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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Golden Heart Scores by Debra Holland

This past week, RWA sent out the Golden Heart contest scores to all the entrants who didn’t final. On Thursday, I started reading online how two of my fellow 2005 GH finalists had each received a 2 for a score. Appalled that they would even receive such a low number, I commiserated with them.

Then yesterday my scores arrived. For three of my books, I had good, but not great scores. Oh, well. But for Lywin’s Quest, a paranormal, I received 8.7, 4, 2, 9, 8. Welcome to the 2 Club.

The 4 I can live with. Lywin’s Quest barely has enough of a romance for it to quality in the category. That could annoy someone who wanted a sexy book. But a 2? For a book that was a 2005 GH finalist!

Then one more friend chimed in that her book had received a 2. This is the same book that a few weeks ago Kensington had snapped up and is a story I can’t wait to read.

On the 2005 loop, we’ve been discussing the care we give to the entries we are judging. The rare times any of us have given a 2 score was because the manuscript was truly awful--combining poor formatting, grammar, punctuation, a bad or unrealistic plot, lots of passive language, and a lack of understanding the basics of writing. Each low score we have to give is agonized over, because we know that we can be causing someone pain and discouragement.

The one time I have ever given a two--and even then it was a 2. something--was when the manuscript was SO bad, I cringed all the way through it. Plus it started out with a sweet, almost children’s story tone, then had the hero raping someone he met at a party. Ugh.

People try to say consoling things such as, “When you receive very high scores and very low scores that means you have a strong voice. People either love it or hate it.” Perhaps that’s true to a point. But if you hate my story, or any of the others I’ve mentioned, ask yourself, “Is it still a good book? Is it well-written, well-structured, with good character development? Are there a lot of beginner’s mistakes? Or is it just my personal preference?

If I’d turned in a new manuscript that hadn’t been critiqued by writers I trust, this kind of score could shake my faith in my work. Luckily that’s not the case for me, or my three other friends. We are all GH finalists, so we know we are good writers. And, since my 2 manuscript was a finalist last year, as well as finaling in the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal chapter’s contest, I don’t have to doubt it. But I don’t like the idea that doubts and insecurities could have happened.

Several people have written that they wonder if some judges would deliberately sabotage the scores so one of their friends could place in the contest. I have a very hard time believing that anyone could actually lack the integrity to do something like this. But since I have no other reasonable answer for the 2’s, especially since one of the other 2 recipients is in my category, that thought has also crossed my mind. Did we have the same judge? I hate that I could even think such a thing.

So what’s the solution?

There’s nothing RWA can do about dishonest judges. However, they can examine the scores that have big discrepancies and one of the scores is a 2 or a 3. Then check to see if the same individual is giving out these low numbers. Quietly cross that person off future judging lists.

RWA should also expand the guidelines given finalists for the meaning of each number. Perhaps they should actually state, “Don’t give a 2 or a 3 just because you don’t like the story.”

I also think there should be a simple sheet with about ten items that the judges can mark off. Items such as, Problems with Grammar and punctuation, or Needs more conflict between the hero and the heroine. Then the entrants would understand more why they received the scores they did.

For all of you writers in the 2 Club (or anyone else who’s received discouraging scores) you’re in good company. ☺ Don’t let yourself become discouraged by your scores. Keep learning your craft and writing better and better books.


At 4:56 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

Hugs on the 2, Debra! Wow, I can't even imagine your writing getting a 2. Maybe the judge thought a 2 was good. Sheesh.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Monica Burns said...

Debra, I'm with you 100% on the single sheet of limited comments positive and negative. Sorry about the 2, I know that's got to hurt. At least I know it would me.


At 1:41 AM, Blogger Diane Perkins said...

A 2 wouldn't hurt me; it would just make me mad, which I think is more the tone of your blog. I know I'm not a 2 writer! on my Rita scores, for the book that didn't final, someone gave it a 5. I figure they just didn't like it. But a 2 is more than that. I'd be very loathe to give a 2, because it just seems so hurtful.

That said, I gave a 2 in my Rita judging--or maybe I gave a 3, I can't remember--. The book had huge flaws, beginning with a confusion of when in history it took place.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Cai Stephan said...

