Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Things I learned from being a contest coordinator

I'm in the final stages of being contest coordinator for my RWA chapter's writing contest - I know, I did it before and you'd think I would learn, but for some reason I agreed to do it again. 

We have an all-electronic contest now - last time we tried to allow people to submit either electronic or paper because it was the transition year. I remember the conversion year, and every time I hear people say the RWA Golden Heart, with over a thousand entries, could easily convert, I cringe.

Judging isn't easy - and never unanimous
For 2011 we had 120 entries, everyone found at least one pubbed judge per our rules.  I did see some strange things, we have a system to allow for an extra judge in the face of discrepancies, such as one judge giving a manuscript a 95 and another a 50 (I kid you not, we had that kind of differences in opinion). Thanks to the system, that entry went on to become one of the finalists because our rules  require the opinion of a third judge in those situations.

Contest Results
We had a number of requests from the agents and editors who served as final judges. And that's where I learned most. As the coordinator exchanging emails with these judges, I became privy to something that doesn't often happen with generic rejection emails.  Several of the judges provided reasons for their ratings.  One had excellent writing skills but the work did not feel like a Romance.  Some felt  a particular manuscript had little market potential, or that the dialog was unrealistic.  No one seemed to worry about the dreaded prologue, but they did have problems with too much backstory up front.

I've kearned that the things we're told about in workshops and discussions, meeting reader expectations, keeping up the pace and good dialog.  It's not the occasional comma or type; it really is all about the writing and having a strong theme. And recognizing that agents and editors are people too.  

What do you think, should I do this again?

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