Contested Contests

I did a few contests when I first started submitting my work. The first few I did were both helpful and brutal. There were some good points and bad points. I learned a lot from them- the one major thing I learned was that not all judges are created equally. I also learned that there are people who are going to love my voice and there are people who are going to hate my voice.  And that’s ok.

The judges I learned the most from on how to improve my work were the published writers. They seemed to want to help and encourage. The ones that were snarky and even mean in their comments were always unpublished (in my experience)- the question in my mind became “Are these people being mean because they don’t know better or because they want to be discouraging?”

When I judge contests, even if I think the story needs a lot of work, I try my best to be kind, helpful and encouraging. I know how hurt I was at some comments and I don’t want to crush anyone’s soul.  One comment I’ll never forget was the judge that said the heroine in my story needed to get over her heartache sooner and not be so upset (this was a 20 page contest)- this judge actually said she wished the best friend character was the heroine. Well, HELLO?  the heroine had her heart broken by her fiance and she was supposed to be over it in less than 20 pages? And if the best friend was the heroine, where would be the story? A happy, larky heroine with no angst would be a boring tale, wouldn’t it?

This particular judge hated the whole 20 pages. This story ended up being the first book I sold and I didn’t change a thing that she said was bad about it.  The last contest I entered was this one. I don’t plan to enter any more as I didn’t really get my money’s worth after the first one or two I entered.  They are good tools if you get good judges with helpful criticism, but it seems to me that there are a lot of contests with untrained judges. These are not helpful to the new writer and I wish there was a training ground for judges so that people who invest in contests could really take away something worthwhile.


About Author

The author of these blog posts is a lawyer by day and fiction writer by night.
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12 Responses to Contested Contests

  1. danicaavet says:

    I’m not fond of contests.


  2. jeff7salter says:

    Some of the exact things which vex me about contests, Jillian — the possibility of drawing one or more un-pubbed judge who may or may not know her/his way around a novel.
    I know, from the mail groups, that sometimes some of the contests have to plead for judges. This makes me suspect that a few mean-spirited untalented spoilsports sneak through the selection criteria and are let loose on unsuspecting entrants expecting a fair shake from an objective reader.


  3. Laurie Ryan says:

    I’ve heard the occasional story like this. I sure hope they are few and far between, though. I’ve entered contests for two reasons…feedback and to bring new attention to my story. It’s great when your story’s been out there for a while and you final in a contest. It’s a shiny, new reason to talk about your book. 🙂 And so far I’ve been lucky so far with comments. It’s kind of like critiques. If one person says something, think about it. If two or more people say the same thing, it’s definitely something to look closer at. But in the end, the story should go in the direction the author wants it to go, right? 🙂

    I also judge contests. I do two a year, one local, one not so local. Sometimes I get talked into a third, but I try to limit myself to the two. I try to make my contest judging comes across like you say, as positive comments designed to enhance the story. There have actually been two times now that I’ve given a perfect 10 in a contest. And that’s the fun side of judging. To find a book that you can find no flaws in. I love coming across those gems.

    Wow. It seems like I have a lot to say about contests. Guess I’d better stop before my answer turns into a blog. lol Great topic today, Jillian. Thanks for bringing it up.


    • Thanks for the insight into your experience, Laurie. Sounds like you got some good judges for the ones you entered. I’m glad.

      I also judge 2 a year and I recently did one that I found a fantastic book and only took off 2 points because it seemed to peter off at the end. It was really good and it finaled but didn’t win. I also judged the one that won but I thought the pacing was slow on it. It was a good story nonetheless.


  4. Lavada Dee says:

    I try to judge one contest a year. And, like Laurie feel good when I find that treasure story. I have no trouble giving them a 10. Usually when I score low I can find something good to say and work at giving a positive critique even though the score is low.

    I used to enter contests and have finaled but like you they either hate me or love me. I’ve never entered a contest that I haven’t needed an extra judge because of the span of the scores. And, I’ve been told that is a good thing Jillian, because we don’t write vanilla stories.


  5. I enjoyed reading your insights about subjective criticism, Jillian, and ALL criticism regarding fiction can be considered subjective. One of my creative writing professors once suggested a good rule of thumb is that if more than three people point out the same “problem” the author should pay attention to the issue. In my own experience, though, even a consensus can be misleading. On the other hand. stubborn people never learn. It’s a hard call either way. Still, I’m glad you didn’t let someone in a power position intimidate you and had the self-confidence to know you were right..


    • Susan- good point about stubborn people never learning. I like to think I’m not that stubborn- LOL! But I did have confidence in my story which a publisher agreed with – and that’s really what it’s all about, right? Not contests, but published books. Thanks for the insightful comment.


  6. Micki Gibson says:

    I admit it. I like contests for the most part. However, having gotten a few of the same comments – which I tend to agree with, it’s time for me to take a closer look at my work. But wouldn’t you know it? I’ve got a bright shiny new project begging to be written, so I’ve set my other story on the back burner until I can figure out how to fix the problems in the other one. The other thing I like about contests is IF you final. I now choose contests based on who the final judges are. If it’s an editor I’d like to work with, you bet I’m going to enter. Alas, with a few contest finals, I’ve yet to get that request for the full manuscript. But a girl can hope, right?


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