Contest Summary (Part 2)

I'm humbled by your outpouring of congratulations. You guys are the best! When I shared my agent news with real life friends, I didn't get near the excitement. But as we've said before, it takes a writer to know one! So, thank you!

Writing is a long, uphill climb. All of those accomplishments along the way can push us forward, perhaps even give us an advantage. Finaling in a contest was just the push I needed.

In the Genesis, the judges used a numerical system to rate contestants in 20 different areas. Then they also provided an additional sheet of overall comments.

Before making changes, first I looked at consistencies among the judges. I found a few! But I also found a few contradictions too.

Judging Consistencies:

  • Clarify setting in opening paragraphs: For one of my entries, all three judges remarked that I needed to clarify my setting in the first few pages. I'd obviously zoomed ahead with my hook and action and not woven in enough detail to ground my readers.
  • Don't overdo short sentences or paragraphs: Two judges remarked that I use a lot of short sentences and paragraphs and that I shouldn't overdo it otherwise it could detract from the moments where a one sentence paragraph would be powerful.
  • Add more sensory details: One judge on each entry thought I needed a few more sensory details. Since I tend to write tight and fast-paced, I find myself skipping over smells, sounds, touch, and taste. While I don't want to force them into my writing, I do need to find more natural ways to bring them out.

Judging Contradictions:

  • Pacing: One judge said she preferred me to slow down the action so I could develop the richness of my characters and setting; another judge thought I should consider cutting just a bit because she thought it "starts to drag a little."
  • Character motivation: One judge wasn't clear about MC's motivation and internal conflict, but another judge said that I did a "good job of creating" my characters and that the conflict was "really great."
  • Dialogue: One judge said "this is the author's greatest challenge." Another judge said my dialogue is "very good" and that I "write very tight which is excellent."

Of course there are always judges' comments that make you say "HUH?" Those are kinda fun too! I'll only mention one: COMMAS. What's the deal with commas? I must be pretty terrible with them because judges kept marking the places they thought I'd missed them. All I have to say is STORY trumps commas!

Have you ever had any contrasting comments about your writing? Or a critique that made you say "Huh"?

Getting feedback on our writing is always hard, even when it's sprinkled with some positives. What are some ways you've learned to handle getting feedback on your writing without letting it discourage you?


  1. I did, but I'm still praying over my results so I can present them in a helpful way towards others.

    There were, like you, lots of consistent comments and some that totally contradicted each other. My first book actually did really really well, with two scores in the 90's, but the third judge marked it down quite a bit thus hurting my score in the end. It took a bit in the end not to be upset about this, but the good Lord allowed the judges to judge how they did, and I'm believing he has a plan in EVERYTHING so I'm content, or trying to be at least!

    Again, probably later this week I'll share more specifics of what I learned on my blog.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Jody! I took notes!

    You already know the contradictions I've received. The one that made me laugh was when one judge specifically commented on how well I "showed instead of telled" while another marked me down as average in this area after giving me high scores in other areas. The differing opinions didn't bother me.

    I think addressing the consistent remarks is the best way to improve writing. Smart!

  3. So far most of my negative comments have been about grammar. The other one I had to work on was the "Show, don't tell" That was hard, but kinda fun at the same time.

    I look at it as these comments are just meant to teach us. I revel in comments and new ways to learn. Don't let it discourage you!

  4. Krista: Wow! Two books with scores in the 90's! I'm shocked that you didn't final. It doesn't seem that even with subjectivity, that 2 judges could give 90's and 1 give something so much less. I can understand your frustration! I'll look forward to hearing your perspective when you post about it.

    Jill: Don't you wish there was a more objective way to judge contests? But I guess writing is overall so subjective, even among published authors. They get such varied reveiws on their books. Someone's always bound to find something they don't like.

    Marybeth: That's great that grammar is the main issue! Because that is a relatively easy one to fix as compared to deeper plot and character issues! And that's so true, it's all meant to teach us and shape us into better writers!

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  6. Jody,

    The feedback from contest judges can be confusing. After I received one set that puzzled me, my awesome CP Anne Barton helped me analyze the comments.

    Anne is a math teacher by day and Regency romance writer by night, so she was able to take a more logical approach than I had. Her suggestions helped so much that I asked her to write an article for my blog Romance Writers on the Journey outlining the tips she gave me, which she did.

