Just Say No to Contest Judges Bad Comments and Everything Else That’s Bad

I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t want to go here. I warned myself, “Self,” I said, “it took you 4 years to get over that contest judge’s slaughter of the first 25 pages of your manuscript.”

Contests. Shudder! Barf! I can see me holding the first 25 pages of a completed manuscript in one hand, while my other hand is pointing a water pistol at my head.

Yet, I have good things to say about contests. Judges with industry knowledge, aspiring and published authors, readers/fans of a certain genre judge and critique a manuscript, rate such things as story premise, or hook, using, perhaps, a points system that might range from 1-Below Average (meaning: This really sucks), to 5-Excellent (congratulations, you might be published in 20 years) with space to comment, offer insight, or, in my case, gut you like a fish.

As a contest judge, I was honored to read manuscripts that became winning entries, then later, published books. I always sought to offer feedback that the author might find helpful. I never came upon an entry, scene, set-up or hook that I ever declared “just gross!”

Lucky me, I landed myself a hanging judge more than happy to label a scene in my entry as such.

The scene? The heroine showed up unannounced at the hero’s office to speak to him personally. To annoy her, he kept her waiting for HOURS. Irritated, and out of patience, when the hero finally summoned her to his office, she bolted to the ladies room because she badly needed to pee. “That is just gross!” wrote the judge.

I couldn’t even get to the other score sheets, because this judges comments just got worse, and worse. Really bad. Sounds stupid, but I cried. I believed I could no longer write, that this was a hobby, and not my heart’s passion.

Fast forward–4 years back to the future; got a degree, got a job, and was torn by my passion for writing, something that still took up a lot of time, with little tangible gain.

One day my husband took pity on me. Might have been when I was teary-eyed staring at a half-page screen, and pressured by other more important stuff to do, like water my violets. He sat with me and asked; “if you knew you would never make a dime writing, would you still do it?” Of course the answer was yes.

Years later, I went on to read the other judges comments. This is what they said: “This author is close to being published.” “Can’t wait to read this!” One published judge even gave me her phone number in case I wanted to go over her comments in depth.

While I made good things happen in those 4 years that were non-writing related, I wish I’d read these judges score sheets first. I’d never have lost 4 years of my life denying my writing passion, over one judge that had issues I can’t even begin to guess, because I can think of a thousand other things more “gross” than a heroine needing to pee.

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8 Responses to Just Say No to Contest Judges Bad Comments and Everything Else That’s Bad

  1. Catherine Bybee says:

    >Wow! Okay, first… I'm sorry that any ONE person took your passion away. That isn't cool. Second… I'm glad you took back what they stole from you. There is more to life than money. I've only been in one contest. The comments were spot on and didn't leave me thinking I sucked. They weren't all positive either. Just honest.


  2. Lelani Black says:

    >Catherine, I so appreciate what you wrote "I'm glad you took back what they stole from you." The other judges comments made up for those years self-doubt and insecurity. You had a good first experience with a contest, sounds like. Honesty is important in judging. As an entrant, I made the mistake of taking negative comments seriously enough to impact how I saw my work. I gave one person the power to do this, and a sour apple to boot. One I'd never meet, see or hear from again. Now I just say damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!


  3. Aileen Harkwood says:

    >Good for you, Lelani! For triumphing over the bad and sharing your talent with others. Thank you also for this post. I've been both a contest judge and a participant, and I've always wanted to warn others, be careful with your heart, protect the part of it that loves writing from comments by mean-spirited strangers that you don't need to hear. There are many skilled, caring judges in romance, but the type of feedback you received wasn't only cruel, it was completely useless in terms of constructive criticism.


  4. April Vine says:

    >Oh, Lelani, I felt this post in the core of my writing heart. Mean spirited non-constructive criticisms are delivered by mean spirited destructive people!!! I am the most pleased person in the world for having read your work. You're one of my FAVORITE authors – don't ever stop writing, you're much too amazing for that!


  5. Lelani Black says:

    >Aileen, I will always support writing contests because I know what a useful tool contests can be, and you are so right as I do believe good judges in romance share their knowledge by being honest and constructive. That said, thank you for putting out the warning to others, be careful with your heart! April, I now have buns of steel! Not really, but I am working on it. This industry can be like any other. As a writer, it's important to know/learn the difference between constructive, and useless. I think I was a late bloomer, but I'm getting there. I won't stop writing, and I won't ever give up again 🙂


  6. carabristol says:

    One judge's commens or the results from one contest is only ONE opinion and you shouldn't give it more weight than that.Several years ago I entered a national writing contest (you'd know it if I said the name), entering my novel in two categories. One day I received the results of one entry and I'd received 60 points out of 100. I thought, "if this was a grade, I'd have a D. A D?!" Then the contest winners were announced and much to my surprise I found out I'd won Honorable Mention in the other category I'd entered. Then I received that score sheet and found out I'd gotten 100 points out of 100!Winning a contest can be a tremendous ego boost and a great motivator and I encourage writers to enter for that reason, but it's still just one opinion.


  7. Lelani Black says:

    Cara I totally agree. Aspiring authors should enter contests for the feedback, the experience, and really the reality of what they face in this writer's journey. And this is not even taking into account the interesting rejection letters an aspiring author might get. Yikes! Even after getting published, a writer may face, I think, more challenging critiques from other writers, editors, readers. Your contest results certainly ran the gamut from a D to an Honorable Mention, and that might (strangely) be one good example, I think, of what an entrant can expect from contests. So very glad things worked out for you, too.


  8. TexasLady says:

    Maybe that pickle-puss judge had to pee reeeeeaaalllllllllll bad! I'm very happy that you chose to continue writing. I really enjoy your books, and hope you will never stop writing!!!


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