Thursday, January 24, 2008


Here's something I just don't get: RWA Contests. I've heard they're a good way to get your novel noticed--especially when the prize is prime placement on an editor's reading list. But, specifically, the judging seems counterintuitive.

I've heard several stories of writers who entered contests--agented writers, writers who have been published, and writers who IMHO turn out high-quality writing no matter what--and were given good marks overall, but received exceptionally low marks and persnickety, nitpicky comments from one or two judges. And, usually, the judges getting their hate on are unpublished, or have only a couple of publishing credits to their name.

Maybe it's because I'm new to all this organized writing business, but right here is where I start not getting it. The judges mark all these categories and are supposed to judge the readability and saleability of the submission--but how can they do that if they haven't sold much, themselves?

And if the writers doing the critiquing don't have a solid string of sales under their belt, what is their opinion but the opinion of a reader who may or may not like the type or style of story the contest entrant writes? What special insight do they have into the industry that can benefit the contest entrant? Now, if Nora Roberts or some other luminary of the genre were judging the contest, the whole setup would make sense: Experienced, successful expert offers learned opinion and judgment. But otherwise?

If I were judging a contest, my opinion would and should be worth exactly as much as the average reader's. Sure, I'm a writer, but I don't have any great string of credits under my belt. I don't have any experience, except my love of the genre as a reader, that makes me qualified to judge the saleability of a story. And as a reader, I've never quit reading a book over minor details, plot points I think should have been included, or the occasional punctuation error.

If anyone reading this has entered a contest, I ask, honestly, earnestly, humbly, "Why?"

  1. Are contests helpful?
  2. Do you feel like the critiques of the judges are useful?
  3. What usually prompts you to enter a contest?