Mini Rant about Contests

As I might have mentioned, I have another packet of contest entries to judge. For the most part, I judge contest submissions the same way I critique. The difference is that when I crit, I know the writer's history, style and craft, and for the most part, I don't have to explain my comments. When I judge a contest entry, I don't know if the writer is brand spanking new or a published author trying out a different genre, which means you have to explain your scores.

--though you can tell pretty quickly the writers who have a little bit of experience under their belt.

And then you get those submissions where the writer gets your expectations and/or defenses up immediately.

I'm working on one of those contest entries right now.

Let me 'splain a little.

The way this particular contest put each entry together is: manuscript pages, one page synopsis, and score sheet.

Not all score sheets are created equal, so I had to flip all the way to the back to read the score sheet, the questions asked and the categories.

Okay, fine, this one was weighted VERY HEAVILY on the romance of the story, because the hero and heroine each had a seperate category with three questions each for a total of 30 points. OUCH! If you don't intro your hero or heroine within the submission pages, you could potentially get seriously dinged!

I really don't like those kinds of score sheets, as they tend to favor the intro of the H/H almost immediately. If you write a story that intro's either the hero or heroine later, then I'd avoid this type of contest. READ YOUR SCORE SHEETS PRIOR TO ENTERING A CONTEST.

Many times if I'm reading confusing manuscript pages, then I'll go to the synopsis to clarify who is who and then I'll get on with reading the story. But since it was a one-pager, I read it on this first submission.

And I reread it.

And tried again.

Nope. No clue as to who the hero OR the heroine were. NO clue as to what's at stake other than the end of the world (very, very broad external conflict). No clue as to any internal conflict, especially since I didn't know who the main character's were! It was a bunch of plot points that weren't even in any order to even show progression of the story.

And seperated by a couple of blank lines, the author wrote a statement that this was the third book in a series, but it could also stand-alone.

Ruh-Roh! Scooby-Doo!

Uh, no, it can't.

A quickie note about a synopsis. I don't care about all the politically correct upheavel about what constitutes a romance--romance writers know what I'm talking about here--so I will go as generic as possible.

A synopsis for a romance must show the two main characters with an attraction toward each other (they're usually fighting it) (for example: cop/con, werewolf/hunter), as the romance develops they experience internal and external conflict that tries to pull them apart, until the moment when they realize it will never work out (black moment) and resign themselves to the fact that they will never be together until something happens to threaten one of the MC's and they realize they can overcome their conflicts to live happily ever after or Happy for now.

So now, I'm faced with scoring this entry and writing copious notes about how I came to my conclusions. I have to say that giving a "1" is pretty harsh and I avoid it if at all possible. I try not to score below a three EVER, but I had to be harsh with this entry. Everything got a one, and yes, I explained why I scored this way.

But I have a feeling that this author won't have her listening ears on.

She was already defensive when she wrote that it was the third book in a series, which I think she felt excused her starting the story in the middle nowhere. Just because a book is the third in a series doesn't excuse the fact that you have to ground the reader in THIS book.

And this is my public service announcement for the day.

If there are any typos . . . oops, my stupid spell check button isn't working!

Later, Peeps!


Twisted Sister said...

Finished one like that. I'm sorry she won't have her listening ears on. I learned more from detailed critiques from contests.
You give each contest a wonderful gift.

magolla said...

Yeah, that's what I get for snickering at you, Meg! Karma bit me in the butt!

Cynthia D'Alba said...

You're a good good woman to take the time to do these. I could do two or three but I don't have the time or patience to do five or more.

Good luck with that one...third in a series? IMHO it shouldn't be in a contest at all. If books 1 and/or 2 suck, there will be no three.

magolla said...

I like to think that I'm giving back to writers out there, Cyndi. It definitely takes a certain frame of mind to judge these contests.

I felt like this person was on the defensive even before I started reading her entry--due to her comment about the series. And the this story is written as if she has to write everything down since the ideas are coming fast and furious. The author needs to take some time to learn the craft of writing before she continues her 'series'.

It would save her some heartache in the long run.

Jody Werner said...

Do they allow the writers to ask questions of the person that judged/critiqued their entry?

magolla said...

Not really, Jody.

When the writer gets her scores back, she can send a 'thank-you' note through the contest coordinator, and then its up to the judge as to whether or not to persue it.

--I had a 'backwards' thank you once that the contest coordinator almost didn't send me. It all depends on the contest coordinator and how they run things.

The judge can also sign her name and the writer can track her down, but that can just be scary.

Many times I've read an entry that is really, really good and put my email on the sheet so the writer can put me on her mailing list--I've NEVER gotten a response to this one, which makes me wonder if the contest coordinator strips the message/email from the entry.