I’m so glad a fellow author encouraged me to enter my work in contests sponsored by romance writing groups. I’ve yet to win—or even final—but I’ve grown so much as a writer through the judges’ feedback. And now that I volunteer as a first-round judge from time to time, I receive inspiration and satisfaction from that role, too. If you’re hesitant to enter your work in a contest or to put your name forward as a judge, consider these potential benefits.
Get valuable feedback on your work
You may have noticed that some contests—like the Golden Claddagh and the Golden Pen—give you more than a score. Judges of those contests are strongly encouraged to give positive, constructive feedback in each category of the contest (“the hook”, characters, conflict, and so on). Some contest judges give feedback within the manuscript, as well. I’ve had a judge respond to my manuscript as a highly-qualified mentor might. That judge moved my writing to a new level.
Whether you encounter a generous judge like that or not, contest scores and feedback will answer questions like
- How’s my “hook”? How can I improve it?
- Does my story hold the reader’s interest and have potential as a full novel?
- How are my style and voice?
- Am I making mistakes with word choice or other “no no”s?
- What do I need to change before I send my manuscript to a publisher?
Get inspiration and satisfaction as a first-round judge
If you’ve been steadily improving your writing through critique sessions, contests and other avenues, why not volunteer as a first-round judge for an upcoming contest? You’ll receive a discount on your own entry fee, but there are many more rewards than that in store. If you enter your work in the same contest you judge, you’ll see how your work stacks up in comparison. Even if you’re judging without entering your own work, you’ll get a good look at what new authors are producing.
Worried that judging is too time consuming or too hard? Most contests allow you to say how many entries you can handle; if you want to get your feet wet rather than feel overwhelmed, say that you want to judge just a couple entries as a newbie. The contest coordinators will understand and will help you out. In my experience, each contest has its own scoring system and the guidelines for judges are clear. Because they are committed to a successful, fair, worthwhile contest, those dedicated, experienced contest coordinators are standing by to help you in any way you need.
As a first-round judge, these are some of the wonderful surprises I’ve experienced:
- Seeing a new voice not yet in print
- Learning from an effective technique that I’ve not seen before
- Being inspired by a high-impact synopsis of an exciting story
- Encountering a culture or a belief system or a setting that is new for me
And some of the deeply satisfying experiences:
- Contributing suggestions to improve a struggling writer’s work
- Offering praise and encouragement to new writers
Bottom line: I’ve found judging to be both humbling and energizing!
What about you?
If you’re hesitant to enter a contest or judge a contest, I hope I’ve encouraged you to take the next step. If you’ve participated in contests as a writer or a judge or both, please share a little of your experience with us today.