No, this isn’t a post about the SAG Awards. I’ll leave that to Amanda, our resident fashionista, but I will say that the dresses were much better than the Golden Globes, except for Meryl Streep, whose daughter looks just like her but was better dressed. Angelina Jolie managed to look frumpy.

What I’m really blogging about is judging contests. This is Romance’s season of contests and lots of us will be judging contests, the RITAs (Romance Writers of America’s awards for published books), the Golden Heart (RWA’s unpublished manuscript contest), and RWA Chapter contests.

I’m judging the RITAs right now and just dipped into my first entry. I have seven books in a variety of categories, mostly Series romance, which I hardly ever read on my own. I decided to start with the ones I least wanted to read and, lo and behold, I really liked the first book I picked up.

Here are my personal criteria to judge The RITAs. This would work for the Golden Heart, too.

9 – I’d really like this enty to win
8 – I wouldn’t mind this entry winning
7 – This is very good, but it shouldn’t win
6 – This is above average
5 – This is competently written but it is just average
4 – This is below average; it has some problems
3 – This has even more problems
2 – This one is very flawed
1 – I can’t imagine scoring a 1 – it would have to be incoherent.

I start out with the premise that I’m picking up a winner, then tick off “points” if I discover problems or if the story ultimately disappoints me.

I also thought a bit about what it is that makes me like a book:

1. It makes me care about the characters. In this book, I didn’t like the hero much at first, but he did intrigue me and that was enough. He changed into a character I did like.

2. The characters feel like real people, not cliches. These characters were familiar “types” but the author succeeded in giving them a fresh look.

3. I want to keep reading. I didn’t want to put this book down.

4. Everything makes sense. The characters’ motivations, how they behave, what happens, all makes sense; nothing feels contrived. Nothing happens that makes me feel, “Naw. That ain’t right.”

5. The pacing seems right. Too often we speed up at the story’s end and it can feel rushed. This one did pretty good. This book strayed a teensy bit from my ideal. Not much though.

6. Nothing stops me and makes me have to go back to figure it out. In this case, I had to go back for one detail, but that was all.

This book will get high marks from me and it encourages me to read the next one on my list.

How about you? What makes a book or a contest entry a winner to you? What are your criteria? Even if you are primarily a reader, you know what makes a good book.

Contests have been very kind to me. I sold my first book entirely because of the Golden Heart and I won Romance’s highest award, the RITA the second time I entered for A Reputable Rake. (That’s me with the Mills & Boon editors in Atlanta, 2007)

What contests are you entering?

There is still time to enter my contest. And come visit the Wet Noodle Posse for more tips on how to be good to yourself.