    If you'd like to read Making Sense of Contest Results, you can find it by using this link.

  7. As a category coordinator this year, I got to see LOTS of judges' comments. The subjectivity can be frustrating, but I try to remember that contest submissions are much like editor/agent submissions. You're going to resonate with some and not so much with others. One may love your voice, while another will tell you to quit copying so and so and get your own voice. And that is true in every area, whether showing and telling, sensory description, pace, etc.

    The truth is, if you're getting comments on things like pace, you've come a long ways. Judges don't mess with nebulous things like pace if they're preoccupied with correcting glaring things like POV or verb tense or formatting mistakes.

    And commas...another moving target!

  8. Hi Jody,
    Commas are not my friends either. This post reminded me of what I shared on Katie's blog a couple of weeks ago...about my crying jag after a review. One critic LOVED my story (3 paragraphs of specific praises). One trashed it (3 paragraphs of cruel lashings--it's one thing to give constructive feedback, another to trash)...Anyway, I took the feedback, cried, made improvements, and in my mind still laugh, deciding one critic was a man (the mean one) and one was a woman (the one with praises) was a women's ficion work. :D
    I'm okay to work on my novels forever. I sort of don't want to leave the characters anyway.
    Oh Happy Day To You,
    ~ Wendy

  9. Jody, first Wow, let me congratulate you on securing an agent! You must be absolutely on Cloud Nine, it's such an exciting news and a writer milestone. Enjoy the goodness of it! As for feedback on my writing, I always consider the source, and the depth of the feedback. If it seems a surface-type remark, with not too much insight, I usually let it go. But if I'm seeing the same type of comment repeated, or elaborated on, I definitely give it credibility and see what I can do to incorporate it into the work. Best wishes with your editing and contest!

  10. How great they're so thorough! It's uber helpful, I'm sure.

    I had conflicting comments from the editing team at Avalon, when they turned my ms down. I've tucked it away now and don't remember the specifics, but it was definitely a "makes you go hmmm" thing. :)

  11. The very nature of feedback is that it will vary depending on the person who is giving it. Ultimately, it comes down to you and your vision. However, you might want to consider what your editor says. LOL :-D

  12. Keli: Thanks for the link to the article! I think we could all use the advice; maybe I will have mention the link in a future post!

    Erica: Wow! I don't envy what you did! But I so appreciate it!! I'm sure you saw some amazing things with all of the different comments and could write a book about it!

    Wendy: Isn't it amazing how we are so crushed by the negative things and tend to focus on them, even if someone else raves about the exact same work?!

    Joanne: Thanks! I'm excited, but also wading through the thick of getting everything done!

    Janna: Don't you wish you could sit down with some of the critics and just say "what did you mean?" I need some clarifying comments on the comments! :)

    Litgirl: Good idea to pay attention to the editor! I trust their expertise and experience on what it takes become a great writer and sell a book much more than I trust the advice of fellow writers!

  13. "Clarifying setting in opening paragraphs" is the very first piece of advice I got from an editor and it's stuck with me. Other than that, there haven't been a lot of contradictions.

    It helps to keep an open mind, to take advice and look at it pertaining to your work. Will this help improve my manuscript?

    Thanks for telling us about the feedback you got on your entries. That's really interesting. I can't wait to hear more about your journey with the contest and your newly acquired "agented" status!

  14. LOL Too many to count. :-)
    Your list sounds great though. I've got no doubt you'll get everything ship-shape. :-)

  15. Cindy: It is a great piece of advice! Often I just assume my readers will be able to pick up on all of the hints I drop. But apparently not always the case!

    Jessica: I think we all have too many to count!

  16. Congratulations again, Jody. It is indeed HUGE news, and you should enjoy it.

    I think a few different factors play into my reception of contradictory criticism. First, I definitely have favorites. Some reviewers understand what I'm trying to do while others don't. Second, with every comment, I try to really understand the source of the problem before I make any changes. If a reviewer says that my character doesn't have a motivation, for instance, that could mean that my character really doesn't have one, that the motivation isn't clear even though it's there, or that what I consider to be motivation didn't work for the reviewer. If you understand the source of the criticism, then you can decide how you want to correct it. Sometimes seemingly contradictory comments are saying the same thing but from different angles.

