The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Posted by Judy | 10:01 AM | 16 comments »

I can’t think of any writers who’ve never submitted their work to a contest. The results of their doing it have been mixed, to say the least. Some readily admit they’ve become contest sluts. Others have entered contests once or twice and said, “Never again!”
One of the first things a writer learns is that when someone says I don’t think your writing is wonderful, she is not talking about you; she’s talking about your writing. It means you need to work on your writing skills.
Recently, I got my first perfect score – a big, round satisfying 100. It filled my soul with affirmation that will stay with me for a long time. The judge loved my story, my writing, everything!! It’s a story about five women who meet for lunch and she can’t wait to see it in print!
In that same contest, I got slammed by another judge for using too many tag lines, having one single dash instead of two (my computer automatically did that for some odd reason) and for slowing the pace with unnecessary words. She said it could have been more professional. That sentence stung, really stung. It was harsh, and I knew it.
Yet… that was the comment that ultimately meant the most to me. Full of determination to show myself how wrong that harsh judge was, I picked up a manuscript an agent said she’d look at and began to go through it page by page to make it better. I don’t know if this particular manuscript is the one that will be my breakthrough novel. If not, I feel better about its quality, thanks to the judge who dinged me.
Contests have a little bit of the above qualities--the good, the bad, the ugly--, but it’s what we do to make the bad and ugly disappear that makes them worthwhile.
What experiences have you had? Share the Good, the Bad, the Ugly.


  1. Kristen Painter // May 6, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

    Contests can lift you up and grind you into the ground, but when you final or win, they can be very beneficial. Of course, the most beneficial one I know of is STARs! The amount of agent/editor requests we get is amazing!

  2. Barbara Monajem // May 6, 2009 at 11:01 AM  

    So true, Judy. I've had great scores and terrible ones for the same entry, but usually it was the in-between scores that helped me improve the most. The judges who gave me high scores were already my potential readers; the ones who slammed me probably never would be. The ones who told me what bothered them--about whatever aspect of my writing--showed me what I needed to do to improve my craft and hopefully broaden my prospective audience.

  3. Mona Risk // May 6, 2009 at 12:32 PM  


    Congrats on the perfect scores. I was a contest slut, and then contest diva, in 2005-2006, after entering every contest offered. Needless to say it was expensive, sometimes frustrating, but oh God, so rewarding when you heard that voice saying "I am pleased to inform you..." My Babies in the Bargain to be released on July 03, won 10 contests. I loved it when judges said they like my and I finally began to have faith in my writing.

    Yes on the long run contests help a lot, especially when you get editor's request.

  4. Mary Ricksen // May 6, 2009 at 12:46 PM  

    I love a contest that has good judges. A good judge can give you clues as to how to improve your story. A bad judge just slams you because they personally may not like your story. If you want to give me a bad review, tell me why and tell me with kindness, no need to hurt me.
    A good judge can help you write a better book.
    Good luck with the book.

  5. Judy // May 6, 2009 at 2:02 PM  

    Kristen, I agree the Launching a Star contest by our STARs group is fabulous with an excellent record of launching some great books! Thanks

  6. Judy // May 6, 2009 at 2:03 PM  

    Barbara, I agree. Regardless of some of the comments you don't like, it is a good way to get feedback. Thanks!

  7. Judy // May 6, 2009 at 2:04 PM  

    Mona, Congrats on the book that won 10 contests! Wow! That has to be a record. Can't wait for it to come out!

  8. Judy // May 6, 2009 at 2:06 PM  

    Hi, Mary! Thanks for your comment. I agree. I good judge can be wonderful. Training is essential. I've judged a number of contests for quite a few years as "Payback" for all the kindnesses I've received. It helps your own writing when you take the time to judge other stories fairly.

  9. Edie // May 6, 2009 at 2:41 PM  

    I recently entered a contest and two of the three judges were pretty bad. One tried to change my voice. The other was obviously new and didn't know what she was doing. Though I've had luck in contests, this turned me off entering more.

  10. Beth Trissel // May 6, 2009 at 4:25 PM  

    Good post. I've had the same experiences with contest judges that you have and overall benefited greatly from their help.

  11. Scarlet Pumpernickel // May 6, 2009 at 6:52 PM  

    LOL! Judy, I can so relate.
    My first contest entry the critique started out with "I love your title!" Believe me, that was all the judge loved! The rest of the comments were brutal, painful and too true. After I got over the shock that someone thought my baby was ugly, I took those comments and improved my writing based on them. The next year I won first place. It's all in how you use the feedback!

  12. Mary Marvella // May 6, 2009 at 7:31 PM  

    What a button pushing topic, Judy.

    I have WIP entry I sent around to several contests. It scored great scores in one contest, even one perfect score. I entered it in another contest, ready for more good scores and praise. One judge loved the story and the other said "At the risk of giving faint praise, it is grammatically correct." Then the judge tore it apart.

    She hated the characters, the plot, and my mother. Well, she didn't say that, but she would have if I had told her about the woman everyone called a saint and an angel after her death.

    Did I mention that Deborah Smith, THE DEBORAH SMITH, NYT best-selling author and editor, said the book was very well written and it deserved to be published, even if I had to publish it myself?

    Tessa Woodward with Avon also said it was well written and the characters were well crated but...

    Who knows? It's a crap shoot.

  13. Cyrano // May 6, 2009 at 8:50 PM  

    Excellent post Judy.
    Contest judges can surely sting at times. A while back I entered a few contests, got dinged and swore off them. But I realized that was stupid. The judges made some valid points and the ones that dinged me helped me the most in the long run.
    I recently entered two more contests with a different manuscript, keeping in mind the judges suggestions and won first and second place respectively in the erotic category. Pretty cool, and a great confidence booster. Plus I learned something in the process.
    Have a lovely evening,

  14. Mona Risk // May 6, 2009 at 9:43 PM  

    Talking about first contest and first judge's comment. It was my very first contest. One of the judges said: your heroine looks like a slut. Good God, I cried and ignored her. But later I studied carefully her comments and realized what she wanted to say. She could have said it ina gentler way!

  15. Judy // May 7, 2009 at 8:08 AM  

    Thanks, Everyone for your comments! M Mary, if Deb Smith said it was wonderful that's enough to tell me it really was. She's a straight-shooter. And, Tamara,Beth,Edie, Scarlet, Mona, you reinforce my thinking. Contests are wonderful, but be ready for... The Good, The Bad, The Ugly! LOL Thanks

  16. magolla // May 7, 2009 at 10:08 AM  

    I've been on both sides of this fence. . . for YEARS!

    On a recent contest entry I had scores that varied widely, BUT all three judges had virtually the same comments. So even if the judges mark down for the same issues, the actual scores themselves are subjective.

    As a judge, if I read an entry that sucks me in and takes me along for the ride--I score very, very high even if I see errors that need fixing. Why? Because the author has a voice and a style that speaks to the reader--grammar, punctuation, pacing can all be fixed--voice can not.

    Of course this is JMO.