Friday, August 10, 2007

Contests: Giving & Receiving Criticism

Guest Maven In keeping with this week's theme on criticism, the Manuscript Mavens are pleased to announce Guest Maven Anne-Marie Carroll who will be blogging about criticism as it pertains to all aspects of writing contests.

Hello, contest divas, and all of you who want to be or will soon become one. A dazzling tiara is your reward, with publication hopefully soon to follow.

Today I'm going to talk to you about the contest world, so I hope I don't wear you out with my rambling.

To fill you in on my contest history, I've worn all contest hats. Contest chair, judge, and contestant with numerous finals, which include The Maggie, The Laurie, and The Molly.

The first thing I'd like to talk to you about is entering a contest, and what to expect from it. A detailed rulebook isn't included, but I've highlighted what I believe to be some definite do's and don'ts in entering a chapter contest.

First, ask yourself why you're entering. Is it solely to final or for feedback as well? Or is it to hear the little canary sing only praise for your talents as a storyteller. If it's the latter, your first couple of contests may come as a shock to you. Especially if you've only let family and friends read your story, or you didn't at least consider sound advice from reputable critters on characterization, plot and conflict, stilted dialogue, style and pacing.

Well, here goes the rambling on some do's and don'ts of entering a contest.


* Read and follow all contest rules and instructions.

* Make sure you formatted your entry correctly and the font you used is what the contest specified.

* Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Don't laugh at this one. I've seen some entries...I won't say any more.

* Make sure the goal, motivation, and conflict is evident in your entry. If you can, try to bring your conflict out in the first couple of paragraphs---if you can.

* Limit backstory. Only use what is absolutely necessary, because backstory can slow the pace.

* Check out a sample contest score sheet and judge yourself to see whether you've covered everything that will be judged in your entry.

* Show action instead of telling it.

* A search and find on overused words, and passive and telling words. The words I check for are that, was, be, feel, felt, wonder, smell, hear, and see, to name a few.

* End your entry on a hook. This is the one time it's okay to piss off your judges because they don't have any more pages to turn.

* Send thank you notes to your judges, whether you agree with their comments or not. Your judges have taken valuable time away from their own writing to judge your entry.


* Throw the rules away before you've read them - word for word.

* Leave your goal, motivation, and conflict for the judges to guess.

* Have pages and pages of backstory. You want your judges to drool over your entry, not sleep on it.

* Ignore some aspects of the score sheets and think it won't be noticed. Chances are, your judge has judged several contests in the past and knows the ground rules.

* End your entry in the middle of a sentence or scene.

* Try clever ways to get more of your entry judged by fiddling with the font, margins or by formatting part of another chapter into your entry that doesn't end on a satisfying hook.

As a contest chair, I noticed that many authors who have a great voice didn't final because they failed other criteria (for lack of a better word) in their contest entry.


It is the judges' job to comment on any aspects of your entry where they marked down, not to give a detailed crit unless they want to. It's not, or shouldn't be, expected.

A judge should never be too harsh or include personal comments, i.e., market information, how they hate the polka dots your heroine is wearing, etc. Don't even ask me about comments on religion or politics. I'm cringing, and believe me I don't need help in getting wrinkles. At my age, I have that one covered all by myself, my kids, my grandkids, and let's not forget my darlin' supporter, my husband.

If two judges offer you similar feedback, you may want to consider revisiting and potentially revising. Although, please don't revise word for word what a judge recommends. This is your baby. You burp it the way you feel best doing it.

Okay, I'm off my soap box now. I hope that at least one of my tips help you into becoming a contest diva, like our own little Erica who was a triple finalist in the TARA contest recently. Way to go, Erica. Fingers crossed for a win.

YOUR TURN: Please share your contest experiences with us! Have you been an entrant? A judge? A category coordinator? In charge of the whole shebang? We'd love to hear the ups and downs, and any tips to get the most out of giving and receiving contest feedback.


ERiCA said...

Hi Anne-Marie! Thanks for the shout out. You rock! =)

It is the judges' job to comment on any aspects of your entry where they marked down, not to give a detailed crit unless they want to. It's not, or shouldn't be, expected.

Amen! So often this wisdom is somehow missed, by both judges and contestants. Judges of the world, if you are going to mark down on something, for the love of all that's holy, indicate where and why on the manuscript! And contestants, do recall that the judge is a judge and not your CP or editor. It is not their job to line edit your manuscript. You should've done that before sending it in, in the first place.

This is your baby. You burp it the way you feel best doing it.

I love this! Can I quote you?

lacey kaye said...

This is my second year judging the Golden Rose. I try to be the kind of judge I want to be; that said, I also need to be an industry standard. Can't have Lacey flying off the deep end just because she thinks judges should be as absoluteyl clear as they possibly can!

Good luck, Erica, and GREAT post, Anne-Marie!

Gillian said...

Excellent, excellent post. Thanks for all the great advice.

I look for consistency of feedback in comments, and other than that, take crits with an open mind and a grain of salt.

Kelly Krysten said...

All great advice. And I think that's a great way to look at things Gillian.
Good luck Erica!

