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Friday, April 19, 2013

Confession: I Am A Fair But Biased Judge...

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!

5 comments:

Linda Lovely said...

Excellent post. As a judge, I always try to put myself in the contestant's place. (Not too tough, I've entered many contests.) What comments would I find helpful? When should I bite my tongue so as not to discourage a new writer? What bugs me the most are entries that were never proofread. Missing words and misspelled words on EVERY page. The contestant expects the judge to spend her time reading and critiquing but didn't take the time to proofread? Thankfully, I haven't received too many manuscripts that fit in this category. And I've tried to judge them fairly on other criteria. But maybe the better bet would be to return them.

Sarah Raplee said...

Loved this post. I agree. I'm happy to say the Golden Rose contest now has a detailed judge registration form that asks about many preferences. I hope this starts a trend.

Judith Ashley said...

Struck a resonanting chord with me, Courtney. When I've agreed to judge, I've been very clear about my limits and been very fortunate to only have entries I was comfortable in judging. However, I agree with Linda - spell check only takes a few minutes to run (although perhaps more time to make the changes). I sometimes wonder if the person reread the entry before submitting...however, those have been in the minority of entries I've judged.

Guess I've never seen myself as being unbiased. I have more genres/subjects that i won't read/judge than I have to I will.

However, the pearl in your post is that as judges our role is to assist through our feedback, the writer in creating the best possible book. And, that is really the only reason I enter contests any more...one insight from a judge is worth the entry fee and then some.

Tam Linsey said...

Good for you! As the AKRWA Breakup Contest Coordinator I try to assign entries to judges based on their reading interests, but if I make a mistake, I'd much rather re-assign than have the judge not do a fair job.

Karen Duvall said...

Oooh, Courtney, I wish I'd had that book. I absolutely love political intrigue, but only when both sides of the issue are given equal attention. It's my favorite type of story to read.

I adore judging writing contests and do at least 4 a year. I haven't judged a published book contest in years, but as for the unpublished manuscript contests, I feel so privileged to have the honor of offering feedback that could help a new author improve their story.

I have no biases, no subject or genre I won't judge (though I do feel insecure with historical's since I don't feel qualified). However, I do get disgruntled with exceptionally poor writing or bad storytelling only because those take me so long to judge. When you find the same problems over and over again in the first 20 pages, I point out the first few and then hope the author can find the rest on their own.