Yee Shall Not Judge or Should Yee?

Recently I’ve struggled with writing, publishing and the whole caboodle (yes, caboodle is an actual word though it shouldn’t be). I am not complaining, not in the least. No really. I swear

My issue is a matter of self-doubt. Which is my problem and mine alone. Or so I tell myself when caught whining to uninterested family members or friends. Nobody cares about how hard it is to publish or gain new readers. How the deck seems stacked against you. That is, nobody but your fellow tribe members suffering similar self-doubts and annoyances.

I love you guys!

While I am not turning this into a whine-a-thon (yes, again an actual word according to word), I wanted to preface my post with the above.

My post is about judging. Not being judgey (Caught me. Not a real word, but a good one that should be). I’ve long judged contests for various organizations. Every time I’m asked it brings up this issue of self-doubt. Who am I to say if a submission is good? Or more importantly, what it is about said submission that makes it worthy of a high score?

Yes, I’ve gotten books published. People have read them. Some liked them. Some didn’t. But I’m pretty much a hack. It was a fluke. 9 times over. I won’t ever see another word in print…

See how self-doubt derails me? It makes me feel unworthy of making simple contest judgments.

And they are simple. It’s about engaging me as a reader, not as a writer. The writer in me has a list of do’s and do nots. A bunch of reasons for every writerly action, and the consequence of opening a scene with the weather. But the reader in me doesn’t. I like certain styles more than others, sure. But any voice can engage me. Every well crafted scene can make me gasp in surprise.

I might have points to make for the writer, things I’ve experienced in my own publishing journey, but those are asides. If a writer opens with the weather, and makes me a believer in the reason for it, I, as a reader will be just fine.

Do you judge contests? If so, do you feel differently? What about critiquing? Do you read as a writer or reader? And hell, let’s open this up to self-doubt. What’s your greatest downfall when it comes to self-doubt?

3 Quick Tips to Avoid Dumb Mistakes with Writing Contests

The 2016 Colorado Gold Writing Contest is still accepting entries.  (Hot tip: the romance category needs entries—this is your chance to shine!)  It is the contest that led to my first published novel, so I’m thrilled to pass the information on to you. The contest accepts the first 4,000 words of your fiction manuscript (and 750-word synopsis) in the categories of action/thriller, mystery suspense, romance, spec fic, YA/middle grade, and mainstream/other.

Here are some tips so you can avoid some of my past mistakes.

1.  Remember the rules. Find them at rmfw.org/contest. There are just seven of them. I made a ColoGoldDeadlineJune1dumb genre mistake with my first novel. I had no fiction writing experience, and had just joined RMFW. I wrote a romance in which the hero died.  It’s amusing in hindsight, but just a reminder, be sure you’re entering in the right genre. Be attentive to format requirements, too. At the contest preparation workshop in March, Pam Nowak pointed out that you can guarantee yourself something like 9 or 10 points just by being certain the basic formatting and genre requirements are met.

2.  Don’t fudge on entry length. Way back in another century, I read on a writer's loop about circumventing contest length requirements. I thought I could fudge on the line spacing and submit a skosh more than the maximum number of pages. The contest is now run with a maximum word count, so this strategy of jiggling the line space settings is no longer an option. However, there are always some who think they can duck under the boundary rope and send more than allowed.

The contest folks note on the entry where the maximum number of words are reached. The judges are advised, and entries are not read past that point. If it’s blatant the entry may be rejected. Play it safe and follow the rules.

3.  Avoid eleventh hour panic. It’s easy to be overly confident and wait until the day before the deadline to review the entry. After all, it’s perfect as is—isn’t it? There’s an old joke about parents. When children are in their teens, their parents are really stupid. As those teens enter their twenties, their parents aren’t quite so stupid. By the time the children enter their thirties, their parents are pretty darned smart. This same focusing mechanism applies to writers as they look at their work just before a contest deadline. Their vision improves, and flaws can suddenly be seen that weren’t there before. This eleventh hour editing session quickly becomes a nightmare. In the panic that ensues as midnight approaches, massive cutting occurs, leaving hastily chopped gems lying on the cutting floor. Give yourself adequate polishing time before sending your entry.

These are the mistakes I made in my early contest career. Well, all the mistakes I’ll admit to having made, any way.

Get your entry ready, and good luck to you!

Announcing the Judges for the Colorado Gold Writing Contest

There's one more thing we don't want you to miss about the Colorado Gold Writing Contest for unpublished novelists.

Announcing the 2014 Colorado Gold Final Judges!

Action/Thriller
Matt Martz, Editor, St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur

Mainstream
Peter Senftleben Associate Editor, Kensington Books

Mystery/Suspense
Terri Bischoff, Editor, Midnight Ink

Romance
Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

Speculative Fiction
Jessica Renheim, Associate Editor, Dutton / Penguin Group

Young Adult/Middle Grade
Shannon Hassan, Agent, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

For more information on the contest and the link to submit your entry, go to the Contest Page (link is in the Toolbar at the top of website)