I've given twos. Rarely and carefully and wish I could explain myself to the author getting them. I don't want to discourage anyone from writing!!! Still I've received twos as well and they suck with teeth, darlin'. With teeth. So I don't give them lightly.

As to those who think there are judges out there who would sabatoge, I can't even fathom that kind of dishonesty. I would never do something like that because what goes around, comes around.
This is Stephanie the Stephan half of Cai Stephan.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Tori Scott said...

((((Debra)))) I have to agree that there are probably some people out there who deliberately sabotage scores to help friends final, but I sincerely hope they are few and far between. Unfortunately, I've met several in RWA who I think would be capable of doing something like that.

That said, the chances of getting one of them are slim. The chances of getting two are even slimmer. I'm glad RWA drops the low score if the rest are high. I just wish the spread wasn't so wide.

And my experience has been that what authors like, editors don't and vice-versa. I really wish the GH was judged by published authors and the Rita was judged by readers. Would make so much more sense, and I think it would totally change how they're scored.

At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone look at the fact that some GH judges are involuntarily enlisted? That these draftees are chosen for the sake of numbers rather than proven writing/editing skills, much less eagerness to read and judge a mss?

My stories have garnered a mind-scrambling mishmash of conflicting and counterintuitive scores and comments. So many that (rather than ask is this judge dishonest) I have to ask is this judge competent?

When judges are chosen by whoever is too weak-willed to cry "Hold!" when overloaded, the judging will suck. If not with teeth, with loud slurping noises.

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Liz Krueger said...

An interesting blog, Debra. I too just received my scores and the numbers were all high (9, 9, 8.2, 7.9 and a 4). I thought that 4 was very curious given that my other judges apparently loved my work. Not sour grapes here because ultimately I'm pleased with my results, but that 4 was ... odd.

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I received a 2 as well. Okay, maybe if I'd gotten all 2's? But I also got 8's.
I judged a really bad story. Obviously a beginning writer. No problem. I gave her a 4.5 because I figured she's never final with it and why hurt her.
My next thought was, "What if she's judging my work?" Yikes!
There are no judging standards at all, yet this contest is our biggest honor. It's kinda like a blind panel judging "Miss America." No offense meant to the blind, of course.

Kelly Mortimer

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Sheila Mohs said...

I have to agree with some of the other comments I've read here. GH Judges don't need any credentials other than membership to judge. No prior training, no prior judging, no contest history themselves. I remember how totally ignorant I was when I first joined RWA. I laugh now that I didn't know my GMC from my POV. And yet, on day one, I was eligible to judge another writer's work in the GH. Even though I wouldn't have been eligible to judge smaller chapter contests.

I also have a problem with the anonymity. A judge can give a totally wrong score for whatever reason and no one will ever hold them accountable. In the smallest chapter contest, there is a coordinator who looks over comments and scores.

I truly believe that every book that finaled deserved to. And I believe that there were lots of others that deserved to final and didn't because there just aren't enough slots. We can't fix that, but we can make the scoring and judging more fair.

My biggest problem is with the tabulation of the scoring. RWA DOES NOT DROP THE LOWEST SCORE. Let me give you an example. I scored 9-8.5-8-7-3 for a total of 39.6. I did the math and found they replaced the 3 with a 7.1. Why? Because they averaged all five scores together, ta-da, you get 7.1. Had they dropped the 3 completely and average the other 4 numbers, I would have received an 8.1. Would it have made a differce in my results? I don't know, but it sure would have seemed more fair. If you get the SD, then that low score shouldn't even be considered.

Thanks for giving us a place to vent about the process. And again, Congrats to all our 2006 finalists. I'm very, very proud of each one of you and look forward to buying your books.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Kiki, aka Esri said...

Unbelieveable. There's no earthly reason for you to recieve a two. That's a score for writers who can barely string a sentence together.

At 1:01 PM, Anonymous mary ann chulick said...

I don't understand why RWA doesn't release the scores publicly--without the authors' names or book titles. If they did, an entrant would at least be able to see the ranges (for instance, did the finalists all score above 43?) I got a fairly decent score on one of my entries--I'd like to know whether I was #8 or #20 in the ranking.

