Sunday, October 24, 2010


Hello Everyone,

For the last month, I have been judging contest entries for my local RWA chapter. Three times a year, I judge in contests. Soon, I'll be judging the Golden Heart contest, which will be coming up soon. It's the most prestigious contest for unpublished writers along with the Rita's contest for published authors. Both are contests offered by RWA, Romance Writer's of America, an organization with over ten thousand members world wide.

Judging is a job that takes time and patience if you are going to do it right. I'm only going to tell you about my local chapter contest (MARA), although, I'm also a member of the Wisconsin chapter. Contest entries send in a manuscript with a synopsis of no more than thirty-five pages. The contest coordinator sends the entries along with a score sheet to our members. I received nine this year because we had 97 entries and all of mine were sent through email to the contest coordinator, so I read mine on the computer.

While reading the manuscript, I make comments directly in the content of the manuscript using blue font, and I also mark words in yellow if they are overused. Another thing I start marking my score sheet for the different things, I'm looking for, such as beginning hook, pacing, characterization, emotion, dialogue, narrative, action, and how they pertain to the characters and story.

Every item on the score sheet may receive a score of one to five (1-5) with a possible total point score of 250, which I didn't give this year. There were a couple who came close, and they may very well be finalists in our contest. I hope so anyway. When I judge entries I'm routing for them all the way, and I am so sad when they can't make it.

After reading, commenting and scoring our entries, we write a one to two page critique for the author. In this instance, I pick the biggest problems (two or three at most) to write about. I like to give examples how to correct these trouble areas if I feel this will help the entrant understand what I'm telling them. The reason I do this is because reading the terminology is not always enough for beginning writers.

Most of all, we encourage these budding authors to continue writing and learning their craft. It takes time to learn even the basics. Even published authors continue learning more of their craft.

To all those authors out there who aren't published yet I have three words to say to you: Don't Give Up.

Until next Sunday, have a great week.



Celia Yeary said...

HI, ANDY--you did a thorough job of explaining the judging procedures. I judge once a year for an East Texas RWA--and I really do enjoy it. Contests helped me immensely before I was published. The judges' crituques sheets were invaluable to me, and I appreciated everything each one said, even if it was a little negative. (I only had on judge in all that time to write something hate and sarcastic, and I remember it to this day--an uncalled for attack.) Anyway, I used all the sheets for the the 2 mss I entered in contests. I made a big spread sheet, listing the positives and negatives. I learned--glaringly so--exactly what my weaknesses were...and my strengths. I improved my weak areas by studyiing, and I honed my strengths and used them more.
That's why I always take great care with each entry--just as you do.

Celia Yeary said...

I meant...Hi, SANDY! Celia

Sandy said...

LOL You threw me with the Andy, Celia.

Thanks for coming by and leaving your comment. It's too bad when a judge is too negative, but if you have to learn from their comments even though they're hurtful.

Theresa Stillwagon said...

I love judging contest. I've judged the Golden Heart contest twice in the past. I'm not a member of the organization anymore. I've also judged in the EPIC one twice. This year I did three separate ones.
My comments are always carefully thought-out and worded. (At least I hope they are.)Criticism is necessary for a writer but not harsh criticism.

Serenity King said...

Hi Sandy,

I read your blog and found it to be very interesting. I am a new published author and still have a lot to learn. I love constructive critism, especially if it has been designed to help me become a better writer. Great blog!


Sandy said...

Thank you, Theresa.

I think criticism should be constructive and kind.

Sandy said...

Thank you, Serenity.

Congratulations on becoming published. The very best of luck to you.

Paris said...

I agree that the best critiques are constructive and as a judge I always worry that mine come across as too critical. Judges are human and sometimes we forget that not everyone has developed a tough hide by being part of a tough critique group.

But that's also one of the advantages for the contest entrant. We have a responsibility to point out not only their strong points (which they can build on) but the weak points they need to improve. I would rather have an honest opinion instead of a score that makes me feel great but has an editor scratching their head and wondering how my manuscript ended up on their desk.

Sandy said...

Paris, you can give critical critiques but still be nice about it.

I also don't like to give any more information than they can understand. You can tell where the author is in her career by reading her work. I try not to overload them with something they might not understand.

Jill James said...

