges explained what they didn't like about her because I was able to change it instead of quitting writint as I intended after reading the first comment.

morgan said...

I have learned from both entering and judging contests. My specialty area is children with special needs. One contest I judged had a child with signs of about a dozen different disorders. This was not her intention, she only wanted him to have Asberger's. The tricky part was I knew the writer. Instead of attacking the issue, I listed all the ways an Asperger's child might act.

She never knew I was the judge, I never confessed. I would appreciate judges doing the same for me.

Nina Pierce said...

I judge several contests a year. I enjoy it, but it is very hard to state comments in such a way as they're not misunderstood. When I first started writing I entered a lot of contests and the feedback from the judges was very helpful and I used it to make my writing better. (And I was one of those that always ended up in the bottom of the pile.) I hope my comments are teaching moments for a writer.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Great insight, Denise. I've never judged because I have never had enough confidence in my opinion when it comes to writing right. I do a lot of volunteer jobs so let that be my contribution to our craft.

I've had my share of good and bad judges and so appreicate all their efforts. Thank yous are important to let the judge know they've given you good thought and maybe showed you places where you can be more clear with your writing.

Jill James said...

Denise, I love judging contests. There is no better way to improve your writing than to judge others. You notice something that irks you and then realize you do the same thing. Oops!

Josie said...

I agree with you. I learn more from judging contests than I've learned from some online workshops. It's true that you can determine the writing and story in just a few pages.

Denise Pattison said...


One of Susan Grant's books made her heroine sound like a slut too. I remember reading on the RT boards how upset they were about this fact. I also remember reading something about Susan wanting to show that a heroine can come into a relationship with experience too.

Sometimes, judges read way more than we write but as I've found out by browsing the RT boards and some blogs so do our readers.

Sorry this response is so late. My six month old laptop crashed and burned. Geek squad said it would only take a day to fix. Then they told me they had to send it out because the harddrive and LAN port were fried and both had to be replaced. Now, it will be two weeks. I went out and bought a new Sony S series and so far I'm absolutely loving the turbo boost it has. LOL My husband said that it sounds like a jet engine taking off when I have several windows open and working at the same time. But it is the first laptop that I've had that can keep up with me and not get so hot that I have to freeze my tush off to use it.

Denise Pattison said...


You are so much more diplomatic than me. That was what I was trying to point out to the writer with the wine issue but after reading her take on the judge's responses I don't think she got it. At least you were in a position to know that you helped a friend. I only felt like the writer totally missed that I was trying to help her not bash her.

Denise Pattison said...


I ended up at the bottom of the pile alot. Way more than I like to remember. However, that entry with a good bit of tweaking and critiquing won the Bobby Smith award at the RT conference in 2007. I also have a request for a full on it right now. So, even though I got hammered, I've managed to pull it up and improve it.

Denise Pattison said...


You never give yourself enough credit. I need to give you a boost of confidence. I think you'd have much to offer a contest entrant. I was so worried the first few times I judged. It was one of the reasons that I decided to become a contest coordinator, so I could see what other judges thought of the same entry. I found that every judge sees something a bit different.

I think you should offer to judge just one entry to give it a try. You might learn way more than you think and be a huge help to the entrant.

Truly, I realize how much you give to the chapter. You are such a helpful, giving person that I counted you as a friend the very first time we had contact and that feeling only increased once I got to meet you in person.

I do understand that you probably don't have the time to judge. You do so much for others. You've always helped me whenever I needed it and sometimes you helped me when no one else realized I needed help. You are a very intuitive person.

Thank yous are important and I know I haven't told you thanks as much as I should so here's a big one--Thanks, sweetie, for all you do for me.

Denise Pattison said...


I had to laugh about judging and getting irked about something in the entry--because I came to the same conclusion, I did the thing that irked me. LOL

My worst word, the one I have to watch closely--just.

The writer that brought home the overuse of an unnecessary word wasn't even an entrant in a contest I was judging. It was Christine Feehan. I love her Dark series. On my second read through of her books, I caught one word that started to drive me nuts--simply. She really, really liked that word.

Now, after I get done writing for the day I find and destroy all the "just" words.

Denise Pattison said...


When I first started writing, I honestly thought it was a load of crap about the power of the first few pages.

Now, after judging for years, I've found out that is true. Those first few pages do have power. As a judge I do try to give the entrant more leeway, way more than I give to a published writer.

One of the things I do when I judge is let the entrant know if I think the first few pages pack a punch or not. It's imperative that the entrant grabs and holds the judge because then she'll be able to grab and hold the agent/editor/reader too.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Denise, you really know your contests. One of my stories, set in Iraq, always gets interesting judges comments. Often the judges read things that aren't on the page and their comments tell me more about the judge's political viewpoint than they do about my story. But I appreciate them anyway because I know there will be readers who will react the same way. It may take me a while, but I usually end up laughing over the more outrageous ones. Great post.Great insight. Thanks.