Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time to Kick it Up a Notch: Judged, Scored and Still Standing

For those of you who are following me, you know I entered a few contests in February to get a feel for where the story is going. My first contest results came back from the FAB 5 and the comments/scores I received were in line with where my current WIP was at the time I sent it in. The judges confirmed for me that the changes I am making are the right changes. And the judges confirmed for me that my writing voice and style is strong.

The author critique I received via my participation in the Georgia Romance Writers of America's workshop  (March) has steered me in the correct direction. I owe that wonderful writer a big bottle of champagne or wine or whatever she prefers as a huge thank you. My recent journey to GRWA's BREAK INTO FICTION workshop in Atlanta also helped me clarify why my mid plot point was in trouble. Okay, now my weird backstory is cut. The story's tone is on the way to getting fixed. And now I am in the process of brainstorming my plot, listening to my characters and confirming the answers with my CPs.

But I was still waiting for my SHEILA results before I pushed on. They arrived last night. Four judges. Four scores. Drum beat. And....

First I'll tell you about the BAD part of my scores. Yikes, I received less than a 50 out of a 100 (my worst score EVER in any contest I have entered through the years), and the published romance author who judged the MS wasn't wasting any time trying to find one good thing to say. She did, however, spend a great deal of time finding thousands of ways to crush my writing and pulverize my will to push onward in this business. She had a very strong, harsh and negative reaction to my WIP.

And you know what? I'm glad. Because if she HATED it that much, it means that all those PERFECT SCORES/and NEAR PERFECT SCORES from the other two published authors and non-published author carry more weight. The harsh judge didn't really hate my plot or the fact that I didn't put my chapter heading 1/4 of the way down the page (as a judge, I don't take away 2 points for that one--I know how much we work to squeeze every last word into the entries we send into the contests LOL) or my characters. She reacted very strongly to my STYLE AND VOICE.

After drinking a copious amount of wine, and working it off this morning while talking to my CPs about this Vampirella judge, I realized this judge's critique was a sign that I'm getting close to making it. A strong negative reaction is just as important as a strong positive reaction. This means my writing voice is solidifying. And that is confirmation of a different sort.

And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, I frightened her. Maybe, just maybe, she wanted to crush my writing soul into a thousand pieces because I'm potential competition in a very competitive business.

You see how my mind operates? It's amazing how delusional I can be when it comes to encouraging myself in this journey toward publication.

And now for the GOOD part of this contest. There were 6 finalists in the SHEILA Romantic Suspense Category. I was ranked, after the low score was dropped, number 7. I missed finaling in the RS category by ONE POINT. All my other scores were in the 90s! Woot! My first time EVER attempting to write a Romantic Suspense while taking a Category Series length book to Single Title length placed 7TH in a field of very talented writers. 1 of them is my CP in VA. She's a Golden Heart Finalist this year. Two others have finaled in the Golden Heart as well.

I was competing with very tough, talented people. And my little WIP with all its tone problems placed 7 in that field. Yup. Me. I almost finaled in the SHEILA--I'm happy with my results.

Even better, I got FABULOUS FEEDBACK from the two other PUBLISHED IN ROMANCE authors who saw the potential for my story. They flagged the issues I had and confirmed my decision for the story's direction and tone. All three judges felt I was close to ready with this story -- ready for publication. Now I can go forth with my new ideas and up my ante for the story KNOWING I'm going in the right direction.

Woohoo!

I printed out comments and suggestions given by the constructive and edifying authors. I also deleted the other author's file. Then I sent out my thank you notes to the three judges who were constructive and kind and helpful. That's why we enter contests: finaling is nice, but its the feedback about our stories that we crave. Cruelty and harshness should not be tolerated. Therefore, I did contact the contest coordinator and make her aware of this situation.

