Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Have You Thanked a Judge Today?

Not every contest judge is a villain with vampire blood and destructive diatribes flowing through her/his veins. Most judges are very conscientious and encouraging when they score a manuscript. Even if a judge gives scores that hurt one's ego, if the judge gave constructive criticism or advice or encouragement, that judge deserves a big thank you.

Yes, even a low scoring judge deserves a thank you if that judge took the time to evaluate your work with the intent to encourage a writer along the path to publication. As a judge, I can tell you that I spend a great deal of time reading the entry, considering the market, looking at the tone and intent of the story. I read it more than once, I take the time to make suggestions and show why I am having trouble with the MS, and I add and re-add the scores (math is not my forte).

In the last seven months, I have judged several contests, some where I was also a entrant and some where a call came out from a contest coordinator for help.

Why? Because I have benefited from my own work being judged. As a PRO, I feel it is important to pay it forward. While I may not be published yet, I can assure you that I didn't even consider judging any contests till I became a PRO, had entered many contests myself, and I had been trained.

I enjoy judging other people's works. There are a lot of talented writers in this world and a lot of people with tons of super cool ideas. I am a voracious reader of all genres from YA to Paranormal to Erotic. I write sexy contemporary romances so I don't judge that category. But I do believe as a reader with a wide palette of tastes in fiction, I am qualified to read and judge other categories.

The deal I make with the entries I receive is pretty straightforward: I read the entry as if this might be the person's first writing attempt and/or contest attempt. I look for the strengths in the writing and point them out. And where I see weaknesses, they are often areas I myself had to fix as a newbie writer. I try to show how to fix them in a nice way. I hope I succeed.

I don't know how many entries I've judged because I've lost track of the count. However, I do know how many thank you emails I've received. Two. Yup. That's all. Not that it matters, but I'm the type of person who believes that positive feedback goes both ways. When there is a flagrant miscarriage of the judging duties (I've only had one such an experience), then I do point it out. I feel there is a responsibility to vet inappropriateness. On the other hand, I also take the time to send thank you notes to my judges who took the time to judge my works.

It's not time consuming to send a thank you. Sometimes I'll send a thank you to the coordinator and ask her to forward the thank you to all the judges. If a judge took special time and consideration with  my work, then I write a separate thank you to that judge where I address the specific help and encouragement she/he gave me.

Why? Because I want that judge, PRO/PAN or RWA general membership, to want to judge again. I want the good judges to desire to help again. So I tell them why I appreciate them. Much has been ballyhooed about on various writing loops about the capriciousness of judges and the East German Judge (I know there's more than one) and the horrible comments. But all judges are not created equal. Not all the judges were super critical to the point of making a writer want to give up her dream.

If we're going to complain, we should also give praise where it is due. I know I have.

Have you thanked your contest judge today?


Gwen Hernandez said...

Great point, Christine. I always thank the judges too. It's time consuming work away from writing, and most of them take it seriously as a mentoring opportunity.

When I worked out of the house, I used to thank/praise my boss if he/she was doing something well. Not to suck up, but because employees always want praise, but never think to give it up the chain.

Christine said...

Excellent idea to pay it up as well--I think the more positivity we create, the greater our world will be to live in.

Patricia Stoltey said...

You have a great attitude about your role as a judge, Christine. Beginning writers need so much support and are so vulnerable to harsh criticism. Honesty with a gentle touch is so important.

Christine said...

Hi Patricia: Thanks for your kind words. I think all writers are vulnerable to harsh criticism regardless of where they are along their journey. I like your phrase: honesty with a gentle touch!

Hope your writing is going well!

Wendy Marcus said...

Hi Christine!
After four days of intense work I finished my revisions (for now), so I'm passing through to see what I missed during my self-imposed Internet restrictions.

I must admit, I do not typically send thank yous to judges. I've paid my fee, and they've done their judging. I do however go out of my way to send a note of thanks (usually via e-mail) when a judge goes above and beyond.

Recently I entered a contest and I got two perfect scores and one score 18 points less. Ultimately the lowest score was dropped, but I sent that judge a thank you because her suggestions were the most helpful. I do not believe any manuscript is perfect. There is always room for improvement. And FYI, the judge e-mailed me back. She's published in a genre I am trying to get published in. Always pays to have contacts!!!

Christine said...

Hi Wendy: Congratulations on getting the revision finished and keeping focused on your task. That will be me next week after my company heads back to Canada.

I also thank judges who give low scores if they give me great advice and suggestions. I don't always send a huge thank you, but it does take time to judge the contests. I know I've read five to seven entries of over 30 pages, which takes time away from my own writing despite my being a fast reader.