Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Contest Musings

I will finish posting on duelling next Tuesday , but just had to chat about this tonight.

I honestly believe that contests are not a bad thing.
Well that was a bit mealy-mouthed. What I mean is, they can be a good thing as long as you approach them properly.

The first contest I entered frightened me to death. I got below average scores and I got comments. I could not read the comments. I was scared s**tl**s when I saw the scores. As it turned out they were right -- but it took me a good while to understand them being a newbie and all.

But the whole thing was a shot in the you know where. That was when I joined RWA and started to go to workshops and to read craft books and so on. Now, I don't think contests are an end in themselves. If you are one of the lucky ones who gets bought from a contest, more power to you -- it doesn't happen often. As can be seen from American Title 2, only one of us sold from that contest, but the rest of us gained new friends and a lot of exposure.

But I also see contests from the other side. As part of my gift back to the cause, I try to judge two or three contests a year, with the hope of helping others as I have been helped. It is sometimes a two edged sword.

Are you to be honest? Or do you try to save the person's ego.? The thing with judges' comments, no one but you has to see them and if the judge really wants to help you, then he or she should be brutally honest. That is what an editor is going to be. Not destructive, of course, or personal, but if you can identify what you see as good or more importantly what you see as a problem, giving the contestant a chance to fix it, surely that is better than an average score and a pat on the head?

I think if you are too constructive, the contestant can miss the point. If you say really nice things and give a low score, that is confusing. Finding a balance in the heat of the urge to be helpful is not always easy.

Why post about this. Well, I received a thank you note, which smacked very much of bad you and poor me and here are all my personal problems. Quite honestly, I had trouble remembering the entry, though I did keep the score, which was probably one of the lowest I have ever given.

Now I'm feeling bad.

Would I have been better to say this is almost publishable, I love your hero and heroine, when they really needed lots of work and I spent quite a bit of time trying to explain why?

Second guessing is bad. Feeling guilty is bad. Is trying to help someone improve, bad? Was I too harsh by being frank? I'm not sure. Will I judge again? Yes. If I can say one thing that will help one other person get published, even if none of the others are helped, then I think the work will have been worth it. Otherwise, why am I taking time out of my writing?

Fortunately I have up to now always recieved very appreciative thank you notes. I have to remember that too. And, I will review the judging I am doing right now to make sure my frankness is as friendly as possible -- but honest. After all, we can all benefit from a critique.

Now I have that off my chest, I am off to find a glass of Chardonnay. Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend even if Ernesto does try to drown us.