I recently judged contest entries for Duel of the Delta, sponsored by my local chapter, River City Romance Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense, sponsored by Kiss of Death, the mystery/suspense chapter of Romance Writers of American. I submitted entries into both contests, but of course, I did not judge the categories I entered.
I was honored when I was asked to judge but I have to admit to having some misgivings. First, I am an unpublished writer, so who wants to hear my opinions about what makes their writing good or not. Second, I am an unpublished writer, who cares what I think, period!
Fortunately, the coordinators for both contests were very patient and supplied their judges with the resources needed to perform our jobs with credibility. But I still had my reservations. But then I recalled the first time I shared my work with a professional writer. She is a multi-published writer, national best selling author of crime fiction. Her critique of my work was both informative and encouraging. She didn’t bite her tongue over the stuff that sucked. But then she took the time to show me how I could fix it.
I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time just how fragile my confidence in my abilities was and how the wrong person could have negatively impacted my budding career as a writer. But, fortunately, I’ll never know. Her constructive advice helped to make my story stronger and the fact that she took that extra time and effort helped to build my confidence in me.
Her example was the model I kept in my head as I reviewed the entries I was assigned to judge.
Here are a few nuggets I took away:
- Don’t be in a hurry to submit your work to contests. Find a critique partner to review your work for content as well as for grammar and punctuation errors. Let that person(s) be someone other than your family and friends. You don’t want to start out your career with people associating your work with poorly prepared manuscripts.
- Don’t go searching for guidance(validation) through contests. They can be discouraging if you are not confident in your work and don’t know the difference between Must Dos and Consider Dos.
- I have a heightened appreciation of how much a backstory data dump can weigh a story down. My suggestion and my plan for future contests will be to complete at least the first 6-10 chapters even if the contests requires only the first two or three. Those extra chapters might help to put the introduction into perspective and allow you to spread out and minimize information overload.
- As much as I have a loving relationship with words, the bigger and more obscure, the better I love them, judging these contest revealed to me that they have no place in genre fiction. Save it for the next book , make it literary fiction and have at it.