Don't Judge a Book by its Cover, but Do Cover a Judge by His Books

When submitting a manuscript for publication, knowing the market is a given. Are you like me? I have sticky tabs ruffling the edges of my Writer's Market. I read and reread journals, print and on-line,looking for the right match for my work. I cast off names of agents, still looking for 'the one' so my book has the best chance of being 'the one.'

But what about when it comes to submitting to a competition? I know to circle the deadline on my calendar so I don't miss it. I double-check my word count so it stays within the limit. But until I became SCWW's Contest Chair, I paid little attention to another important piece of information - The Judge.

Judges are established writers and poets who recognize good writing and appreciate the opportunity to encourage other writers; but they are human, so they bring to the process their personal preferences and pet peeves. A judge for a recent contest wrote, "The story read well until I got to the profanity. My grandfather always said profanity is a lazy man's way of communicating." Another judge might have let the offensive word pass. Some judges target specific writing annoyances. "It needs a stronger opening sentence." "You have to grab me in the first twenty-five words." "Don't let sloppy typos ruin an otherwise good manuscript." And like all readers, judges have their favorite genres and subjects.

We can never know everything a judge likes or dislikes and fortunately a compelling story expressed through good writing will always rise to the top. But being familiar with a judge's style can sometimes explain why that compelling story garnered a second place instead of a first. Or didn't place at all.

One of the most enjoyable responsibilities as the Contest Chair is recruiting and getting to know the men and women who serve as judges for the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards. In April I begin winnowing the slate of judges looking for a diverse mix. I want to make sure no matter what you write and submit, your writer's voice is heard and I want someone on the panel who understands your genre. Each category of the competition has a 3-judge panel and each judge reads and scores the entries independent of the other two. In this way we minimize the biases and prejudices that naturally occur.

As the SCWW membership grows beyond the state of South Carolina, so does the geographic pool I draw from for judges. This year in addition to South Carolina, they come from North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Louisiana.

Every one of this year's judges is an award-winning writer or poet. Some are both. They represent a broad spectrum of ethnicity, age, education, work history and writing style. If you read their bios on the SCWW website, and I hope you do, you'll see many are teachers or professors, several are editors or publishers, one is a Cultural Ambassador for the US Department of State. They were limited to 100 words so their bios don't reveal all they bring to the competition. Therefore you won't know which one was also a forensic scientist in Washington DC.

Collectively, our judges provide a library of interesting reading. They cover historical fiction, historical nonfiction and historical romance. Some tease us through mystery and others through murder - both actual and fictional. One has written math and history textbooks, another has translated her short stories into Russian. They create worlds inhabited by vampires, fairies and quirky humans. And their poetry sings with the distinct sounds of the barrio, the islands and The South.

In October, some of them will travel to Myrtle Beach so they can meet the conference attendees. Before then, take the opportunity to meet them by checking out their books and visiting their websites.

Submissions for the Carrie McCray Memeorial Literary Awards are being accepted and must be postmarked no later than August 14th. Winners will be announced on Friday evening during the annual conference in October. First Place winners in each category will receive $500, Second Place winners will receive $100. Honorable Mentions will also be awarded. For details about entering, visit the SCWW website.

1 comment:

Lateia Elam Sandifer said...

Great take on contests. Thanks for getting me to think of contests in a different way.

Post a Comment