Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Confessions of a Contest Judge

I've only entered two contests. One of them I placed. The other, I received no feedback. Come to think of it, the one I placed in never sent me feedback either. Hmph. I bet they still don't have their judging sheets from 2004.

I don't remember how I got involved with contest judging. I think maybe back when I was writing women's fiction and was frequenting the Romance Divas. I probably offered to judge and was taken up on it.

I've judged the same contest - I won't tell you which one because, well, you know - for many years now. Last year, I changed my email address and forgot to tell the coordinators. I found one of their messages while cleaning out my inbox and gave them my new email address. Voila, I'm back in their queue again.

This year I'm judging YA. And, it's interesting......yeah, let's go with that.

Why am I being so vague? Or maybe you can't tell, but I sorta am.

Let me tell you first off, I like YA. I don't really like the whole dystopia, end-of-the-world drama, but I like the freedom that YA authors have in certain aspects that MG writers don't have. That being said, though, it doesn't matter the genre, the rules of writing still apply.

Even though I'm given a judging score sheet, here are the things that I look for when judging a partial (I wonder how closely it resembles to what agents and acquiring editors look for...):

  1. Does it grab me from the beginning?
  2. Can I relate to the characters?
  3. Is the storyline fresh and intriguing?
  4. Is the story beliveable?
  5. Do I care about what happens to the characters?
  6. Are the basic mechanics used correctly (point of view, scene/sequel, character and setting development)?
  7. Have I already figured out what is going to happen?
  8. Am I still interested after the first page? the last page?
  9. Can I visualize each character, maybe even the cover of the book? (that last part is a weird one, but if I can, then I know I've got a great story in my hands)
  10. Is there an audience for the storyline?
  11. Does the story have value?
Do you ever ask yourself these questions after you've finished a manuscript? Are you even able to - meaning, are you too close to the story to be able to judge it for yourself?

Being an editor and a contest judge hasn't gotten me any closer to real publication (and I say real meaning NYC publication. I can attest that the Saving Redwind books I have next to me are VERY real.) But I do think it gives me a unique perspective on the mechanics of my own writing. Hey, I'm not saying I'm anything special. No way, no how. Just that with all of the editing practice I get, I can actually distance myself from my manuscript to see if there is value.

So, if I can tell you anything from being a contest judge, it's this:
Have a keen eye when you are reviewing your manuscript. If you can't distance yourself from it, give it to a good critique partner or beta reader for their comments (not their changes, but their comments) and not a family member, friend, or someone who swoons because you've written a book. Someone who is also a writer.