Hello, my name is Nina and I’m a contest whore.

Yep, I’ve said it out loud more than once. I’m competitive. Now that I’m older it’s just against myself. Still, I want to push myself to be the best. Before I was published I entered contest after writing contest. I was sure not only would I win, but my manuscript would be snatched up by the reading editor and I would net a nice, fat contract. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA … *wipes tears* Sorry, give me a minute while I have a good laugh …

K, I’m good. As you can imagine that first manuscript didn’t place anywhere near the top of the pile. BUT some very lovely judges took time to leave some wonderful comments on my manuscript and on the score sheet. Since I entered the same manuscript in different types of contests, like Best First Kiss or Best Love Scene or Favorite Ending, I got feedback on all parts of my writing. And I can’t thank those judges enough. They gently shaped my writing into something I could actually submit to a publisher. And now I can call myself a published author. (Weeelllll, not that first manuscript. It’s buried sooooo deep in the shadows of the couch with the dust bunnies, that it will never see the light of day.)

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

So now it’s my turn to repay the favor. For the last few years I’ve voulunteered to judge different contests for unpublished writers. I really enjoy it. I’ve read everything from winners who received contracts from Berkley to novice writers just learning their craft and beginning their journey. Of course it’s easy to gush over the entry that is ready to submit. The prose are stellar, the dialogue is snappy and you just fall in love with the hero and heroine. But you know, it’s the entry you know won’t be anywhere near the top that presents the most interesting challenge for me as a judge.

I believe in honesty. There is no reason to sugar-coat the truth about someone’s writing … they have their families and friends to cheer them on that way. My job is to teach and help the author improve so that some day they will publish.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not mean-spirited. What’s the sense in that? (Though I’ve heard nightmare stories of judges who were brutal in their comments.) I recently judged an entry that scored very low. But I took time on every part of the judge’s sheet to explain the score on each section. I also left comments in the body of the manuscript and complimented her wonderful descriptions and use of senses. My goal, once the disappointment washes over her, is to offer a chance for the author to learn the craft.

I often don’t know if my critique helps. It’s rare a judge receives notes of thanks (though I highly recommend entrants send them), but the teacher in me hopes that I’ve helped at least a little.

One of the contests I judged this year actually sent the list of scores for each entry. It was really interesting to see that some I scored high received low marks from others as well as the opposite. Goes to show not everyone enjoys reading the same thing.

So, as an aspiring author, do you enter contests? Do you find them helpful? And if you’re published, do you enter your stories in contests? I’m still looking to garner that first place spot. I can’t help it, it’s hardwired into me.

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