Contests, Critiques, and Judges, Oh My!
By Peggy Staggs
Have you judged a contest? Or participated in a critique? What kind of judge or critique partner are you? Did you do your best?
Once upon a time, I entered a contest. I got two good scores and one that, to this day, makes me shake my head. I can only believe the person judging had no idea what they were doing. S/he changed all my “ed” words to “ing’s”. You can imagine what that did to my sentence structure. It turned a decent entry into blather.
When I judge or critique, I put aside the subject matter and concentrate on technique and style. Do they have a grip on the basics? If not, how can I guide them in the right direction? I’m one of those people who want others to succeed (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against success for myself. You’ll hear the scream when I get the call, no matter where you are. I’ve got really good lungs.).
When I judge, I learn from each entry. It’s either what to try next time, or that gives me an idea, or whoa, that doesn’t work at all. When I offer advice or provide a score, I want to give back what I can to those who helped me.
My attitude in judging and critiquing is simply; if this manuscript has potential, I want to do everything possible to help the author get published. After all, isn’t the ultimate goal to have more good, really good books to read. I hope someday that really good book will be mine, but until then I want to lend a helping hand to anyone I can.
I’m no saint, but I do try to be as honest as I can—both to myself and to others. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I judged an entry with jealous feelings. Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I think, “Man, I wish I’d written that.” Or “Why didn’t I think of that?” But I give the author all the kudos they deserve. I wouldn’t want to be the small mind that discouraged someone from continuing to write. And we all know how isolated and fragile we writers are. Note to friends and family: When someone says, “I’m going to be a writer,” send them directly to therapy. Long-term therapy. But that’s for another blog.
I remember a very wise man who once said to me, “How would you feel if they did that to you?” Thanks, Dad. The good news is, those few words are always with me. The bad news is I’m completely astonished when others are rude, ungracious, or less than honorable. Didn’t their fathers share those words with them?
In the end, it comes down to personal honor and integrity. Are you going to treat your fellow writers with the respect they need and deserve? Are you going to give them the very best advice and guidance you can? Or are you going to be one of those judges. Are you going to send a new writer groping for a box of tissues through tear-filled eyes? Or are you going to have them thinking, hey, I can make this better?
The end result will be fewer wall-slammers. There is nothing worse than spending good money and time on a book that disappoints. So do your part to keep that from happening. Encourage, support, and give honest, helpful advice. We’ll all be better for it.