Judging the work of someone else is a daunting task. It's nothing like buying a book and tossing it aside it you don't like it or throwing a dart and hitting a number. Author's actually like feedback. Even if you never judge a contest, these guidelines are guaranteed to help improve your own writing. Use them to evaluate your WIPS.
Of course this year, I ventured into the EPIC arena and agreed to read and judge five historical books. It's been hard on the eyes, and very difficult to make myself not compare each entry to the previous one. Books deserved to be judged on their own merits, so I've kept that in mind. I hate discovering the type of historical competition out there...and it's growing every day. Oy vey!
I also agreed to judge in the Southern Heat Contest held by the Romance Writers of America - East Texas Chapter. These people have narrowed judging down to a fine art. Instead of the + and - system that leaves you wondering how to assess a final score, the coordinators of Southern Heat have provided me with such great guidelines, I have to share them (by permission of course) with my fellow authors, and also readers who can see what criteria is considered for award winning books.
BTW...if anyone is interested in entering the contest, do it today... the deadline is tomorrow. You can find information and entry forms on their website.
I've learned so much just from reading their judging aids:
Keep your specific category in mind when judging tone or pace. Remember, Historical or Single-Title may have a slower pace than Contemporary. Setting and back story will be handled differently. Information that is vital to the beginning of a Series story may be withheld in Romantic Suspense for the purpose of prolonging the intrigue. Also, the hero may not be introduced in the first chapter, and this may be perfectly acceptable for your category.
Focus on looking at the entry as a whole. Was this an enjoyable read? Often judges focus too much on perfection: margins, grammar, marketable hook, did the author follow all those unwritten rules we've heard so much about?
Often it's best to read the manuscript first before the synopsis, which may "give the story away." After reading the entry, see if the synopsis matches what you've read - in tone, style and storyline.
Here are the things on which the story is actually judged:
Does the entry "show" rather than tell." Is information fed naturally - not too much or too little at a time.
Is the writing vivid and evocative? Does it have a certain spark that keeps you reading?
Are sentence structure and length varied for a smooth read? Are narrative, dialogue, action and introspection balanced?
Is viewpoint always clear?
Does spelling/grammar/punctuation show appropriate skill?
Does the opening pull you immediately into the story?
Do the setting/descriptions enhance the story? Do you get a sense of time and place?
Is the plot original and well-executed.
Is there enough internal and external conflict to sustain a novel-length manuscript.
Is the pacing appropriate to the type of story? Does each sentence move the story forward?
Are the characters skillfully developed - compelling - three-dimensional?
Are the characters' motivations apparent in the first ten pages?
Are actions and reactions believable?
Does the dialogue progress the story?
does each character have their own distinct voice?
Does the dialogue sound like real conversation?
Is the heroine strong enough for her starring role? Do you want to keep reading about her?
Is the hero?
Is the main character strong enough for his/her starring role? Do you want to keep reading about him/her?
Are relationships between the characters intriguing?
Each section of the score sheet has a certain amount of points possible so there is no guesswork involved. I like that, a lot. I've always questioned myself when no values have been assigned or a value as given but there is no equation for how to define it. Example: Twenty-five possible points but seven questions to evaluate the section. When you have twenty-five points and five questions, it's easy to determine each has a value of five. This certainly makes it much easier.
I want to thank Sarah from the East Texas Chapter of RWA for allowing me to share this information. I think it's most helpful and gives great insight into how fairly this chapter treats each entry. Good job!