Posted by: reneewildes1 | August 1, 2010

The Delicate Balance Of Judging

So as usual I got myself in over my head. Being a former “contest diva,” I felt it necessary to give back and take my hand at judging. I’m a coordinator for the WisRWA Fab Five Contest, and I know how hard it is to get good judges. So I find it very difficult to say no, and therefore usually find myself judging multiple contests at the same time.

I usually like to judge paranormal, as that’s what I’m most familiar with. I never judge a work I know – like I never review anything from Samhain, my own publisher. I want no cries of bias or favortism. I’ll judge historicals, even though they’re Regency-heavy and I personally loathe Regencies. I’m not a fan of YA b/c I have issues with the “whiny teenage angst” that seem to permeate the genre. (Yes, I had ISSUES w/Bella – and Harry Potter 5!)

I’m a tough preliminary judge.  I refuse to apologize for that. The job of a judge is twofold. We are to give constructive criticism back to the entrants – what works, what doesn’t. But we also have a duty to the industry and the final judges to advance what’s really market ready. We’re the gatekeepers. The last thing I want as a coordinator is my final judge to think, “Wow, these are awful! What were those first-round judges thinking?” I don’t like too-easy judges. But I have a bit of a quandry: how to score low enough to keep a sloppy entry from advancing without being so low my score gets thrown out and doesn’t get factored into the equation?

I’m sure I’m lower than some of my peers. I guess I’m not SO bad b/c contests always ask me back as a judge. I had a non-finaling entrant write me once. She said she initially cursed me & hated me because she missed finaling by two/three points and all because of me. But then she stepped back and reread the comments and made some changes and was told the new manuscript was better and she sent it out again to the next one.

That tells me I’ve done my job.

So, contestants, a word of advice:

First, send a CLEAN copy. Spellcheck. Punctuation check. Make sure none of your quotation marks are backward. Make sure your “there, their and they’re” are all correct. Know how to spell your heroine’s name! Know what color your hero’s eyes are. Make it the best you can. Read the judge’s comments with an open mind. If you don’t final, there’s a reason. Fix what’s wrong. It’s nothing personal – we don’t know who you are. If the work’s not ready – GET it ready. Don’t send us slop – we WILL notice.

And fellow judges:

Comment thoroughly and in-depth. Don’t back down from an honest score. If it’s ready, advance it. If it’s not, eliminate it with enough feedback for the author to make proper corrections. I learned a lot between 2002 ans 2006. Expensive lessions about POV and “telling” as I slogged my way from “sucks” (and I REALLY did!) to published.  The best feeling as a coordinator is having a final judge, an agent or editor say, “Man, these are AMAZING! You make it tough to decide!” And when they REQUEST one, you just want to explode w/that happy secret, to be the first to convey that to the author “She loved it – she wants you to send it YESTERDAY!”

Preliminary judges make that happen.



  1. Great advice, Renee. The best contests are the ones where the judge’s feedback challenges you to take it to the next level.

    By the way, I recently discovered your Guardian of the Light series and love it!

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