Last night at around 10:53 I hit the Send button, returning an entry for the Paranormal Chick Lit Stiletto Contest, which I’d been given to judge. It was my first time out of the chute as a romance contest judge.
The previous week, I’d answered a semi-distress call on the Romance Diva message forums, asking for judges to take some unexpected last minute entries for the competition, sponsored by Chick Lit Writers of the World, Chapter #204 of the Romance Writers of America®.
Before you ask, the contest I volunteered to judge was not an eBook competition. I’ll have more about eBook romance competitions, or the lack thereof, in tomorrow’s post. I decided to volunteer, not simply because I wanted to help out, I did, but for another reason. As one of many judges, I figured the experience would give me better insight into how contests in the genre operate in general.
Since I’d already served as a judge for competitions in categories other than romance, and worked as a slush pile reader for a small literary magazine, I was surprised when I was sent just one entry to judge. Normally when such volunteer opportunities arrive, an avalanche of envelopes or emails follows, descending on my respective mailboxes.
Wow, I thought, they must have gotten a lot of volunteers, if all I have to do is judge one measly entry.
That was before I downloaded my judging packet.
Opening the files I discovered 35 pages of a manuscript, a four page synopsis, a score sheet, and an essay on how to judge contests. The essay alone, Lest Ye Be Judged by Alicia Rasley, was 43oo words of study material. That’s what it felt like, too, to judge the entry. I was asked to examine and critique the manuscript for the correct formatting, for punctuation and grammatical errors, craft, word usage, sentence and paragraph structure, voice, description, opening hooks and end-of-scene buttons (my term not theirs, a button is the event in a film script that pushes the story forward from one scene into the next), conflict, character development and motivation, pacing, viewpoint, style, setting, research, plot points, cause-and-effect, tension, story arcs, endings, whether or not the entry fit the category, and oh, yeah, romantic content.
In total, I was to assign an individual score to twenty-seven separate criteria. My job was to mark-up the manuscript with comments both positive and room-for-improvement-ish, and then respond with short answers to a set of questions at the end of the score sheet. Finally, I was encouraged to write a few paragraphs to the author, a sort of mini-critique (mine ended up nearly two pages in length).
Though I didn’t keep track, I’d estimate that I spent at least four hours on the one entry, reading it twice, then going through it a third time for mark up, scoring and writing. It gave me a strong feeling of déjà vu, as if I were back in Advanced Fiction Workshop in college, dissecting and writing a review of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
And no wonder! What a romance contest judge does is very similar, I expect, to the tasks a romance editor performs when writing up an editorial letter for an author s/he has under contract.
Moral of the story: before judging my one and only entry, I resented the idea that fees for romance writing competitions are on the high side. Now, though the judges aren’t paid, obviously, I can see that authors are definitely receiving their money’s worth from any contest that offers critiques to its participants.