The Joys of Being a Contest Judge

The first writing contest I ever judged was the Colorado Gold almost twenty years ago. After that first contest, I was hooked on judging and have been a judge in dozens of other writing contests ever since. Imagine my excitement when I received my entries for this year’s Colorado Gold. It brought back wonderful memories of those early years and reminds me how judging has helped me improve my own craft while introducing me to some talented new voices in fiction.

I understand how scary it is to enter a writing contest, to put yourself out there in front of strangers and have your work judged. You’re being brave and generous because judges, who are writers themselves, have the privilege of reading your work.

What are the benefits of judging a writing contest?

Honing your craft: When you read the work of others, whether it’s through critique or a writing contest, you have an opportunity to consider craft issues you might miss in your own writing. You see first hand how someone else does it the right way, or the wrong way, and can then identify those same issues in your own writing.

Stylistic Differences: The entries in a writing contest help you understand how styles differ for every writer. You get to experience how style affects the voice of the writer and you come to understand that differing styles are not wrong, only a unique signature of the writer.

Appreciation of Imaginative Voices: The talent of others is a privilege to see. Every entry has a creative spark to appreciate regardless of any technical problems it may have. As a judge you can review the writing for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

New Perspectives: If you ever wondered what it might be like for an editor or agent to read through the slush pile, judging a writing contest can offer you a fresh perspective. It helps you view the writing from a publishing professional’s point of view.

Paying it Forward: A fair judge with good intentions of helping other writers is paying it forward with constructive advice and feedback. It’s a win-win for us all.

If you’ve never judged a writing contest, please consider volunteering to do so. The rewards are real and everybody wins. If you’re a contest entrant, I want to thank you for the joy of reading your entry. And if you’ve never entered a writing contest, I hope you’ll consider doing so in the future.

I have a pretty good memory and I still remember many of the writing entries I’ve judged in past years, even those that didn’t win, and I’m always hoping to find those stories on bookstore shelves (virtual and otherwise) someday. Thank you for the privilege of reading your work!

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

4 thoughts on “The Joys of Being a Contest Judge

  1. Patricia Stoltey

    Hi Karen! I was never brave enough to volunteer to judge a writing contest until this year when I jumped in and took a category for the Denver Women’s Press Club in-house contest. It was a wonderful experience, and I was so proud of the winning entry. I look forward to volunteering as a judge more often.

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  2. Susan Vittitow Mark

    I was asked to judge a contest once, and it was a wonderful experience. It really forced me to look at exactly what made one piece stand above another. Plus, I had the opportunity to read some very nice pieces. If I were asked again, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat.

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  3. Liesa Malik

    Great post, Karen. This is my first time “judging” a contest and I am truly humbled by the experience. Just hoping I’ll bring good thoughts to those entries I get to read, and do a fair job in assigning points. Your observations about what judges get out of the experience are right on target. Thanks!

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