Some Thoughts Inspired by Judging a Contest
Mr. Valentine (aka me, Edward Hoornaert) recently finished a big pile of books in order to judge them for the Rita contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. While ethics (and contest rules) keeps me from naming any book or author, the experience inspired a few thoughts I’d like to share.
Please keep in mind that these are my opinions only. Furthermore, they’re based on a tiny sample size–8 books out of 2000 contest entries–so my experience is almost certainly atypical.
Thought 1 : Writers aren’t good judges of their own work
It costs good money to enter this contest–$170 for non-members of RWA–so why would anyone waste money submitting a book that doesn’t stand a chance? Yet nearly half the books given to me were merely okay, nothing more…which leads me to suspect writers are lousy judges of their own work.
And I must, regretfully, include myself as the owner of reality-proof blinkers when it comes to my own work. Sigh.
Thought 2: Love story as the main focus
RWA has instituted a new rule that the love story must be the main focus of the book. Judges aren’t allowed to enter any comments; we enter only a number grade; but we are required to affirm that the love story is paramount. Does this mean more than 50% of the story? What about if the love story is only 45%? I found this standard surprisingly hard to judge. For contemporary category romances, it would work just fine, but I didn’t get any of those.
It seems to me–and my tiny sample size confirms this–that the more ambitious a story is, the less likely romance dominates. For example, historical details and events require a lot of black ink. Ditto for my own genre, science fiction, in which creating a world is by definition a major focus. Romantic suspense is suspense only if the mystery elements gobble up a lot of the story, often at the expense of the romance.
I ended up applying a very liberal interpretation of main focus.
Thought 3: The quality gap may be narrowing
Half the book assigned to me were either self-published or published by small presses, with the other half coming from major traditional publishers. With one exception, the quality of the two groups were pretty similar. (The exception: the best book, by a huge margin, was from a major publisher.)
I suppose it’s probably just the small sample size, but the indie books were all pretty well edited, with a forgivable number of typos. It was particularly noticeable that the small press books seemed to have received as much TLC as the books from the major houses.
As someone who has published with big houses, small houses, and on my own, I found this gratifying. When people are producing their own books, the temptation to skimp on some of the expensive extras, such as editing and cover work, is great. The authors of the indie books assigned to me are to be congratulated on going the extra mile.
Rita finalists will be posted on the RWA website March 26.
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Be sure to check out the other authors from the SFR Brigade taking part in this Showcase!