Every so often, I hear someone mention being discouraged. The shocker? It’s usually because of contest scores and judges. Hey, I’ve worn those flip-flops. Being the kind-hearted gal that I am, I came up with a sweet response.
(1) Quit being so narrow-minded, pig-headed, and stupid, and actually entertain the notion that YOU are NOT RIGHT but the JUDGE IS. Seriously!
What's it gonna hurt to double-check your research on the item the judge questioned or a grammar book on the proper usage of a semi-colon?
Even if you aren’t receptive today, don’t throw away the scoresheet. Recently, I got to looking at some scoresheets from two contests I’d entered my Victorian in last year. Interesting stuff, Maynard. See, some judges make points that seem stupid but are really things entrants should key on. I know you're probably thinking, "Duh!" Oh, dear little pigeon pie, hold on to that "duh."
Each of my judges mentioned paragraphs they didn't feel were necessary. One said, "The maid is such a minor character you don't need to take time to describe what she looks like." Now that "time" I took was two fantabulous sentences—how her clothes drew attention to the pallor of her face and she looked like she was grieving.
Last year I thought, "Duh! It's not a waste of time. She plays a key role in a sub-plot, in the spiritual arc of both lead characters."
This year I thought, “Duh! The judge didn’t NEED that information.”
Take time to pimp your entry. Ruth Logan Herne knows this because she's finaled or won more contests than I've even thought about entering. She says…
"My friend Andrea Wilder (Fearless, Dorchester, 2007)…admits that she tweaked the story to make judges happy. When Alicia Condon (Dorchester) saw the real deal, the story written as it was meant to be, the opening was more fully developed, but Andrea had learned what takes some of us longer to figure out. Lots of judges want that instant fix, that WHAM! GMC that spills the internal organs of the story in full-blown instant fashion. By tweaking her story to give that punch, she ended up winning the contest and ultimately was contracted. If you’ve ever entered Romancing the Tome, that’s a basic example of story punching right there. In five pages you have to sell the judges on your amazingly wonderful opening to get a seat in the finalists’ box. Five pages."
To read more, go to http://seekerville.blogspot.com/search/label/Pimp%20Your%20Contest%20Entry
When you enter the next contest, don't just send in the maximum pages tweaked only so the last page ends on a hook. Copy and paste 10-15 pages more than the contest page limit in to a new Word document. Ask yourself some key questions.
Is this prologue necessary to the judge understanding the first XX pages? Is the problem the heroine is having with this secondary character necessary to the judge understanding the main plot? Is this description of this minor character necessary to the judge seeing this character as needed in the opening pages? And so on. Question every sentence, every freakin’ paragraph.
FORGET ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW OF THE ENTIRE STORY AND HOW EVERY SCENE, EVERY DETAIL PLAYS TOGETHER. It's only about giving the judge the information she needs to focus on the main plot, setting, leads, GMC, etc. Don't leave anything in that could make her think "this isn't needed, slows pace." True, it may really not be necessary. But it could be a case of where the info is only needed if one was reading the entire manuscript and could see how all the threads weave together.
Feel free to assume judges are stupid and clearly layer in GMC in relation to individual story goals. Feel free even to add in some emotional "telling" words in addition to the "showing" paragraphs. Heap on those sensory, setting, and character details.
Ultimately, your goal is to final and to get a full request. That's when you send in your real manuscript.
(2) Quit being so insecure, wishy-washy, and stupid, and actually entertain the notion that YOU are RIGHT and the JUDGE is WRONG. Seriously!
Judges are human. They make errors unintentionally, ignorantly, and despite having good intentions. Like wine, cheese, and many singers, judges get better as they age. I was a TSTL judge the first year I judged RWA contests (fortunately I only judged 3 contests that year). Then Linda Windsor taught me how to judge by teaching me how to critique. Yes, it was quite painful at times.
Some judges, though, are aliens. Really. Had one last year in one of the contest categories I coordinated. You do not know how seriously tempted I was to change some scores and delete comments. Uggh! Having an honor code sometimes sucks.
Realize some judges think they need the answers to GMC internally and externally in the first 15/25/30/50 pages. This can be even worse in inspirationals because judges then want to know exactly what the leads' spiritual struggles are and why. In 25 pages?! Double uggh!
Some judges, however, don't think. You can show the hero resisting the urge to throw something against the wall, but they won’t know what he’s feeling unless you write, "Furious at what he heard yet concerned about not scaring the kids in the room, Bob gripped the team's trophy instead of throwing it against the wall like he really wanted to do ’cause he was a man and men like to throw things." (I am not advising you do this.)
But you say, “It's a contest’s duty to keep out bad judges.” When you're gotten 20+ entries than you anticipated in almost every category, you’re desperate for folks willing to judge. If every published author, every writer who enters contest, every member of each RWA chapter would all judge a RWA chapter contest a year, then there wouldn't be any contests begging last minute for judges.
On the other hand, I know several published authors who REFUSE to judge another contests because of the complaints they hear about judges. Judging a contest means taking your own personal time away from writing. For a published author, that's like a day's pay. And what do they get in return: unpublished writers yakking and cracking about their $*%&@ judges.
That's why I say if you enter contests, you need to go through a judge training session because you should be judging. If you can't find a free course, google "how to judge a RWA contest." There's enough good judging tips on the internet to train/educate yourself. Charlotte Dillion's RWC website is a great place to start your education.
(3) Quit being so sensitive and thin-skinned. Listen, growing a thick-skin is smart. Growing a hard-heart isn't. Keep your heart sensitive so your characters will be too. Learning not to take personally the criticism will prepare you from when you are published.
Oh, and contest coordinators: If the entry deadline hasn’t arrived and the entry isn’t properly formatted or doesn’t end on a hooky COMPLETE sentence, give the entrant a chance to fix. I hate disqualifications for formatting. Yeah, I know they’re mature adults who should have read the rules. Grace goes a long way toward a contest’s reputation.
While we need to keep are hearts tender, we need to stop letting our feelings get us through life. The true test of character is having a great attitude when all is not going well. That happens when we have the right mind-set. Oh, go ahead and vent and whine because we need to purge those negative feelings. Just don't let venting and whining become your mind-set.
"Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did." ~Newt Gingrich
Mind-set: Despite and because of what my contest judges say, I will learn to write better because I'm not satisfied with average.
"The drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence but by oft falling." ~Lucretius
Mind-set: While I may not hit my target the first time, eventually I will because I've determined to hit it.
Oh, I forgot…
(4) Remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
When you're struggling, share how you're feeling because someone(s) will be there to encourage, uplift, and inspire you to continue on following for your dream.
Touched by Love SC & LC coordinator 2009
Golden Pen Historical coordinator 2009
2008 RWA Maggie inspirational finalist
2007 RWA Golden Heart inspirational finalist
"light-hearted romance, deep-seeking faith"