Sunday, October 24, 2010

Contests and Judges

Every once in a while someone (or several someones) in my writing circle gets the results back from a contest and it’s almost never what the entrant wants to hear. We all provide sympathy, electronic hugs, and make sure the author knows that the contests are subjective. It doesn’t hurt to inform the author knows that the judges are brainless twits with no literary taste (that’s what friends are for, after all).

But sympathy and support should only go so far. Here’s the truth…if you enter a contest, you need to accept the outcome. You asked the question. You asked someone to look at your baby and tell you if it’s ugly and if they say “yes” you can’t just ignore it and turn to someone else hoping for a different answer.

Not all comments are valid. Not all judges are good or smart or kind but I think there is merit in at least listening. Even if a comment isn’t valid, the author needs to look at their story through that judge’s eyes. Something about it bothered them. Something triggered a response. If there is confusion to something you thought was obvious, maybe it isn’t obvious.

Now, some judges just shouldn’t judge or they’re judging the wrong things. People who hate vampires shouldn’t judge vampire stories but it happens.

You need to think about what you want out of a contest. If it’s just someone to tell you your stuff is wonderful, send it to your mom, your best friend, your neighbor.

I think you enter contests for two reasons…

1) You’re getting close to being published and this is a way to get your manuscript in front of an editor who buys the stuff you write

2) You want someone who hasn’t been involved in the process (someone not from your critique group or you haven’t discussed the story with) to read your story and give you comments from the standpoint of a reader off the street.

Now I know, that the second one doesn’t always happen. We’re writers. We want to fix things and tell other authors how to make it better. But in my mind, if a judge asks a question or makes a comment, dismissing it as “they don’t know what they’re talking about” is dismissing a reader’s confusion.

Review the judge’s comments, get irritated and then put them away. Come back in a week and read them again. When you read them the second time, come to it thinking “They might have point. I should look to see if I agree.” You might not. That’s good. It’s your story.

Don’t dismiss comments because it isn’t what you wanted to hear. That won’t improve your story.


Sharazade said...

I don't actually see that many contests that are judged by judges--what I see are contests that are judged by number of reader votes. I did that once--it was a judge who selected those pieces that later got voted on, so it was nice to at least have a few stories accepted for that.

But... I don't think I'd do the 'drumming up votes' thing to my friends again. It's exhausting and uncomfortable, and for those of us who write under a pen name, probably a losing proposition from the start because some friends/family can't even be notified.

The sort of contest you described here, where a writer would actually get comments back... that sounds more interesting. Are there any such contests you'd particularly recommend?

Tara Nina said...

Good points Tielle. Contest should be viewed as a way to get informative input for your 'baby'. Unfortunately, so many contests do not have qualified judges. I've gotten where I research what qualifies the judge of each contest such as are they readers, editors, booksellers or librarians. I tend to lean more toward the ones primarily readers and booksellers as judges. This way, win, lose, draw or not even place (which is what happens to me) at least I've managed to get my books in the hands of potential future fans of my work. Not sure if this works, but it's my weak theory and I'm sticking to it. LOL

Lynn LaFleur said...

All great points in your post, Tielle. It always hurts when someone doesn't love our baby. But entering contests means sometimes there's someone out there who won't think our writing is as wonderful as we think it is.


Cait Miller said...

Good points Tielle, it's hard to hear someone say your baby is ugly but if you don't want to accept the possibility then don't enter the contest.

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