Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Genesis Scores: thoughts and reflections

The ACFW loop is buzzing with thoughts about the Genesis contest. Finalists were announced last week, and as score sheets are trickling back to the non-finaling entrants, writers are expressing their frustrations and disappointment in some of the comments they received from judges.

First, let me say, this post is not meant as a slam against the judges, but an encouragement to authors. Without going into too much detail, I want to relay my own situation, which is bittersweet in a way, as I am on both sides of the fence.

Yes, I am a finalist this year in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category. And I am SO thrilled and honored to be in my category's top five. I had about two days to revise my entry before sending it back for final-round judging, so I carefully explored the judges' comments and suggestions and made some changes that I think (and hope) made my entry even stronger. Although I didn't agree with everything the judges said, I took the ones I felt were right and implemented them. All in all, I was very happy with the comments I received.

But, I also entered two manuscripts in another category. My scores for ms #1 ranged from the high 80's to the 50's. While this stung a little, I was most disheartened by my scores ms #2. I received two scores in the 80's and then a 46. Ouch! This manuscript is the sequel to the one my agent is currently pitching, which made it even harder for me. I felt this particular judge did not quite understand my style of writing and probably doesn't generally read "chick/mom lit" type novels, in which genre mine definitely falls. Of course, I won't go into the comments this judge made, but they upset me - plain and simple. Especially since two of my strongest areas - voice and dialogue - were rated a 1 out of 5. Double ouch!

HOWEVER...and this is what I want to stress...we all have different likes and dislikes. We all have different opinions on what works and what doesn't. We all have our own way of judging what's right and wrong in the books we read. The point is, IT'S ALL SUBJECTIVE. That's the way it works and that's the way it will always work. Wanna know why? Because God didn't make us all the same. As I heard someone recently express, if we were all the same, there would only be one type of book published. And hello... that would get pretty boring.

I'll give you another example. Last year, I entered ms #1 in the Genesis and received two scores in the 90's and one lower score that put me out of the running for double-finalist. I entered that same ms in a different contest and finaled. This year, I probably didn't even come close to finaling with that ms in the Genesis. Disappointing? Yes. The end of the world? No. Does it mean I'll never get that ms published? Of course not.

We writers tend to take everything personally, and I'm no exception. I had my period of ranting and raving (just ask my husband and my crit partner!). I probably will never agree with that judge but if nothing else, it has prepared me for the comments and feedback I'm sure I'll get from editors one of these days. The simple truth is that some will love it and some will hate it.

So while it may be your first instinct to write that judge and rebut every one of those comments, please refrain. As so many have wisely advised, let the entry sit for a week or so, then go back to it when your emotions aren't quite so raw.

All that said, I recently read a comment from a fellow author that I totally agree with. She stated that we entrants shouldn't only write "politically correct" thank you's to the judges. That they were honest with us, so we should speak the truth of how we feel, too. She said judges need to develop tough skin, just as writers do, in order to become better judges. Of course, as Christians, we know we are to voice our thoughts in love, right? As a judge, myself, in the Genesis contest this year, I can say I welcome honest responses to the comments and scores I gave, if for no other reason than to possibly expand on why I scored a certain way. But I certainly wouldn't want to be lambasted or attacked.

One final note: A huge THANK YOU to those who took time out of their busy schedules to volunteer as a Genesis judge. I can say with almost 100% certainly that the judge's intent was not to criticize you or make you consider giving up writing altogether, but to help you the best way they know how. No matter what scores they handed out.

The main thing is to push through instead of wallowing in the disappointment. Spend some time whining, eat a few gallons of ice cream, take a few days "off" from writing, ask God why this happened (just be aware that you may not like his answer), then brush yourself off, open your laptop, and start typing.


Rebecca Lynn said...

Congrats on the final! I was also a finalist, but in a different category. It has been strange to watch the comments trickling back in regarding people's experiences, because my judges were so helpful and so nice (even when they were being constructive). But then I got my results back from another contest, and I can totally sympathize with the random low score and a mean comment or two that really hurts!

After a couple of days, I was able to see what you said, about the scores being subjective. But when I opened that email, it *really* hurt. Still, I can have more perspective now (thank God), and I really appreciated this post.

Congrats again. I hope to meet all the other finalists at Nationals! :-)

Karen Lange said...

How exciting that you made the finals, congratulations! I agree, judging is subjective and we need to work through and balance the feedback. And we always need to be open and willing to make changes and move forward. Good post, thanks.

Hoomi said...

I definitely understand the feeling about a judge not really "getting" the genre. One of my entries last year received a low score from a judge whose normal work was in the suspense/thriller category, not sci-fi. Her suggestions were ones that were applicable to her genre, and really made no sense for my manuscript.

Needless to say, I took her comments with a grain of salt, but it did sting a bit, knowing my average score suffered so much because of her skewed perspective. The other two judges scored the entry well enough that, had I earned a similar score from her, I would like have been a finalist.

I didn't bother entering this year, because I wasn't sure what I would want to enter, and was a bit busy to try and prepare much.

Yes, I received some valuable feedback on my entries last year, but the random chance of getting stuck with a judge that has no clue how sci-fi should go has kind of soured me on the competition.

PatriciaW said...

I'm surprised that the judges evaluate voice. I have to look back at my Genesis entry from last year.

Voice is so subjective, more than anything else. One agent or editor will take a manuscript because they love the voice while another will reject because he doesn't. I'm not sure that should be a category that is judged, unless it's simply whether the voice is clear and consistent across the entry, not on whether it's good or likable or something along those lines.

Congrats on finaling again. Don't worry about our friend "M". She will find a home. :)

Terri Tiffany said...

A hearty amen from here. Though I didn't eat the ice cream--used some cookies instead!!

Karin said...

This year was especially hard for me. While I hoped to final, I didn't really expect to - this is only my second year entering.

It's been a mixed bag. Last year I got 4/5s on my dialogue. With the same manuscript this year I scored 2s. That's been hard to accept.

With that said, one of the judges who gave me 2s pointed out why; the other did not (in my thank you I asked that judge to consider elaborating more regarding the low scores).

I'm more disappointed in myself than the judges. I feel like I should have improved more.

I'm also wondering if I'm a mean person. A few lines of dialogue were taken straight from my life...and I was told they were too mean to be believable! My poor friends, I'm so sorry...I had no idea!

Lynda Schab said...

Thanks, guys. I really hope to meet you, too, Rebecca! And congrats to you!

Patricia - this is what judges have to rate: "Are the characters’ voices distinct and appropriate for the setting (time period or scenario)?" Don't know why I got a 1 on this...

Karin - I can say with 100% certainty that you are NOT a mean person. You're a sweetheart. :-)

Sherrinda said...

I got my scores back Saturday. One mid-90 and two low-70's. Many of the comments were great and helpful, but a few were really subjective, I thought, which was not all that helpful. I wasn't expecting to do well (first manuscript and all), and was pretty happy with the scores. I really entered to get feedback and to see where I was writing-wise. Overall, a good experience for me.

Lynda Schab said...

Those are excellent scores, Sherrinda! Congrats!

Sherrinda said...
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