It's always bothered me that GH and the chapter contests are the only contests I've ever heard of where your work is not judged against all other entries. Your ranking totally depends upon how 2 or 3 judges like your particular entry. No one sees all entries and then decides among them. I realize that would be difficult with over a hundred entries per category, but perhaps someone could think of a way around that--maybe a two-tiered judging system.

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just don't know. Everyone has made excellent points here. I'm particularly intrigued by Tori's comment about letting readers judge the Rita and pubbeds judge the GH, though I can guess that the problem would be finding enough published judges to handle 1000 entries.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that past RWA boards have probably considered all these options and more, and rejected them for one reason or another. Perhaps as members, we could ask for a special article in the RWR about this process?

I suppose as it stands, the judging reflects the kind of randomness you encounter when you submit your work to editors and agents-- is the market timing right, is the writing excellent, does the agent hate red-headed heroines, did the editor have a crappy day at home and decide to clear her desk?

You getting a 2, Debra, proves that there are instances where the contest judging does not work. But the fact that you finaled twice (and did you win, too?) demonstrates that if a writer persists and keeps submitting, the odds go up that she will end up with scores that reflect her outstanding writing skill. I think that speaks well for the contest as it stands.

So, yes, I'm very interested in watching to see how this all comes out! And a very big hug to everyone who received those unfair, unwarranted 2s--and even 5's!

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I entered the GH last year for the first time, and received "okay" scores, one 4 that seemed lonely, but whatever. The thing that tossed me was that once I'd sent in my entry, I was contacted about judging.

The catch: I was NOT a member of RWA at that time and could clearly see on the rules that you must be a member to judge. I responded to the coordinator politely that I was not a member and declined the offer, and didn't hear from her again. I figured an organization like RWA would at least know their membership--and see the fact that I'd sent in the non-member fee with no member number on my form. After that, I don't think the scores mattered to me in the least.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Nancy said...

Debra, hugs on the 2. I stopped entering the GH and judging it years ago. I quit entering because it is just a number, you don't know if the judge gave you a 2 for a real reason (no GMC or such) or a 2 just because she didn't like your heroine's job or hair color. Since the judges are not allowed to comment on their scoring, it really doesn't help the person entering.

I understand why RWA stopped allowing comments, but personally I can't see spending the $50 entry feel, plus paper, ink and postage just to get a number back.

As for judging, no they don't keep track of judges. People volunteer to judge and they don't contact them, then start a call that they need judges when there are people who volunteered who never got called. Its a very crazy system.

And I don't believe they check to see if a judge scores people low or not.

Also, un-published judges generally judge much harsher than a published author would. I'm not sure why this is, but it happens.

I don't see RWA changing they way they're doing the contest any time soon. But they are looking into doing something according to the last board meeting.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Diane Perkins said...

I just have to make another comment about readers judging the RITA and published authors judging the GH. I just worry that someone would accuse an author of stealing their story. We've discussed this a little on the Gh 2003 loop, about the similarity of ideas. Even if anonymity was preserved, I can just see this as a nightmare for RWA.
But I like the idea of dropping the lowest score. I like that a lot.
Somebody with a better command of statistics can probably tell me why that isn't a good idea, but it make great intuitive sense to me. Sometimes it is not the low score that reaches the correct standard deviation that keeps the work from finalling. It is that one 7 score in a field of 9s.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

Debra's Mac is Blogger challenged, so I'll be posting her comments.

Debra wrote:

Anonymous asked if I’d previously won the GH. The answer is yes. My short historical, Wild Montana Sky, won in 2001. I finaled in 2003 with a paranormal, Withea’s Way (now retitled, Sower of Dreams.) Then Lywin’s Quest finaled in 2005.

But this is not about me. If I’d been the only one with a 2, I would have shrugged it off and moved on. It’s the pattern that concerned me--other good writers receiving 2s. To me, that means something’s wrong. I’m bringing the issue up because I have the credibility to be taken seriously. Because of my previous GH final, when I say Lywin’s Quest is not a 2 book, I can be believed, not dismissed.

Debra Holland

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Jeri said...

Statistically, they should probably drop the lowest score and the and highest score, the way many judged sporting events do. That way you get rid of the outliers, aka the "way-offs." That would eliminate the rogue judges who are either bitter, clueless, or trying to help a friend.