  17. I love feedback because usually I find I can use most of it. I wanted to write tomorrow on my blog about my own results from the contest. I have to say-- I was quite pleased even though I didn't place!

  18. I have a hard time with setting too. When I read a book, I can't stand when an author focuses on setting. I don't really care the color of the carpet, walls, etc. yes I want to be there, but make it relevent and don't spend a page telling me, however creatively, about the room you've just entered, the topography of the town, or how the weather.

    So, I tend to go the opposite direction and leave stuff out. The same with descriptions of characters. I could really care less, in the end, about the color of the eyes of characters. Unless they are ultra unique, it's not something I personally notice about people, but I know some want that in a book so I'm learning to cater to that at least on some level.

    Okay, there's my soapbox for the day, LOL.

  19. Davin: Thank you so much for your congrats! I'm trying to soak it in! You have some great points and I really appreciate your insights. I hadn't thought of trying to understand the source before, but that makes a lot of sense. I often find that what I consider motivation or characterization just doesn't match with the reviewer's perspective. But it certainly helps sharpen me to try to see things from a different angle and to look at ways I can make the issue clearer.

    Terri: I'll look forward to reading your post with your judges' comments! :)

    Krista: I'm with you on setting; I tend to skim over setting sentences. I much prefer to have those kinds of details woven in so that it flows with the story and adds flavor!

  20. Thanks for sharing your experience. Judging can be so random and I think your approach to taking all the similar comments and looking at them is very smart. In the end I always try to remember it is my story and I have the decision as to where and how I want it all to go...of course that could always mean it goes nowhere, lol:)

  21. Consider the source. It always helps to know the person, and their motivation in critiqing you.
    In this case, you may not know the judges, so you must view the comments as objectively as you can.
    Sounds like you got some excellent ones, in spite of the differences!
    Again, congrats!

  22. It really is subjective. I agree that if multiple people give the same feedback, it would need to be worked on. If it's only one or two people, you should stick with your gut. Ultimately, it's your work of art being created.

  23. Jody, I'm so glad you shared a more detailed post of your contest results, because I think it helps those of us who haven't been there and gotten to that part of the journey. It helps to know what to expect. I have only had you to critique my work and it wasn't hard to take at all! Of course, I am so new, I KNOW I don't have it perfect and am eager to see what I need to fix. Now, having said that, when I get to the place you are and start receiving harsh criticism, I might pull on my cranky pants and invite yall over to have a pity party with me! lol A round of ice cream sundaes for everyone!

  24. The feedback I got for Genesis was pretty awesome. A lot of very helpful stuff. I got the setting thing too - the exact same wording. I need to ground my reader in the setting.

    The main contradiction - two judges loved my hook, one didn't. But that was pretty much it as far as contradictions go - so that was cool!

  25. Let me clarify - I didn't mean awesome as in, I'm awesome. I meant awesome - as in helpful. Didn't want to come across cocky there!

  26. I had to smile at your comma comment. All my writing professors in college accused me (rightfully so) of being comma crazy. When in doubt, ADD A COMMA is my motto. Sometimes it comes back to get me.

    I have to say, though, that as I read emails from students for my job, the comma seems to have gone the way of all the earth. I don't mind that they are informal with me, but an occasional bit of punctuation would be so greatly appreciated. Period, comma, semi-colon, SOMETHING. They skip it all now.

  27. Jody, lol story so does trump comma's!!!! I'm still high in the sky for you! I even told my husband! I can live vicariously right? I cannot wait for your first book to come out. I will be first in line. Enjoy this glorious gift the Lord has graciously bestowed upon you. =)

  28. Kara: Great reminder that it in the end we're the ultimate creators of our stories.

    Jeanette: You're right, it's definitely easier when we know the person and can follow up with them!

    Joyce: So true! One or two people shouldn't sway us from going with our gut!

    Katie: Maybe we got the same judge on that one! And I'm sure your work is awesome too!

    Bekah: Good point about needing to know the Grammar rules. We've definitely got to know them or we'll come across as unprofessional! The funny thing was that different judges added commas in completely different spots! It was interesting!

    T. Anne: You are such an encourager! Thank you so much for sharing this excitement!


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