Saturday, August 31, 2013
The Joys And Perils Of Contest Judging
Which means I must have been crazy to agree to do some contest judging for a local RWA chapter. Part of it was I was flattered. I was asked to read all the top scoring books in each of the 9 categories and then pick the "best" overall. So yeah - 9 books. There are months I don't get 9 books finished. Luckily for me my yearly sojourn to visit my family in the Midwest coincided with me getting through these books. Wendy + airplanes + layovers = I Get Reading Done! I read three books alone just stuck on airplanes. Hell, I read 6 books in 5 days - which is unheard of for me.
Think of all the reading I could get done if I didn't have to worry about paying the rent! Oh, and staying clothed, fed, healthy - you know, the little things in life.
For those of you who have never done contest judging....it's interesting. I like to do it every once in a while to keep myself honest. It exposes me to books/authors who aren't in my usual wheelhouse and from a professional standpoint, it helps with my general reader's advisory skills. I also try to look more at the "big picture" of a book. It's not just the simple of matter of did I like it, or didn't I. It's looking at the whole scope: pacing, writing, sense of place, plot, characters, yada yada yada. When it comes to my own personal reading I'm a see book, read book, like (or dislike) book kinda gal. Which is to say that isn't useful with contest judging - but it does involve a bit more than that.
Since it's been well-advertised to contest enterers (is that a word?) that I am the "Top Pick" judge - I can't talk about specifics yet. Frankly, I don't want to spoil it. But here are some highlights (and lowlights.....) that should be vague enough.
Grades were as follows: 3 B, 3 C, 3 D. Yes, 3 Ds.
The B grades were all over the map when it came to "tone." Everything from angst to fluff. Two of the books in this range are duking it out for my final pick as I type this. The third one was very solid, but not as strong as the other two, hence I've already decided it won't be "the one."
The C reads were ultimate mixed bag reads. There were really well-done aspects, and other things that were odd. Like the book that had so much emotional angsty goodness, but then the "contemporary" characters would say something that made me wonder if they were stuck in the 1950s. Another book had characters that drove me batty most of the time, but the plot was really good. Then there was the one where the plot could have done something fresh and different, but instead fell into predictability. Not outright "bad" reads - but also nothing epically special.
So what can we take away from all of this. Contest judging isn't that different from my regular reading. The D numbers were high. 1/3?! But given that the other 6 titles were split right down the middle of good to average? Pretty typical, I think, for a lot of books. I was hoping for an A read, but didn't find one. But I did find authors I certainly will read more of, and the two books I'm currently debating as the "Top Pick" were both nice, pleasant surprises - books I'm not sure I would have found on my own. Which at the end of the day? Is really the reason that contest judging kicks ass.
And for those of you dying with curiosity? The contest winner is going to be announced in October, I believe. So maybe before we turn our calendars over to 2014 I'll be able to name some names.....