Diane said: I just worry that someone would accuse an author of stealing their story.

Don't contestants have to sign a form saying they won't sue if a storyline similar to theirs gets published? That would take the liability off of pubbed authors.

(I'm Jeri, by the way, nice to meetcha. Came over from the FF&P list. Great blog, Debra!)

At 8:39 PM, Blogger bridget said...

Oh, this is one hot topic! Keep at it y'all, there must be a solution out there! (Pretty please, though, you can take my lowest score and burn it, but I'm begging you, don't throw out my highest score...sniff...sniff...pitiful scrunched-up face)

At 11:49 PM, Blogger Sue Grant said...

Hey, Debra mentioned this over at the FF&P loop and I thought as a RITA winner I could offer some perspective.

The year CONTACT won the RITA, it bombed out of the Holt contest with some low scores. I think it was the Holt. (my post-dead brain is mush) Let's just say it was a major chapter contest. My book Won a RITA, YET it got a stinky score (or two) in a different contest, different judges. I just think you can't read into it. This, a book I happened to learn from RWA afterward that was one of the highest scoring RITA finals ever.

As for 2s...Some people just score you low and no amount of RWA instructions or humanity training is going to change those people. If your book strikes them wrong, for whatever reason, or YOU strike them wrong, they'll give you a 2.

Another example: Once A Pirate, a double GH finalist, got a 2 in the RITA the following year. The Star King, which never managed a GH final, yes because of the dreaded 2, was a RITA finalist that year! Do you see where I'm going with this?

How does SFWA do it with the Nebula? Now that's a cantankerous group. I know, I'm a member! LOL. But I watch from the sidelines and don't know how they score their contest. Maybe we should take a look, or maybe their way is no better. I truly don't think anything will eliminate or even come close to eliminating the crap shoot aspect of the whole thing of judging.

Main point, the 2-givers will always be there, either sticking it to ya in the GH or in the RITA or on Amazaon as an anoymous reviewer. You just gotta pick yourself up and don't let it soil your muse.

Oh! A really cleansing, healing post-2 exercise is to make a voodoo doll of the imagined offending judge and then burn it. Immature, a little dangerous, but oh so uplifting!

Hugs to all of you.

At 12:03 AM, Blogger Sue Grant said...

PS--I never ask for my scores. After the first year of the RITA, I never aasked for them again.

I'd ask all of you to consider NOT asking to see your scores ever again. Wait--listen--What good does it really do but to make you feel bad: either you're bummed you scored so high and didn't final, or you see one or
more low scores like a 2?

I've had friends say, "But it helps me SEE how I placed compared to others." But it doesn't really. It merely shows what those half dozen
judges with their own tastes and agendas thought of your book. Ya didn't final. That should be the end of it. Don't rub salt in the
wound by asking for your scores. That's just torture.

I know, I know, you just HAVE TO SEE, but in my opinion, there are so many things conspiring against your writer's muse in this
business, before AND after you are published, that to not see your scores won't kill you and will probably be better for you.

You have to care for your muse, and if that means sheltering it from the outside world, then so do. I know of some authors who have retreated completely from the Internet because of its potential to chip away at your muse, your well of creativity. Avoid scores. And if you're published, avoid reading your reviews if they hurt you. Protect your muse and she will look after you by supplying fresh and wonderful ideas and stories.

Ditch the scores, ladies. Tell yourself next year you won't check the box.

And sorry in advance for the typos in both posts. I JUST handed in a book last week, that makes 2 novels in 6 months with day job and kids and my brain is mushola.

At 12:24 AM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

When I first entered the Golden Heart, contestants received feedback. then they went to checklists, similar to what you've proposed, Debra. The change was extremely disappointing to almost all contestants, but at least it was SOME feedback. Then I guess someone decided that small feedback didn't mean enough to be worth keeping, and put RWA at risk of lawsuit, so it, too was eliminated.

Well, yes, there was a risk of lawsuit. But the cause of the risk hasn't been addressed, and in fact has worsened. The cause is lack of quality control of judges. There was some judge training for awhile, but that fizzled away like dead soda pop.

And then, most recently, with the huge increase in entries, the need for more judges became so acute that contestants were advised if they didn't offer to judge, and there weren't enough judges in their categories, they ran the risk of having their entries kicked out.

