I have volunteered to judge several nation-wide writing contests in the last four years...and always prided myself as being a neutral, unbiased critiquer who could read through ANYTHING and give a fair score.
But in the last few days I have found out that was simply a naive, possibly overly-confident, assumption about myself. On my part, my bias has nothing to do with religion or sexual preferences or extremes. I'm normally quite tolerant and open to new genres. The moment I see a political agenda, however, I'm out. Romance, to me, means escape--not a venue to push readers into believing what's right, politically. Just give me a good story:)
So, yes, I am biased! There are personal limitations I never knew would confront me. For the first time I am compelled to send an entry back to the contest coordinator. Within reading the first 25 pages of this published book, I knew my personal beliefs and principles would've affected my ability to give a fair, unbiased opinion. Perhaps more judges should do as I did...
In so many of the comments I receive when I enter contests, I know which judges rush through giving feedback, which judges don't even want to be judging, and which judges truly want to help me succeed. How can I respond to comments made by a judge who dislikes the fundamentals of my style from the get-go? How should I improve upon details that were given within my entry, but were overlooked by a careless judge? The art of judging should require more of us to remove ourselves from...ourselves.
If that can't happen, then send it back.
Returning a published entry (physical book) is inconvenient for the judge, yes, but it also adds to the workload of category and contest coordinators, and reflects (at least I think this...) the volunteer judge's intolerance. Which is probably why it doesn't happen more often. Also, the contest (*wink*) should be informed of a judge's preferences, as well.
But as I've thought about my bias, my principles and opinions, I've also realized that perhaps more judges should send certain entries back in order to better serve the entrant/author. It is our duty to be fair and honest. If we know that our beliefs will influence our critiques, technical and stylistic differences aside, then why shouldn't we send them to someone with less conflicts, who can help the author better? If that happens...perhaps I will enter as many writing contests as I can afford!