ERiCA said...

Lacey says:
Can't have Lacey flying off the deep end just because she thinks judges should be as absolutely clear as they possibly can!

I fall into this, too. I'm one of those judges who kills myself trying to give detailed crits. I've been known to turn over manuscript pages and write longhand feedback across the backs of the papers. Must break myself of this if I plan to ever be able to judge an entry in under 2 hours...

P.S. to Kelly: Thanks! =)

Anne-Marie said...

Hi, Erica. That's exactly what I keep commenting on to judges and even coordinators from different contests. If you don't make any comments on an entire contest entry, DON'T mark down. Feedback is the most important thing a contestant can receive. As a matter of fact, it's been an active discussion on Contest Alert. Yes, my darlin', please feel free to quote me. lol

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Great post, Anne-Marie.

I've been on both sides of the contest divide and, although I found judging to be very hard work, it was excellent to see the contest experience from the judges' side. I have to admit, however, that because I felt I had to justify every single score I marked down on the entries I judged, I often wound up giving a slightly higher score than I felt was actually deserved just so I didn't have to explain something that, in the end, was just my opinion.

And that's the thing about contest judges and scores. I've gotten scores from judges on a scale of 1-10 or 1-5 where the judge gave me LESS than the full point value and then in the comments wrote "I loved this aspect of your story and thought it was great." Well, that left me scratching my head. You loved it and thought it was great but didn't give me the full point value. Hunh?

But, in the end, I chalk it up to opinion. Everyone has one and I actually don't think a judge has to justify every score she gives that's below perfect. Because, frankly, even the best manuscripts aren't perfect and none of us of probably actually deserves a perfect score :).

Anne-Marie said...

Hey, Lacey. As great as the Golden Heart is, the bad thing is you receive no feedback. The good thing, it's a relatively fast contest to judge because you aren't making comments.

Anne-Marie said...

Glad I could offer some insight, Gillian.

Anne-Marie said...

Believe me ladies, I find myself wanting to really help writers, so I also tend to give a more detailed crit. Especially if I see a strong potential in the writer, which of course, more times than not. lol

Anne-Marie said...

>I have to admit, however, that because I felt I had to justify every single score I marked down on the entries I judged, I often wound up giving a slightly higher score than I felt was actually deserved just so I didn't have to explain something that, in the end, was just my opinion.<

Jacqueline, you're not alone.

And you know I'm on your bandwagon as far as a judge not making comments. It's a must, or the contest will gain a bad reputation. Everyone, if you are a contest judge and not making comments, you may want to reconsider and put yourself in the place of the contestant. They paid money to enter your contest.

Darcy Burke said...

My chapter is discussing this very topic at our meeting tomorrow as we prepare to judge the Golden Rose contest we're sponsoring. 141 entries!

I've been a contestant and a coordinator, but haven't judged yet. I'm judging the GR contest and am really looking forward to it. Like writing, I think juggling contest criticism takes practice. You get a feel for what you should take and what you shouldn't. Not sure how that happens, but it just does.

Thanks for joining us today with such an excellent post, Anne-Marie!

Vicki said...

Great post AM!! As you already know, I've been everything but the Chair.

For me, I enter contest to possibly final. I do look at the feedback and yes, if both (or more)judges point out the same thing I really look at that much harder.

The one thing that I've learned is when you first received the entry back open it see the score and if it's not what you were hoping for put it aside. More often than not when you come back to it you'll find that you agree with more than you think you do.

Congrats to Erica and all fingers and toes are crossed for you to win. :)

Anne-Marie said...

Hey Darcy. One of the benies of judging a contest is it helps you grow as a writer. Or at least it has me. 141 entries is a great contest showing. Congrats.

Anne-Marie said...

Thanks for stopping in Vicki, but then I knew you would. lol I couldn't have said it any better than you. Step back and then a few days later read the comments. Great point.

lacey kaye said...

Agree that judging is a great way to round oneself out, both as a writer and a professional.

I also sort of agree that committing to judge a contest means time investment. I'm not sure I'm perfect at keeping my very specific opinions to myself (regarding the realism of a certain setting, for example, like a city I happen to live in) but I try to give as much detail on craft as I can.

Writer & Cat said...

Oh, I'm one of those authors, back when I was on the circuit, who always got the extremes in reactions, never anything in between. No apparent consistency so it didn't help me revise as much as I'd hoped. As for judging, I'm with Erica and I have trouble keeping my crits under 2 hours. I'm actually coordinating my wee chapter contest this year, and that, too, is enlightening :).

Jody W.

Anne-Marie said...

Lacey, you're right, committing to judge is a time investment and I know about what you mean on commenting of things that are obvious to you. lol One way to get around that and still be PC, is make your comment a question or something like I didn't know that about such and such place. It may make the reader go back and do additional research.

Writer & cat, I've also had extremes in comments to the point where I was dogged because the judge didn't see how I could get the hero and heroine together. I'm like, hell, I'm the writer -- I can do it. lol But I guess that is to be expected because our business is so subjective.

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