Thursday, September 14, 2006

On Contests - 3

What I'm reading: The Blue Edge of Midnight by Jonathon King; Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper

What I'm working on: Chapter 10, Scene 2. Dalton's reaction to 'the kiss'

Contests, part 3

You've entered, and with luck, have your manuscripts in front of you, full of helpful notations and score sheets with lots of comments. A lot of luck! It's probably never going to happen in that kind of detail.

I recently got feedback from a 'big name' RWA contest that prides itself on feedback. Two judges. NO marks on the manuscript other than a few circled typos. One wrote a grand total of 101 words of feedback on the manuscript, and 38 on the synopsis. The other wrote NOTHING about the manuscript and typed a full page about the synopsis. And given all the comments were for things to add, and it was already longer than what agents are asking to see with partials, I don't know how useful it was.

Without judges, contests can't happen. No matter how much a coordinator (and the entrants) want to see all kinds of helpful feedback, one can't impose a lot of demands on the judges, or they'll simply decline to participate. And despite their best intentions when they volunteered, sometimes other priorities sneak into the mix--maybe they're on a last-minute deadline if they're published, or maybe there are family or work-related crises and your pages, where you've sweated over every single word and comma, are given a cursory read. If you're entering a contests to have everyone tell you how great your work is, you're wasting your time and money.

As the recipient of the feedback, you have to remind yourself that each reader is just that -- a single reader. Each will bring her own likes, dislikes and biases to the read, no matter how they pride themselves on total impartiality. They will also have different opinions of what each score represents, so even when several judges have wonderful things to say, it's possible one considers an "8" wonderful, and another hands out "10s" unless the work looks like a third grader wrote it.

Be realistic. You've gone to a movie everyone raved about and wondered what the fuss was about. You've picked up books you can't get into, and they're selling. Same goes for your manuscript.

Take what you think makes sense. Don't obsess. Okay, if the scores aren't what you expected, it's all right to stomp around the house, cry a little and hit the chocolate stash. Put the pages aside. Come back in a few days and compare them, both the manuscript pages and the score sheets. Do all the judges have a similar comment about a particular scene or passage? If so, pay attention. Do they totally disagree? That's actually a good thing, because you get to decide which is right. Stephen King said, "Tie goes to the author." The important thing is to THINK about all the comments. It's fine to dismiss them if they don't make sense to you.

Remember. Agents and editors bring their own likes, dislikes and biases to the read. And, they've got that other factor going -- they know what they can sell, and bottom line, publishing is a business. No matter how wonderful your story might be, if it doesn't fit their needs, it's a rejection.

I find that quite often, a comment that has me wondering what the heck the reader could possible be thinking ends up with me realizing there was something "off" about that passage, although for an entirely different reason. Revision is a re-vision. Look at your work with new eyes.

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