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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One More Perspective On Judging

Hello friends, I hope your day is going well.

Today we have a special guest blogger, Nina Bruhns. My apologies for getting the blog up a little later than normal. Nina sent her post to me, but I was already in a meeting, then on to a special luncheon.

She has some great insight to share with you, and is ready for your questions/comments, so let's get to the good stuff.
One More Perspective On Judging – from guest Nina Bruhns

Nina's Post:

Great to be here! Karen had some very good points yesterday about what a judge thinks about when reading an entry. I’ll see if I can come up with a few more.

First, and most important: To be a good contest entrant, you must ALSO be a judge. Seriously. The very best thing, bar none, you can do to improve your chances in the Golden Heart is to judge every contest you can get your hands on. Not qualified, you say? Wrong! If you’re a writer, you’re a reader. And ultimately, who are we writing to please? Readers! So who cares if you have written a total of 30 pages on your first manuscript? You have undoubtedly read about a million books in your lifetime, and you know what’s good and what isn’t. So you are a perfect judge. If you still feel uncomfortable, ask to see the judging sheet. If the questions are too picky and detailed, pass on that contest. But there are plenty of contests that have fairly general judging sheets. I’ll repeat, this is the BEST thing you can do to improve your chances in the Golden Heart, or any other contest. There is nothing more enlightening than reading an opening and hating it, or thinking a character is pretentious or a twist obvious, and then realizing you wrote the exact same thing in your ms! Yikes! When reading a bunch of mediocre contest entries, you will learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t. Now apply it to your own work!

Okay, what else? I agree with Karen that you must end on a hook or a high-impact moment. Not because you’ll be judged down if you don’t, but because you want to end with a bang to impress the judge and make her give you higher points.

Same deal with leaving out scenes or paragraphs that are not necessary, or will be confusing for someone only reading 40 pages of your ms. For instance, chop out that secondary POV. It might be necessary in the finished book (it better be!) but for a contest, it will just muddy the waters. Trust me, if an editor requests your ms, she will NOT remember that scene was left out. Same with flashbacks, extensive backstory, or anything else that keeps your entry from being clean and compelling. Play it in the NOW, focused on the hero and heroine. But don’t reduce or change your font to squish in more!!! That is a sure way to make a judge mad. Edit and cut instead. You can do it.

Enter everything you have. I know it’s expensive. But let’s face it, this contest (as are all contests) is a crapshoot. You never know when a certain ms will final, or get all 2s. Really. I always entered every book I had written, every year, unless it had already won the GH. The same book would final one year, the next year get nowhere close. It all depends on the judges. Every year your judges will be different. Don’t limit your chances. You just never know. Your books will never appeal to everyone, that’s a fact, but there are those out there who will love your work. You just need to keep trying until you luck into all the judges on your panel that particular year liking your work.

Here’s a tough one to understand: 2s are our friends. Yes, people, they are. As I just mentioned, not everyone is going to like your writing or your choice of stories. It’s a given. Accept it. Don’t write for those people. Write for the ones who will love you. When you do that, you will evoke emotion in your readers. That emotion will be good if they like what you do. It will be negative if they don’t. But the important point here is that you are evoking emotions in your readers. So, if you are getting a crazy point spread in your contest results, like all 9s and 2s, then you are definitely doing something right. Do not change. Don’t try to cater to those 2s to get them up. It won’t work. What will end up happening is you’ll get all 5s or 6s, and that’s far, far worse. Who wants to be average? Average will never get you published. So when you get those 8s and 9s and 2s and 3s, crack a bottle of champagne and celebrate! (of course, if you get ONLY 2s and 3s, that’s a different story...)

It’ a jungle out there in this biz. But entering the Golden Heart is one of the very best ways to become recognized and get your work in front of an editor or agent. Don’t be timid. Go for it!


Nina Bruhns ( is a two-time RITA finalist, and before being published was a Golden Heart finalist four times, winning it twice. She has written 18+ books for Silhouette Romantic Suspense (the line formerly known as Intimate Moments ☺) and Silhouette Nocturne, and recently sold to Berkley Publishing. Her first single title, SHOOT TO THRILL, will be out in August 09.


At 1:56 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Nina, you are so right about improving your writing by judging contests. It's so much easier to see problems in someone else's work than your own, but once you see multiple examples of those weaknesses, you start recognizing them in your own work. You don't get the same effect by reading pubbed books, because they meet a certain standard.

