Last night, I received my scores back from a contest I entered a couple months ago. It had been a very long time since I had entered one, but I wanted feedback on my latest project. Since I had received some pretty good feedback from this contest once before, I decided to go for it. The last time I entered, it was with my very first manuscript, long before any revisions. It was boring and filled with cliches, but I still got pretty nice comments. With my 5th manuscript, I didn’t necessarily expect to final, but I did expect a better response than I got. After all, my writing is tighter, I’m better versed in the time period and the premise is far more exciting!
I had one fairly high score from a judge that seemed to like almost everything about the story and my writing, so that was nice. But then…dum, dum, duuuuummmm…I got two judges who basically ripped it to shreds. Now, I’m not terribly upset about the ripping, per se. Not everyone is going to like everything. I know I’ve tossed highly acclaimed best-sellers aside because I just couldn’t get into them. But it’s the high and mighty attitude that comes with the scores that gets my goat.
One judge gave me a laundry list of Regency authors to read, none of whom are on my “favorite Regency authors” list. This immediately told me we were not on the same page as far as taste went. And what’s up with that, anyway? Do you really think I write Regency novels without ever having read a Regency novel. FYI, I’ve read a lot. Another suggested I find a critique group. Hah! Uh, I run a successful historical critique group, with several published authors, including myself.
I know, I know…I’m sure I sound bitter, and in some ways I am. But not necessarily with the judges. They’re just spouting their knowledge and opinions, and that’s fine. We all do that when we have an anonymous platform on which to stand. What I’m most upset about is the fact that I entered at all. I had sworn off contests for good more than a year ago, and I’ve been happy as a pig in youknowwhat ever since. So why did I feel the need to enter when I already have a wonderful publisher and I’m confident in the stories I like to write??
Well, I can’t really explain it. Temporary insanity, maybe?
But enough about me. Let’s talk about what this could do to a potential writer! What about a person who entered who is just starting out? What about a young writer looking for guidance who gets scores like mine back and tosses in the towel for good? I can think of several writers – NYT Best Sellers, for that matter – who received horrific contest scores on manuscripts that were soon after picked up and published by big NY houses. Thank goodness they didn’t listen to those opinionated judges who told them they “needed work.”
So this is my cautionary tale for the day. When you enter contests, enter because the final judge is someone you’d like to have see your work. And when you get your scores/comments back, take them with a grain of salt. Everyone has an opinion, and it may not serve you to know every opinion out there. Believe in yourself, believe in your work and the stories you enjoy writing. And don’t let anyone stop you from achieving your dreams, whatever they may be.