Writing contests: here comes the judge

I judge a lot of writing contests every year. Why? It's a way to help a writer who may be struggling with that whole "can I write or am I fooling myself" complex from which all of us seem to suffer. My heart goes out to people like this because I'm one of them too so I'm glad to light a candle for those stumbling in the dark.

When I first started writing, hardly any writing contests existed. I'd have given anything to get some feedback from "real" authors. You know, the people who actually had a book in print.

Now that I've written just about everything from newspaper and magazine articles to published novels, I feel I have some credibility so I volunteer - and frequently find myself over-volunteered because there are soooo many writing contests now. Mostly, I'm asked to judge the romance genre though I have judged other contests too. Each genre has its own characteristics, but good writing is good writing regardless of the genre.

Often I find myself burning the midnight oil in order to fulfill my commitment. Just recently I've finished judging two contests and have one waiting on my desk. Another couple will be arriving in the mail in the next few weeks. When you add that to my own writing, I'm, well, I'm swamped! But I wanted to share some insights with those of you who might be on the contest trail. Maybe it will help.

Who judges writing contests?

Let's talk about the judges. Who are we? Hopefully, we are all published authors, editors, and agents. Of course, we all know why having an editor or agent as judge is a good thing. They'll fall in love with our entry and ask to represent and/or publish it. Right? But why published authors over unpublished writers?

Now, you aspiring writers out there, don't get your quills ruffled. I'm not saying you don't know how to write because you're not published. I'm just saying that published authors have been in the trenches. We've managed to get published, but we also have submitted and been rejected countless times so we might just know a little more about what editors are looking for in a story and what separates a good story from a good story that will get published.

So look for the contests that guarantee these kinds of judges.

Why don't judges sign their names?

When I first started judging many years ago, I signed my name. I felt I should be willing to stand by my comments. I stopped signing my name after a couple of years. Let me reitterate that I always try to be objective and not let personal taste enter into the judging. I give balanced comments and always find something good to say about even the worst writing so it's not like I insult the writer with scathing, sarcastic remarks knowing the writer won't discover who I am. That's just not nice, and I'm a nice person. Ask anyone.

So why did I stop being upfront about my identity? Two reasons. The first reason was because I met a well-know author who told how her career was nearly ruined because she judged a contest and the entry had a strikingly similar plot line to a book she'd already sold and was in production at her publisher. When the author's book hit the shelves, the contestant immediately filed suit, claiming that the author had plagiarized her.

Publishers don't like law suits. They are more than willing to settle out of court even when the author is innocent of wrong-doing in order to avoid bigger legal wrangles that might drag on and on. Sadly, this happens more often than you think. I personally know two authors this has happened to. In that case, the author knew she was innocent so she fought back. It dragged on and on and on, costing her thousands of dollars in legal fees, the loss of her relationship with her publisher, and ultimately affected the author's health.

Life is too short, people. I'm not alone in my unwillingness to risk hard-earned bucks, reputation, publisher relationships, and emotional health. That's why you don't see very many signatures on the judge's comment pages.

The second reason I don't sign my name is that after a couple of years of judging contests, I got fed up with receiving rebuttals from contestants who wanted to explain to me why I was wrong, why I didn't know what I was talking about, why I was a loser, why he or she was a better writer than me, etc.

These are probably the same people who post anonymous, scathing reviews on Amazon and the like - which is probably the zenith of their creative writing abilities.

Tomorrow, I'll continue discussing writing contests. I'll talk about beginnings and endings.

Sling Words out to judge another entry.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this post! I'm a published writer but have never entered or judged contests.

    Funny, though, I'm holding a writing contest right now on competizione where entrants submit essays about real life contest experiences.

    I'm sure you'd have some interesting stories to tell. :-)