So what happened? Many writers who felt they had no expertise at all in judging were forced into offering their services. If they didn't, they might get their $50 fee back, but all the shipping, copying, printing costs, not to mention so many hours of time, would be heart-breakingly lost.

I had a friend tell me the Golden Heart is supposed to be for submission-ready manuscripts only. Well, take a look: Here's Jane Jones, with her very first story about a cowboy's secret baby, and she believes with all her heart it is the best piece of romance ever written. Tell me, does she believe her manuscript is ready for submission? Sure, she does. But chances are, a few years from now, she will cringe at how much she didn't know.

Now, Jane Jones is judging your Golden Heart entry. And she knows nothing whatsoever about your category because she's not allowed to judge in the only category she at least vaguely understands.

One thing she might be doing, by the way, is comparing the entries she reads with her own story. Nothing is as good as her story, perhaps. Or perhaps you've also written a cowboy's secret baby and she feels you've stole her very own idea. Or perhaps she's just plain jealous because your idea is better than hers. Or she may even feel you've done some things in your story that she doesn't think should be in a romance. Whatever her reason, Jane just doesn't know enough to be making these decisions. She will, someday. But she doesn't now.

Judging is an art. It requires a great deal of thought, knowledge, effort and anguish even for very experienced judges. (It is not a science, although we try hard to make it so.} True, judges have to learn their craft, but they should not be learning it in a contest as important as the Golden Heart. People who have only written one or two books and possibly never entered a contest before do not qualify as competent judges.

There is no contest today that can be more important to an unpublished romance writer's career than the Golden Heart. So yes, inexperienced, incompetent judges who are forced into judging can hurt a person's career. And yes, I believe this puts RWA in a very shaky legal position.

It's also interesting to note that while many first time entrants in the Golden Heart were called upon to judge this year, many former Golden Heart finalists and winners did not receive a judging packet. I've been around a lot of years, have judged many contests and received lots of good feedback from those I've judged. And I've won the Golden Heart three times, so I think I probably have some idea what kind of story is successful in the Golden Heart. But most years I am not chosen to judge. So why do the poor newbies have to sweat over something they just aren't ready to do, when there are experienced people out there who are perfectly willing?

The criteria seems to have shifted from competency to simply being an entrant. How about shifting it back? Maybe the newbies could be put at the bottom of the judges' list, not the top?

I don't have the answer to this dilemma, other than to say forcing new writers into judging is a very bad mistake. But I do think some changes need to be made in terms of feedback.

I would like to see some sort of checklist against which judges could measure their decisions. While I'd like to see feedback for all contestants, I realize this probably won't happen. But at least if any judge, regardless of judging experience, gives any manuscript, regardless of quality, a score less than 5, the judge should be required to state the reasons for this decision. Any scores of 3, perhaps 2 or less should be reviewed. If a judge is consistently giving very low scores, maybe she needs some education. Or maybe something else. It's possible her luck of the draw has brought her only the worst of the lot every year, but that's a pretty big stretch.

The Golden Heart is important. RWA needs to take responsibility for its quality, not just its quantity.

Delle Jacobs

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Nicole said...

This was my first year for entering, and judging, the GH. Yes, I'll be brave & admit I've given low scores. But never--NEVER--because "I didn't like" the author's work. That's patently unfair, especially when you're required to judge in a category in which you don't write (and therefore may not love the way you love "your" category).

I have entered other contests, though this is the first time I've judged--but I stress that I'm an editing/critiquing/feedback-giving junkie. Not professionally trained, but with at least the basic knowledge of what makes a cohesive MS. I feel it's critical for a judge to have some sense of what's required in a MS before they attempt to judge. Instead of fulfilling a "head count" of available judges, RWA should make the attempt (even via an online info webpage) to instruct potential judges on what to look for & how: plot, GMC, POV, grammar, story construction, emotional impact, etc. This could go a long way toward improving the quality of the judging, forcing judges to home in on "Is it put together well?" instead of simply "Did I like/hate it?"