Question: Would you mark an entry down for not ending on a hook even if you were really enjoying the manuscript? Is that in the judging guidelines? I can't remember, and I'm not judging the GH this year.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Nina, thanks for the great insight. It's hard to get past low contest scores, but looking at in from your pov, they can actually mean something good.

As for Esri's question regarding hooks... Esri, I would only count off if there is a specific judging question regarding hooks. And I would definitely note it on the manuscript for the author to see what I was talking about.

Of course, with the GH we don't get our manuscripts back. But for other contests, when I judge I try to give advice that is helpful.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

What do you think result placement can tell a writer? The GH tells writers where their mss place--1st quarter, middle, bottom.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Karen said...

Great post, Nina. I think every experience we have as writers enhances our work. Those 2s can be harsh, but they can be a wake-up call, too.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger Nina Bruhns said...

Hi Esri! No, I would definitely not mark down a contest entry for not ending on a hook. However, I might give the entry a better score if they ended with a bang, making me want to read more.

The whole reason for entering contests, indeed for submitting query letters and proposals, is to attract the attention of the reader (consumer, judge, agent, or editor), to draw them into the story, to make them want to run out and buy the book, or call you immediately to request the full ms. Ending on a note that compels the reader to want more more more is the best way to do that!

Unpubs need to think of contests, queries, etc, as tools in their kit. Always ask yourself, what is the reason I'm doing this? Then write/edit to that specific goal. Don't think of contests as throwing spaghetti against the wall so much as trying to shoot a target in the dark. Anything you can use to narrow in on that bullseye, use it!

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Nina Bruhns said...

Hi Mo!
Well, I think the main thing you're looking for in the GH, as opposed to contests where you get your ms back all marked up, or a detailed score sheet, is to see where you fit in the world of the submission pool. These are the same people you are competing against to sell your ms. If you fall in the top quarter, you're doing well. Keep it up! If you're lower, you need to look at your specific scores.

If you're getting mid-range scores across the board, that means you are a competent writer doing pretty darn well. But you lack something, that elusive, compelling thing that makes a reader sit up and take notice...and judges to fork over the big numbers. It doesn't mean you won't sell that book. But it means you need to step up your game if you want to make it onto the NYT list when you do sell :D.

If you're getting low scores across the board, you need to take some more classes. Something isn't hitting. Find out what your weaknesses are, and learn as much as you can about that topic. Read, read, read. See how other authors do it. Get yourself a good critique group. Then fix the ms and submit it to a contest with comments and score sheets. Hopefully your scores will improve, and you can submit it again to the GH next year.

If you're getting wildly mixed scores, you're doing fine! That's where you want to be, evoking those emotions! :D

But with the GH, the bottom line is to final. That's the goal. If you don't, do not obsess. As I said before, it's a crapshoot. Use the GH as a tool, to further your submission process, because the benefits of finalling are huge. However, not finalling means doodly. Toss the letter and forgetaboutit. Chocolate is also good. :D

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I had almost talked myself out of entering (the economy, you know!) but this is a really inspiring post--makes me want to polish up those pages and send it. :)

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Nina, I love what you say about judging contests to improve one's own work. And about entering everything you have (that won me my GH), but I have an entirely different view of the GH scores.

I think if you score high, from even one judge, celebrate! People rarely judge a mediocre manuscript high, IMO. But there are all kinds of reasons a judge might judge low. In the absence of feedback, you can't tell what the low scores mean. They could mean your judge didn't like the name you gave your character.

So celebrate 8s and 9s and to H-E-hockey sticks to the rest!

Thanks soooo much for guest blogging with us!

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Nina Bruhns said...

Yay Gillian! You go girl! Good luck :D

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Nina Bruhns said...

Yikes. That's what I thought I was saying, too =:o . It's what I meant about scores "across the board" -- but if you get high scores mixed in there, it's always time to break out the champagne :D. Because you're right about the judging (unfortunately). Some judges are scoring things other than your writing--which is not fair, but there you go. (it's also why I always say not to put your name on your sense giving them another reason to be biased -- but then, I've always been a trouble-maker ;D ).

At 10:50 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Before I head to bed, I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you to Nina for being our guest blogger of the day.

She had sent me some links to post with her blog, however, being a little blog challenged, I wasn't sure how to post them.

I forwarded them to Maureen, and hopefully she will be able to post them during the Q & A session tomorrow.

Thanks for stopping by today everyone, and thanks again to Nina for sharing her knowledge.


At 2:44 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

So sorry I missed Nina yesterday! Love her advice about judging as a way to improve your writing.

Congrats Nina on all of your success!


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