Friday, October 16, 2009


Last weekend was the Emerald City Writer’s Conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. Every year the GSRWA sponsors a contest they call The Emerald City Opener. This is the first seven pages of your manuscript that are judged with the top three finalists in each category announced at the ECWC. This was the third year that I entered and like the previous two I did not final.

What I appreciate about this contest (aside that it raises money for my home chapter) is the feedback that the judges are encouraged to give. They don’t just score but they try and offer positive feedback.

The thing about most contests is how very subjective they can be. I know this from personal experience. Two years ago I judged the first round of entries for the Golden Heart, which is the big contest for unpublished writers in the RWA. I chose the historical category. The RWA has since made Regency historical their own category but when I judged they were included in the overall historical category. I’m not a biggie on Regency romances. I won’t go so far as to say that I hate them but, unless I either know the author or it’s an interesting twist on the era, I don’t go out of my way to read them. Sure enough three of the five entries I got to judge were Regency. I will admit it was really hard to separate that dislike I have from judging the authors work on it’s own merits fairly.

There are people who will enter their work in any and every contest they can get their hands on. For most contests, the final entries are usually put in front of editors and/or agents who agree to pick the finalists and, possibly request work from the author. I think that sometimes too much is made of the contests. I don’t want to take away from anyone’s well deserved win, but the fact is that the very subjective nature of contests isn’t always healthy for a writer’s self esteem.

At the conference last week I attended a session given by Debra Mullins. One of the tips she gave was something I want to print into poster size and suspend from my ceiling – it was what she called “the rule of three.” Dismiss any feedback that you don’t agree with if it’s feedback that’s only given by one person. If two people make a similar comment about something you might want to take a look at what they are talking about. If three people make the same comment work on clarifying that part of the story. She also mentioned that interpreting judges feed back involves a lot of reading between the lines. Oh and though she didn’t specifically mention it, I’d like to follow the rule of three for both positive as well as not-so-positive feedback. For example, all three judges that judged my entry, a romantic suspense I entered in the series category titled “Three Times a Bridesmaid” liked my heroine.

Contests can be a great way to get work read by non-biased people but care should be taken that you worry so much about submitting to contests that you don’t do what you should be doing: submitting the work to editors and agents who can get your work published.


Katie said...

Thank you for posting this information. It's something I needed to hear, given the feedback I received from the same contest.

Andrea said...

I like the Rule of Three; that's a great way to approach criticism. I've never entered or judged a contest, but maybe I will next year just to get some true third-party feedback.

Sheila said...

Feedback is a fine and wonderful thing, especially when it's someone besides your mom, your husband, or your best friend. (Note that I generally only solicit feedback from the latter two of these three -- I'm not sure I want my mom knowing I've written sex scenes!)

However, it is important to keep in mind that a third-party reviewer *can* still be biased (e.g., your example about Regency romances). Or they might just have read through your piece too quickly, or have been having a bad week, or any of a bazillion other reasons they don't give your work a fair shake.

So yes, the Rule Of Three is a good one to keep in mind. If everyone who reads your work finds the same issues, then it's something you need to address. And if they all like something, it's probably something you want to keep.

On the other hand, I know that I, for one, can really use some skin-thickening therapy. Perhaps I should look into submitting something for this contest next year?