I sorely wish I could give those low-scoring authors my feedback, so they could SEE why I felt their MS's needed work. I hated having to give a low score when I couldn't tell the poor author WHY. Even the smallest contests send you back score sheets with reasoning behind the scoring. How is it that RWA can be subject to lawsuits over feedback? That's just crazy--it's not as if the RWA has control over individual judges' reasonings. I'd be willing to accept a 2--as I'm sure my MS has gotten low scores, though I haven't seen them yet--and that would be fine, *as long as I knew WHY* the judge felt justified in giving me a 2. Even a simple, anonymous checklist would be more feedback than we currently get. Information is everything. Unexplained numbers are meaningless. It could be, as another poster said, as simple as that judge just hates redheads. But how do you know that if you don't get justification?

The bottom line is, you have to BELIEVE in your work no matter how many knocks it gets. It's tough...and Deb, I'm so glad you have proof your work is as good as it is. Because IT IS. :)

At 4:10 PM, Blogger Tracy Montoya said...

Well said, Debra, and hugs on the 2. It seems that a lot of people have been getting strange, out-of-the-blue low scores this year--I got a 4 in the middle of three high 8s and a 7.5. It's not only annoying, but it makes me a bit skeptical of the integrity of some judges. I wish we were all the discerning judges you and your friends are--because that 2 was obviously clueless.

At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About those "2's" you got from Golden Heart and other contests. I really believe that 2's are inappropriate unless you get a hand written entry done in crayon! Don't we tell each other "It's all about the writing?" So, Is It about the writing or not? Note the areas for improvement, but don't be unkind. If the story not your cup of tea, that's fine. But is it a good story, one with potential? Often times it is. Have the kindness to say so. Remember what you send out comes back threefold.

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Lynne Simpson said...

Per Debra's request, I'm reposting a message I made to the FF&P loop earlier today.


After hearing the horror stories from Debra and others, I was dreading opening my mailbox. I don't know if everyone has this experience or not, but it seems like my entries always, ALWAYS draw a discrepancy judge. Maybe that's pretty much the norm these days. I've gotten such odd results from the last few contests (including two where I finaled/won) that I was convinced I'd have a 1 or 2 somewhere in the mix. My actual
results were nowhere near as bad as I thought: 9.0, 8.8, 8.5, 7.4, and

Although I'm relieved I had good scores, I'm still quite perturbed that other entrants got results that were so clearly out of line. I mean, that 6.0 in my scores is a bit of an outlier, but in my opinion, it's close enough to the others that I can easily see a judge giving it in good faith. A 2, however, when the other scores are so much higher, is a clear sign to me that something's wrong. Dead wrong.

What to do?

There are contests that automatically drop the lowest score, whatever it is. That's one solution. In other contests, they use a formula to calculate whether or not an entry will get a discrepancy judge. I like that better, because it only resorts to dropping a score if there's a likelihood something went wrong. Then, of course, there's the standard deviation/average substitution thing the GH does.

The trouble with all of these "workarounds" is that they don't get at the main problem: inconsistent and poor quality judging. Most of my contest judges have been conscientious and insightful, but like everyone else, I've also had some who probably shouldn't be judging, at least not without substantial retraining, attitude adjustment, or both. In my opinion, the best way to do this is a judge certification and registration program--at the national level. Participation by chapters would be voluntary, but I think most would choose to use certified judges because it would give everyone involved in a chapter contest--coordinators, judges, and entrants--a lot less grief. We'd improve the standard of judging across the board, coordinators would know from the start what kind of judges they're getting, contest results would mean more, and everyone would LEARN from it. Of course, there'd be ongoing care and feeding to do. Contest coordinators would have to update judges' data in the national database to keep records of who judged what/when AND how they'd rate that judge. Individual judges would need to take online courses (administered through the same system) to update and improve their skills. Heck, we could even give out service awards to judges who volunteer a lot of hours and are consistently given high ratings.

I honestly think it would be worth the money to invest in an online judge certification/tracking database, including a self-paced eLearning program. It's not an impossible thing to do, by any means. In my last job, my team was responsible for the development and ongoing administration of a four-hour multimedia fork lift safety eLearning course and certification program that trained over a hundred thousand employees a year, improved the company's safety record, and saved millions of dollars. In all, the system had over a hundred online courses on a wide variety of topics, and it processed millions of completions every year. I feel strongly enough about a nationwide judge certification program that I'd help write the thing for free. :-)

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Sue Grant said...

