My life as a romance writing contest judge

I just read an interview of Lisa Cron, a story consultant and agent, in the January 2011 issue of The Writer. She recommends reading bad books, and I thought, why on Earth would anyone waste their time on that?

Then I read her reason. “Because you don’t really know what your expectations are until they aren’t being met.”

I realized I agreed. As a writer, I need to understand my own expectations and those of my potential readers. In fact, that’s a big reason why I judge in writing contests.   I’ve been a contest judge since I first begn writing over three years ago. I judged in eight different contests in 2010, including the Golden Heart. I can truthfully say that ever time I judge I learn something, sometimes it’s something I should be doing in my writing, mostly it’s things I must be sure never to do.

When judging an entry, I read it for enjoyment first. Then I do a second read while asking myself what did and did not work, and why. I look for the impression left on me as a reader and don’t go around with a checklist of the so-called rules of writing and grading like some accountant.

  • If the first page yanks me into the story, wonderful, even if they manage to do it with backstory.
  • There is no magic number about POV’s or how often they change.  If an author switches POV a dozen times in as many pages and it works for me, then it’s good.
  • If he or she can make me feel the setting I don’t care which senses they used or didn’t use.
  • if a prolog fits and actually enhances the story instead of distracting or just being a history dump, that’s excellent.

When a story is good, I am happy. I only worry about the rules of writing when I find problems and want to give feedback that could help the author improve.  I know judging horror stories exist. Mine include being told by a judge that she would never let her child read my book (and if her child is young enough to need Mom to pick out his or her reading material I agree, they are too young for a book intended for YOUNG ADULTS).

If you have any horror stories that you would like to share, feel free to leave a comment. 
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One Response to My life as a romance writing contest judge

  1. I judged a writing contest for students in grades 4-6 once and discovered part of one of the pieces online. At first, I'd thought the story had been plagiarized. I was relieved when I realized it was actually a form of fan fiction, with the opening section taken from a sort of prompt. Whew!
    Carmela

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