It was only a writing contest

Bolstered by my Maggie final, I decided to enter my Young Adult manuscript in another contest. Revised according to the suggestions of the Maggie judges, I hoped it would achieve even greater success. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Since I was in the middle of my teaching day when the fateful email arrived, I didn’t have time to do anything besides glance at the scores. The first one I saw was 45. My heart fell into my shoes. The second was 77. Frankly, that didn’t make me feel much better. The third was 96. At that point I felt dizzy. How could one judge give me a 45 and another a 96? I wanted to cry.

Instead, I pasted a smile on my face and tried to forget about it as I returned to work with my students.

Several hours later – fortified by a glass of red wine – I opened the three critiques and reviewed each judge’s comments. The one who gave me the 96 gave me detailed critique in my manuscript; her only issue was not being clear about the conflict between the hero and heroine, which makes total sense because the book isn’t a romance, although there is a romantic element to the story. The second judge gave me “above average” scores in every area except opening hook and pacing, which I also can accept; I am consistently criticized for not having a strong enough hook and slow pacing and am working to ramp these up in my writing. But the judge who gave me the 45 (“average” or “below average” in all 10 areas) made zero comments in the body of the manuscript and concluded her three-sentence criticism by saying “this story shows much promise. I’d like to know what happens and would be very interested to read an edited version.”


Obviously, I didn’t final in this contest. I didn’t even come close. But I want to take something positive away from the experience. And while it is tempting to hang onto the 96 and dismiss the 45, it might be most valuable to examine the 77, knowing that I need to improve the power of my hooks and the nature of my pacing. As for the other, it is likely that the generous judge simply loved my voice, whereas the harsh one hated it. And as one of my Facebook friends said, “The fact that somebody loved it and somebody hated it means your writing touched a nerve. Those are the kinds of books that hit bestseller lists.”

Wouldn’t that be something?