Why? Because what if that had been my FIRST book, not my FOURTH? I've been through the gauntlet and I've been validated by wins, finals and good critique. Oh, a quick aside: thanks to all those very kind judges years ago who wrote nice things in the margins of my first MS--because of you I am enjoying feeding my glorious obsession. Whenever I judge a contest entry, I approach it as if it might be that person's first attempt at writing. If I see problems, I try to show them where they exist, and I try to do it in a nice way. I also suggest books about craft and writing. I try to encourage them to keep working to attain their dream. Why crush them? We don't need contest judges to add to the pile of our own self-doubts and harsh self-criticism. Rejection letters from editors and agents suffice, thank you very much.

I'm not opposed to constructive criticism, I'm opposed to soul crushing and blood letting criticism. I don't need a fake "gee I really liked it" kind of criticism. I need honest, real and helpful feedback. If someone wants to BLAST my story, that same person had better be prepared to tell me where my strengths lie and how to improve my story as well. That person needs to able and willing to show me how to pick up the pieces and start again.

So come on, before I sit down to revise my WIP and bring to light all the wonderful new revelations my characters have shared with me, let me know what your worst contest results were and how you overcame them to write another day?

10 comments:

KarenG said...

I never entered any contests like this. And that mean judge needs to just chill.

Christine said...

KarenG: she might just need a boost of estrogen or a valium, but she's not raining on my parade. The other judges were amazing.

Still sort of surprised that I came within a point of finaling in the Romantic Suspense Category. That was a tough field and the finalists are amazing writers. Feels good!

Gwen Hernandez said...

I've been pretty lucky so far, but haven't entered that many contests, either. You're handling this the right way. It'd be different if all the judges gave you a low score, but clearly this woman just has problems of her own. Especially since her criticisms were similar to the others, but her scoring was so skewed.

I think you're right about being close, and after our talk yesterday, I'm really excited to see the next round!

Christine said...

Gwen: Thanks for dropping in. I've had a bit of fun on another loop where we've dissed the East German Judge for her nasty comments. Quite hilarious. Several of us had the same experience.

Which just goes to prove that not ever published author is qualified to judge writing contests.

And it's funny, but the better my writing becomes, the more vitriolic some of the judges become, too. Honestly, LBAC didn't deserve the scores it got way back when, but the judges were, bless them, kind and encouraging. They found something to like about my writing.

And here I am today, more eager to win!

M.V.Freeman said...

That was absolutely terrible Christine, I despise when someone tries to rip a writer apart.

You know, I am glad you attacked this and not let it pull the ground out from underneath you. I believe that is what I truly admire about you.

Actually, my worst results were apathy. Of three judges that looked at my entry only one really looked that story. I appreciated that.

I am not a good judge, I know what I like but its hard for me to pin point what is wrong. So I struggle to put it into words. The only thing I don't do is rip anyone apart.

The line has been drawn in the sand...and you are ready for the challange.

Christine said...

MV: oh so true and i think you are an excellent and intuitive judge. I like that about you. The EGJ (East German Judge) struck many folks in the Sheila LOL. But at least her crappy scores got dropped. Unfortunately, her crappier comments are not so easy to purge. Fortunately, the other judges were truly helpful and that is great.

I found it interesting how "personal" she was in her reactions. Obviously, not trained. Nor did she read the guidelines for judging the contest. I did LOL and my contestant entries were treated with respect as a result.

The thing is: her negative reaction actually emboldens me as a writer. I struck a nerve. And that makes me happy.

Christine said...

MV: I think that apathy is not a good quality in a judge either. It's harder to pinpoint, but at least you had a judge willing to work with your words. And you know what to look for in the future.

Now let us cross our proverbial fingers and toes that the EGJ is NOT a Maggie judge LOL.

M.V.Freeman said...

AGREED! LOL

M.V.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Christine, I applaud you for writing about your contest and feedback experiences. I'm going to send your link to a couple of friends who entered contests recently.

I'm not sure what motivates a judge to be harsh, but I don't think that's the way to help developing writers. Good post!

Christine said...

Hi Patricia: as a judge and a contestant, I can say that I personally read each manuscript as if it might the entrant's first attempt. I want to encourage and give constructive critique. I was blessed because two of the judges who gave me great scores were also published in romance. Their feedback was invaluable.

I am looking forward to reading your links!