Back to Top

Tag Archives: contest judging

I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s been rushing to finish reading her Rita books! There’s definitely a difference between reading a 400-page novel and reading fifty pages of manuscript (as one does for the Golden Heart Contest, which is what I’ve judged in years past.) 🙂

So here are my random opinions on judging today:

JUDGES SHOULD, when reading an unpublished writer’s manuscript, just read it the way they would read any published piece of fiction. When reading a bought novel, one doesn’t stop on page 2 to analyze the goals, motivations, and conflicts, so don’t do it now! At least not on the first read-through.

JUDGES SHOULD NOT become too rule-bound. Nor should they let their tastes or prejudices overwhelm their judgment.

I THINK THERE IS A DIFFERENCE between serious historical errors and minor ones, and I think a judge should take this into account. Certainly, every historical author and every judge will have his or her own opinions on which errors are egregious, which serious, and which unimportant….and here are a few opinions of mine. (By the way, in the interest of discretion, I will point out that none of the following refers to any books I am currently judging!) 🙂


1. If a character uses a word in 1810 that has its earliest OED cite as 1830, that doesn’t bother me. (Words were often spoken long before they were written.) An exception, of course, is a word like “mesmerize” which has a clear and sudden origin (a friend of mine once saw that word used in an Elizabethan-set novel…)

2. If characters are not always wearing their gloves and hats when they ought, that rarely bothers me. (I have seen experts almost come to blows over when and if ladies removed their hats when paying calls, so I know the subject has its murky areas!)

3. If an Almack’s patroness is referred to as a Patroness in a year she wasn’t, or if Wellington is called a duke back before he was a duke, or if characters use candles when they should use oil lamps, that doesn’t bother me at all.

4. If Almack’s is having balls every day of the week.


— basic card game errors (such as piquet being written as a four-person card game, or a character who’s so good at faro that he beats every else); cards are very easy to research, so I think every writer who uses them should know the basics of any games to which she or he refers
— basic carriage errors bother me, though not hugely: i.e. I think the writer should know whether a carriage was owner-driven or coachman-driven, whether it was open, and approximately how many it could seat
— Mistaking a major inland city for a seaside town
— Regency gentlemen wearing “pants”
— Regency misses who have clearly read 21st century sex manuals

— when Sir John Doe is occasionally referred to as Sir John but much more often as Sir Doe
— knighthoods being inherited titles
— Regency gentlemen driving buggies through London
— heroes who run away to sea at age eighteen and buy a commission in the navy

So which errors bother you? Which errors don’t bother you?

And which of the above errors do you think I should start caring more or less about??? 🙂

All opinions welcome!

Cara (off to read!!!)

Hi. It’s me. Maybe you missed me yesterday? Well, I did! My brain was involved in a historical I was reading for the annual RITA contest and it didn’t come up for air. I have two extreme ways of being: completely focused, or completely not! Well, anyway…I thought I’d crack open that old discussion about rating/reviewing books.

Here are the rules I try to play by:

Be Objective. This means that I take your personal preferences out of the mix. If there’s a type of romance I don’t care for, I don’t judge on that basis. I look at how this romance compares to the standard of its type.

Don’t be a copyeditor. It isn’t the copyeditor you are judging, it’s the author’s work. A few typos, grammar errors or inconsistencies I can overlook. (I might add that I am doing ‘first round’ judging–the finalists will be judged a second time).

Look for something special that makes the book stand out. That may be the use of historical detail; the characters; the way the story draws me in and keeps my interest; the way the story explores its theme, taking me deeper throughout; the writing itself; the way the story plays out, keeping me engaged until the end–so that when I close the book I feel that it kept its promise and did not let me down.

It is difficult sometimes. We all have little things that we dislike that may or may not be an issue for anyone else–that may in fact be expected in the kind of romance we are reading. Yes, we do talk about clothes in traditional Regencies–not always, but we do. We often are writing about the upper classes in England. They had money, society was important, and they wore fashionable clothes, and sometimes it is expected that we tell what they were wearing. A judge may dislike references to fashion, but she should consider the genre.

I have a problem with cliches–little ones, like “her feet were encased in white satin shoes” instead of “she wore white satin shoes,” and various parts of a woman’s finery being referred to as “a confection of …,” and so forth. Just little word combinations that were fresh once but that have been repeated many times. But I don’t let this throw me when judging. I look at the big picture.

Having said all this, I still struggle. So…I would like to hear what you all look for in a book when reviewing it or judging it. What standards do you hold yourself to? Where do you draw the line between objectivity and subjectivity?

And finally…what do you think makes a winning book?

Laurie, with more questions than answers!

Signet, January 2006

Posted in Reading | Tagged , | 4 Replies

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 19 Replies
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By