Wednesday, April 16, 2008

To Judge or Not To Judge...

That is the question today.

For the last five years or so, I've offered up my time to judge in several different RWA chapter contests for unpublished writers. Before I sold my first book, I entered into a few contests, and though I never won (boo, hiss), I did get some of the best feedback ever. I am one of those masochists (or is it sadist? I can never remember which is which) who would rather hear what's wrong my manuscript than what's right. Point out what doesn't work and I can figure out the rest. =)

So, since I've always appreciated the busy people who took their time to judge and critique (though not pass me on to the winners' circle, boo hiss), I thought I'd do the same. Pass on what I've learned and help someone else to maybe, just maybe, realize their dream of being published as well. Hey, it was the least I could do.

Well, it's that time of the year again and so far, I've declined to judge in any contests. I've just been too busy, with the Boy's therapies, the Girl's newly discovered social life, editing and revising two books, as well as the multiple WIPs cluttering my desk.

So far, it's been fairly easy to just say, "No thanks". Until now.

NJRW's Put Your Heart in a Book contest will be getting underway soon. I've judged in this contest since the beginning of my judging life. But this year, I'm thinking of taking a pass on it.

True, both books will have been released by the time my services would be needed, but I do have several other manuscripts that I need to get back to. And there's the Boy's therapy, which won't end until October at the earliest. And there's a lot of other reasons.

But the one that troubles me the most is that, as the years progressed, I found myself getting more and more frustrated by the entries.

Don't get me wrong - some where dynamite What do you mean I can only read the first three chapters, blow me away terrific. On some of them, I actually commented about being bummed that I might never know how the story ended.

And then there were others...

I've seen entries that were painfully obvious first drafts. Some that read in a way to suggest that the writer was not a native English speaker. And some - well, let's just say they were a little... ooky. One touched on almost incest - which creeped me out to no end. It was hard to find something positive to say about it.

Some had major POV problems. Or no plot, but just a series of events (I wrote an entire book like this, but it had some smokin' sex scenes. When I ran out events, I threw the hero and heroine into bed and had them get very creative. Almost a shame there was no story, really.)

Some were beyond my ability to suspend my disbelief.

And some were just littered with typos. Now, if you can't be bothered to check your spelling at the very least (and I kid you not, I mistyped almost every word in that sentence), why the heck should I take my valuable time - away from my work or my family - to comment on your lousy spelling? Buy. A. Dictionary. And don't rely on spellcheck alone. Bad idea, that.

So, I'm really having second thoughts about whether or not to take this on. On one hand, I feel a sense of obligation, but on the other - it's a huge chunk of my time that has, in recent years, left me aggravated.

I'm leaning toward no this time around. I feel bad about it, but I also feel I need that time for me. Maybe next year. We'll see.


Seeley deBorn said...

I think everyone I know who judges has said the same thing about first drafts, typos, and plot vs sex.

While I loved, loved, loved the awesome shredding comments I got on my one and only contest entry (you're not the only one who wants to know what's wrong with your work ;) ), I really don't envy the judges the job.

Kim said...

It's great when you read something that totally sucks you in. The only problem is that there is more of the I-want-to-throw-this-across-the-room slush.

I have a lot more appreciation for agents and editors now! =)

Karen L. Alaniz said...

Just got my critiques back from a literary contest I entered. I did not place, but the critiques made it all worth it. The majority of the comments were extremely positive. There are a few critical remarks that are marinating in my brain right now. All in all, a great experience though. And good comments or bad, I am encouraged...and that's worth a lot these days! ~Karen

Kim said...

It's always nice to hear someone getting something positive from the comments - it's never easy to hear the negative, but I believe it helps you grow as a writer.
the ones who take nothing away, probably won't get very far.