A couple of weeks ago, I entered Not In the Plans in a contest for the first two chapters and the query. I just got my scores back from the judges, and I’m really pleased. I’ve never entered a contest like this before, so I was a little surprised by the amount of feedback each judge gave on their score sheet and on the manuscript itself. It was well worth the $25 entry fee!
I ended up tied for 7th place out of 16 entries. Two of my scores were very high, but I also had one low score.
The judging categories were: Query, Opening Hook, Characterization & Motivation, Setting & Description, Plot & Conflict, Pacing, Dialogue, Writing Style, Mechanics, Overall Impression.
The first judge gave me 9 out of 10 on the following categories: Query, Characters & Motivation, Plot & Conflict, Pacing, and Mechanics. I got 8s on everything else except Setting & Description, which got a 6. Apparently I need to spend a tad more time on describing things like the condo.
The second judge gave me a 10 for Mechanics, which I can’t wait to tell my mother. They also gave me 9s on Plot & Conflict and Dialogue. I got 8s for Characterization, Writing Style and Overall Impression, a 7 for Opening Hook (this judge didn’t like that Chapter 2 is the night before Chapter 1), and a 6 for Pacing.
Judge #3 hated me. I’m kidding. Although I was upset to see the low score, so much lower than the other two scores, I have more clarity now that I’ve read her notes. The real hit to my score came on Characterization, where I got a 4. This judge found Savvy to have no redeeming qualities. She also gave me a 4 for Pacing and a 5 for Opening Hook, because she didn’t like the chunk of back story on how Jackson and Savvy met. She gave me a 6 for Plot & Conflict and Overall Impression, and 7s for Query, Setting & Description, and Writing Style. The high scorers were Dialogue, which got an 8, and Mechanics, which got a 9.
Here are some of the comments from all three judges that put a HUGE smile on my face:
“On whole, the dialogue is quite good.”
“Pretty good job of showing versus telling.” (This has been something I’ve been really working on, so good to hear!)
“Author does excellent job with the mechanics. Sentence styles vary; active verbs are used; grammar and punctuation are spot-on. No complaints here. Well done!” (Forwarded immediately to my mother.)
“…[the characters] differences and the unique voice for each is very present in the writing.”
“Clearly, this author has excellent writing skills…” (Love that part! Might frame it over my desk for bad days, lol.) “…but this is not a book I would personally choose to read.” (Oh well, you can’t win ’em all!)
“This is really good.” (This was in reference to my query, so thank you to all those on Query Tracker who have helped me improve those skills!)
“Not only is there conflict, but it’s something most readers can relate to.”
“I would continue reading – I’d like to know how these two work it out…or not.” (Yay! Someone wants to read it!)
Several (very valuable) things I learned from this experience:
- Everyone’s taste is incredibly different. What one judge scored as high another judged low. One judge thought I didn’t describe enough scenery, the other thought it was just enough.
- No one likes Savvy off the bat. However, none of the judges said they’d stop reading because of their initial reaction of her.
- My mechanics are good, which will make my mother (who is a former proofreader) proud!
- I rely too much on flashbacks in (all) my writing. I’ve solved that problem with implementing the “two nows” for Back To Me, but I’ll have to work it out differently here.
Really, my only two complaints with the contest are minor. First, I got comments from two of the judges because my query said my manuscript was “expected to be completed at 80,000 words.” This contest specifically allowed submissions for manuscripts that were not finished. Lesson for next time? Write query as if it is finished anyway.
Second, I got a comment from one of the judges that I was walking a fine line with Savvy and Jackson in terms of expectations in romance. I did not submit in the Romance category, I entered in Commercial Fiction. Not a huge deal though.
For the writers out there, I strongly encourage competitions like this one where you receive feedback from judges who are published authors and editors. I received invaluable line-by-line edits from Judges 1 and 3, and some great comments from all. I will be writing thank you notes!