Contest judging has been keeping me busy,

and it won’t let up for a while.  I have three favorite RWA chapter writing contests that I try to judge regularly, and they all land in my inbox in the fall, one after another over a couple of months.  Six weeks to judge four or five entries sounds like a generous amount of time, until you remember, once again, how much time each entry can take.

Judging is worth every bit of the effort, and the rewards come in several areas.  It gives you a fascinating view into the broad range of writing in the entries, both in terms of content and level of expertise.  You see everything from new writers to seasoned pros, from people  in desperate need of feedback and advice to writers so talented and polished you can’t believe they don’t already have fourteen books on the shelf.

You learn to recognize problems that are much easier to see in other people’s writing, and hopefully to apply the knowledge to your own work.  You learn to offer constructive, helpful advice rather than snarky, destructive criticism, and now and then you get a note back from an entrant thanking you for an idea that turned her manuscript around.

Most of us judge contests because we have gotten so much out of entering them over the years.  No one else in my small critique group writes romance or enters writing contests, so I have to remind them now and then that I don’t just send my manuscripts off for the adrenalin jolt that accompanies a placement among the finalists, a certificate, or the occasional small check or piece of jewelry.  The real prize is always the chance to land your entry on the desk of a final judge who is an acquiring editor or agent.

But there are other rewards as well.  A bit of validation is always nice.  A bit of name recognition is welcome.  And, most important, I’ve found new friends through contests, most of them long distance, women I may never meet in person unless we manage to attend the same conference.  I’ve gotten to know contest coordinators, and I’ve made friends with writers after finding my name next to theirs on lists of finalists.  Being a Golden Heart finalist this year brought me  a flood of new friends through the Starcatchers (this year’s “class” of GH finalists) and the Golden Network (the online RWA chapter for Golden Heart finalists).

This year I’ve been helping to recruit judges for the West Houston RWA Emily contest.  Pointing out how easy the process is these days, all done by email, makes me think back to the time, not many years ago, when we spent hours printing out multiple copies of contest entries, toting them to the post office, and trying to figure out how much postage to put on our return envelopes in case the rates changed before the finalists were announced.

Now I won’t even consider a contest that requires hard copy and snail mail, not that there are many of them left.  But I have to wonder how much we’ve contributed to the financial woes of the post office by moving our contests into cyberspace.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl Bolen
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 11:04:14

    Your post nailed a lot of things about judging contests. Yes, most of us who judge do so because we’ve benefitted so much from entering. Yes, by judging we can learn from others’ manuscripts what we’re doing wrong with ours. Yes, the savvy entrant does so to land on an editor’s desk.

    However, you didn’t say that by judging we see how very many talented authors are out there who — for one reason or another — have not been able to land the publishing contract. There’s a lot of competition for a very few slots.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Sep 17, 2011 @ 14:36:36

      You are so right. I have read some wonderful manuscripts that never surfaced in print. On the other hand, just today I started reading Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords, which finalled in numerous contests (including our own Emily) and landed Jeannie a contract with Harlequin Historicals. Excellent book so far, and I’m going to pre-order her next Chinese romance–I picked up a preview at Nationals and it hooked me.

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  2. Pat O'Dea Rosen
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 13:36:59

    No, Kay, no, you will not make me feel guilty about the post office’s current woes. I don’t miss lugging 70 + paper entries to the p.o. for return to entrants. On the other hand, with paper entries, I never worried about accidentally deleting an entry or putting it into the wrong folder. Like you, I judge contests because I learn from them and owe them.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Sep 17, 2011 @ 14:39:19

      I don’t miss mailing or coordinating paper entries either, Pat, but I confess that I print my electronic entries out (on the backs of used paper!), read them while lounging on the couch, make notes on the paper, and then put it all back into the computer. The long way around, but it works better for me.

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