Sandy, you sound like a judge I would've loved to have during my contest years. So many times the judges give you the "don't give up the day job" feeling. Some writers are so new and don't have a thick skin yet. As judges (I judged 3 to 4 contests a year) we need to help writers where they are lacking but also tell them what they did right, even if it is just perfect spelling and grammar.

Marianne Stephens said...

Judging contests isn't an easy task. I always start my critique with a positive comment, and then write about things I think need to change or be revised.
I use red for comments on the pages I receive, and it's hard to let poor grammar/punctuation slip by.
My biggest complaint is that most seem to be sent in without being edited...and I write that critique groups would be helpful since "extra eyes" reading pages can help find errors.

Carol Ericson said...

Sandy, when I judge contests, I always find something positive to write about the entry - characters, a nice turn of phrase, good pacing, whatever - writers have to know what they're doing right as well as what needs work. As a contest entrant, I've gotten some great feedback that really helped me as a writer. Sometimes judges would pick something silly to criticize and several times they were just WRONG! (i.e. something about police procedure that my husband verified for me!)

Amy Atwell said...

Sandy, you and every judge out there deserve to be commended for volunteering your valuable writing time to help authors who are seeking feedback through contests. Thanks for a great overview of the process!

Isis said...

Hi Sandy,

Thank you for taking the time to be a judge and for marking on the ms. I find that extremely helpful. When I first started entering contests, I found the feedback to be harsh from some and constructive from others. The more I received and the more I finaled, I was able to remove emotion from the process, or at least did a better job at trying to.

The feedback from contests have definitely made me a stronger writer, artistically and emotionally, but also helped me make my mss stronger. I now consider them to be invaluable and would encourage any budding author to muster the courage to enter.

Robin Covington said...

Sandy: After entering many contests this past yar, Ijust branched out into judging and I think it is one of the most rewarding ways to give back to this community of writers.

My motto when judging: be knd, be kind, be kind.

Sandy said...

Thank you, Jill.

I always try to start a critique with something positive even if I can't say I love their story.

Sandy said...

Thanks, Marianne.

I'm not too tough on grammar and punctuation, but I do correct it in their manuscript.

I don't like to use red for my comments on their manuscripts. It reminds me of school. lol

Sandy said...

Thanks for your interesting comment, Carol.

I have a friend who was a detective at KCPD, and she ran into the same thing on a contest.

Sandy said...

Thank you, Amy.

Isis, thank you so much for your comment.

Sandy said...

Robin, that is one of the things we stress in our contest--be kind. Sometimes, it takes a little time to work at being kind but it's necessary. I would never want to hurt a budding writer. I've seen way too many people quit that could have been wonderful authors.

Thanks for your comment.

Linda LaRoque said...

I agree, judging is hard work if done right. I didn't know any contests out there still had written critiques. That's amazing. You guys deserve a star for going the extra mile.

Anonymous said...

Sandy, thanks for sharing! I had no idea that it could be so extensive to judge these writing contests. I judged in a poetry contest a few years ago but I don't know if I'd want to critique and judge in a contest with full-length books. It's a lot of work so I admire you for taking the time to do it. I hope those writers who enter appreciate what the judges really do. It's not easy but you are obviously dedicated.

Best Wishes!


Heather Snow said...

I also love to judge contests because judging is an incredible way to learn...oftentimes, I can see a mistake I've been making in someone else's work.

It's also a great way to give back to the writing community. I know that contest judges have taught me much over the years, and I only hope to be able to pass that on.

Nice post, Sandy.

Sandy said...

Thank you, Linda. Yes, we like to give our entrants there money's worth. Smile. Also, we want to help new authors.

Sandy said...

Thank you, Stacey Deanne.

Yes, it's a lot of work but very rewarding too. Often it's a reminder of our own problems that we fight every time we write. lol

Sandy said...

Thanks, Heather.

You're right about judging teachs us to better writers. It's a good thing I had so much to learn because it helps me find errors for others as well as my work.

Cheri LaClaire said...

You sound like a dream contest judge! I've seen too many people crush beginning authors. I'm just grateful some of my first contest experiences were with people like you :)

Anonymous said...

Great to learn more about judging! Thanks so much for teaching us.


Sandy said...

Hi Cheri,

It really helps if your have some good experiences. Thanks for coming by.

Thanks, Theresa. Always glad to help. Maybe, that's why I often got to train new people at work too.