Friday, January 13, 2006

Hold Thy Judgement

Since Instigator has already swung us from the touchy-feely friend subject, I don't feel at all bad about making an even further departure. I'm not even going to mention friendship here (not that I don't love ya'll - really!).

Two things recently happened to me. One, I volunteered as a judge in the Southern Magic contest, Maven Linda Howard's Award of Excellence. I am a judging virgin, so the information being provided to me pre-contest via the loop has been interesting and informative. I don't want to be one of those judges that nitpicks without any positive feedback, doesn't look at the whole picture, or stomps on someone's writing dreams.

I'm not vindictive like that. At least, not without provocation. :)

Coinciding with this was the arrival in the mail of my judging comments from a contest I recently finaled and placed 3rd in. Four people read it - looks like the first three were the preliminary judges who scored it high enough to final, then the final judging by the editor of the category. This was the first contest I have entered that provided feedback like this.

There wasn't a horrible disparity between them - I've heard of people getting a perfect score, two decent scores and one judge who practically spit on their entry. I did get one perfect score - the only comment outside the occasional grammar change was - "What else can I say? Bravo!" The other two were not as enthusiastic, but not bad - mostly 4s and 5s. One gave me a 1 out of 5 for romantic tension between the hero and heroine. Just so happens the scene I entered had the heroine unconscious, but whatever. I was a little disappointed about my final judge - the editor. She didn't write a single thing on the MS. She gave me mostly 4's with the occasional 3, but nothing else to help. She didn't make a request for anyone in my category either. Maybe we all stunk or maybe she was just too busy to put the effort into it. Who knows, maybe all final round editor judges do that. This is my first official RWA contest, so it's possible I expect more than is the norm.

I wonder sometimes why people volunteer to do things when they really don't have time or just don't want to do it. Maybe it's the "girl who can't say no" syndrome. Maybe it's guilt or they think they can manage their schedule to allocate the proper time and attention to it, then fail. My schedule is pretty full, so I try not to take on too much, but when I do, I make sure that it's done to the best of my ability. I hope I do well as a judge in this upcoming contest.

Anyone got any judging horror stories? Let's leave the contest, chapter and any names out of it so we don't get any hate mail, but feel free to share any weird, quirky or downright irritating judge responses or comments!

SP (Happy Friday the 13th!)


Angel said...

Okay, I'll go first. I did place first in a contest and was really excited to get the final judge's feedback. When I received it, I wondered what I had looked forward to. It was basically just a paragraph of everything she hated about my work. The people I really worried about were those who placed 2nd and 3rd. If she had that many negative comments about mine, I wonder what she told them.

I realize we need to be strong enough to take negative feedback, because everyone won't love everything we write. But out of 4 sentences, couldn't you mention 1 thing you liked? Why did I even get first place?

Like you, I'm looking forward to judging myself and getting the chance to give some positive as well as constructive feedback. Every writer could use a little validation that they are on the right path. Even if all you can say is "Good use of commas."


Playground Monitor said...

I've only entered one contest and that was about 2 years ago with a mss that is currently in cold storage until I can figure out how to make the hero less wimpy and the heroine less of a doormat. But I was pleased with the feedback I received. Two judges just marked the scores, but one wrote quite a bit on the score sheet and gave me some good tips.

On the other side of the coin, I'm currently reading Golden Heart entries. We're not allowed to give comments -- just a numerical score. I'd love to be able to comment about what I liked about a story or what didn't work for me as a reader.

I think the worst story I ever heard was from a woman who entered a contest with a mss targeted for Blaze. When she got her scores back, one judge had marked her very low and written comments such as "no young man should ever treat a young lady like this" and ""do you really think they need to have sexual relations before they are married." I would guess that this judge wrote for and/or read the inspirational lines. There's not a thing wrong with that except she let her personal preference color her judging. In the Golden Heart you are allowed to opt out of anything that you find repugnant or morally offensive.

I agree with Angel that judges should find one good thing to comment about favorably. Maybe that's because we're Southern and our mamas taught us that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all **gg**

Smarty Pants said...

My old boss brought me a pin from Disneyworld that had Thumper on it from Bambi. I wasn't a particular fan, so I asked her why she bought me that pin. She said it was to remind me of what his mama taught him - "if you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all."