Because Debra said today on FF&P this is going to be read by RWA, I thought I'd comment on the last post. Many good points have been made here, but I can tell you, if I were required to complete some sort of "certification program" to judge an RWA contest, I'd likely say forget it. Who has the time? With all due repsect, this is overkill and I don't think it will save you from the 2-givers, who will still not like your book and who will simply check a few boxes now to explain why.

I really, really feel some are missing the big picture. Not everyone is going to like your book. Yes, you got 9s and won a bunch of contests, and everyone luuuvs your work, but someone is NOT going to like it. Someone may even hate it. Hard to believe, but it's true.

One nice thing about being between deadlines is that I get to gobble up the Internet before diving back into deadline hell where I go online little if at all. I came across this link this morning and thought how apropos. Check it out. It engages romance readers in a discussion about authors people love and you don't. (You may have to hilight and paste the whole link, don't know how it'll post here, as I don't post on many blogs)

Again, I agree about the incompetant judges, but if you had a chance to ask them, ten to one they'd never believe THEY were the one who is incompetant. :) They'd feel totally justified in their 2. JMHO.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Sue Grant said...

sure enough, the link didn't come thru. I'll try it with some code...which I just learned, so not high hopes here...

link to forum

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Sue Grant said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Jeri said...

I agree with Sue--you'd lose a lot of well-qualified but busy judges if you made them take a course. It's a donation of a considerable amount of time.

I also agree that no one is going to be universally popular. Personally, I'd rather get a mix of 9s and 2s than string of 5s and 6s--the latter would tell me that my writing was boring, merely meh. Better to stir up a strong reaction one way or the other than put readers to sleep.

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous lynne simpson said...

In most RWA contests, the judge is expected to use his or her professional judgment to assess entries. If these were popularity contests, sure, it could be entirely left up to the judge's personal taste/whim, but that's not supposed to be the case here. I don't think the judge has to fall in love with the hero or adore the story in order to give it good marks. I've read a number of books that I thought were written very well but that didn't "grab" me for one reason or another.

In one of my first contest experiences, the judge commented that she didn't like the particular genre I was writing in but that it wouldn't affect her ability to assess my entry. And she proceeded to give me one of the most helpful, insightful critiques I've ever received. I wish more judges were able to get beyond personal preferences and put on their professional writer hats when evaluating contest entries.

A national certification system could possibly reduce the pool of available judges, and contests might end up having to limit the number of entries. Some contests do that already. I think it could very well drive up the overall quality of contests, which is something we should all be concerned about, given comments like the recent ones by Anna Genoese at Tor.

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Deb, I can't believe you got a 2. That's just wrong. Who are these
judges? I thought getting a three from a judge one time was bad. 2's and 3's are reserved for manuscripts with major flaws.

At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

Hi Debra--
Yes, I'm in the 2 club. I never give 2's myself. Pretty much if the MS is in English, has been printed double-spaced, and appears to have a plot, I'll give it a 5. It needs to knock my socks off to get a 9 but somewhere in between is where most stories lie.

I think I understand where my 2's come from. First, I also got NR ratings. Although my GH stories have romance in them, not all of them have romance as the primary plot (this was also true of my 2005 finalist story, though). My story that scored worse this year was a paranormal that had prejudice as the primary theme. I suspect I may have run into someone who didn't like being reminded of her own flaws in this regard. Also, this story was written in first person. This is common in chick-lit, but less so in paranormal (although Charlaine Harris's books are 1st person) so it's not out of the paranormal ballpark.
At any rate, I think the 2's were out of line. I know how to write, I know how to tell a story, and the story I told was the story I wanted to tell.
Should RWA do anything? Maybe. They could query people who give poor scores (say below 5), a follow-up asking if they thought they were the right judge for the story. They could make it more clear that judges have a choice when it comes to a story they deeply disagree with. And they could remind them that the NR rating is the punishment for a not romance--and that they should score the NR story fairly in its own terms. If an entry gets several NR's it'll be kicked out.
I wish I had better answers. For now, I'm figuring I'll limit my GH entries to stories that won't upset sensitive judge's tender feelings.



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