Monday, June 14, 2010

So What About Contests - Do I Request More When I Judge Finals Rounds?

I am always asked this question.

I love contests. Writers have the chance to get feedback from readers and there is always that chance a story will land in the hands of the right editor or agent at the right time. This is really the key to answering this question. It's all about timing.

Do I request additional material from contests I judge. Yes! But... (and you knew that was coming), the story really does have to be good and there really has to be something there. Have I signed someone after a contest, that one, unfortunately has been a no, or maybe I should say, not yet.

The problem with contests is really the inherent structure of how they work. When I judge a final round, I see the best of what came through the filters of the initial preliminary rounds. There are some potential problems with this. First, the contest might not have gotten a huge draw of stories, so what I am seeing is the best of what came in. This does not mean the things that make it to the final rounds are outstanding, but simply the stories that had the highest amount of points. In other words, if the contest judges on a 100 point scale, I could get final round manuscripts that are only earning 50-60 points. You never know.

The second problem is that we sometimes get stories in the final rounds that just lucked out with the judges. This relates back to that timing issue. Sometimes the really good stories lose out in a final round judging simply because a reader in the preliminary round tanks it with a low score. Remember that some of the preliminary rounds are being judged by writers that might not have ever finished writing a story. Some of these people are just learning so they might not know what they are looking for.

As for requesting more from the contest final rounds,, you can see why I might not get something from a contest. As far as signing a person, this issue stems from having that first chapter so worked over and polished but the rest of the story just sinks. I have mentioned this one before, but too often stories just die out after chapter 3. In most cases, that is what I have seen.

Will I stop judging contests? Absolutely not. It is for the same reason that I do love reading submissions that just come in unsolicited. Sometimes you really do find gems out there and we just have to keep looking.



  1. I want to add a follow up to this. Just yesterday, I did sign someone from a contest read!

  2. Scott, congrats on your new client. You are right about contests being subjective, that one person could tank a really great story with a pits-of-hell score. Still, it's commendable that though the chances of you actually finding a client this way are slimmer than Nicole Richie, you still give back to the writing community by judging. Thanks.