Saturday, January 31, 2009

Contest Judges

by Molly Noble Bull

I have judged a lot of contests, and though I cannot speak for all published authors, my aim as a contest judge is to help, not hurt others. Therefore, it is often hard to critique the work of new writers.
Experienced writers want to tell new writers what is wrong with their manuscripts so their work will sell. But not all published authors are experts at giving helpful advice in a gentle way. We can sound too harsh.
I do not personally know any published author that would ever want to hurt a new writer. Please believe me on this. Since we don't want to offend new writers or discourage them, we don't like to critique their work. So often when new writers request help, published authors refuse. It's just too painful -- for us.
So we say we are just too busy to help. But for me, it is often that I just don't want to take the chance of hurting someone.
At the same time, if someone wants my honest opinion, I feel obligated to give it.
If you have the desire to write books, it is probably because somebody has told you that you have talent. I would guess that you DO have talent. Otherwise, you would never want to write books.
I was never good at sports. Therefore, I never considered trying out for the girls' basketball team.
We are all drawn to things we do well.
So I am going to make a statement I cannot prove. Most if not all new writers have talent in creative writing or they would never have the desire to write in the first place.
But that does not mean they are ready to sell their work.
Someone told me years ago that when you have finished your first novel, you just completed your freshman year in novel writing. For me, selling my first novel meant that I had completed four undergraduate novels, two more for a masters degree and was working on my doctorate in novel writing.
After reading the work of a new writer, sometimes my opinion is that the person must read a few more books on writing and do a lot of rewriting before they are ready to sell.
The truth is that probably all published writers have been hurt by gobs of rejections and bad critiques. We have also been hurt by what an editor said in her rejection letter. But we learned from these bumps in the road and kept on writing. New writers must learn from them, too, and keep on writing.
My advice for what it is worth.
When a published author gives you a bad critique, thank them for taking the time to read your work. And if they give you good advice, take it. You just might sell a book.

1 comment:

Catherine West said...

So true, Molly. I know how hard it is to get a tough critique. You have to take it for what it's worth to you at the point you feel you are in your writing. If it's a published author then yes, listen up because most of the time they know what they're talking about! If it's a matter of disagreeing with a change that you feel would remove your voice from your story then don't but I agree with you, I think if someone is taking the time to offer a critique, they are only wanting to help. Contests are hard, but the crits are worth it most of the time.