Making Sense of Contest Results

Anne BartonNot long ago, I received some disappointing contest results. Seeking a shoulder and a sounding board, I emailed my wonderful critique partner Anne Barton. She’d read the entry and agreed to look at the comments.

I received a wonderful reply, one that was so helpful I asked Anne to write an article so others could benefit from her process of analyzing the results in a logical manner. Since she’s a math teacher by day and Regency romance writer by night, she’s great at this.

Anne invites you to share your thoughts on contest feedback at the end of the post. If you leave her a comment, you’re entered in the drawing for the First Sale Scrapbook mentioned above. You also have a chance to win a copy of Noah Lukeman’s excellent book, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

Making Sense of Contest Results

by Anne Barton


Problem:  You’ve just opened an email attachment containing the score sheets for your latest contest entry. As you scan the document, you start to feel confused, angry, . . . maybe even a little queasy. Where are the glowing compliments, smiley faces, and perfect scores? From all the comment balloons, strikethroughs, and inserts, it would appear that the Track Changes feature has run amuck. Not only is this feedback not the final you’d expected, it’s downright heartbreaking.

Possible solutions:

a) Get drunk and/or sabotage your diet.
b) Put a hex on the judges and the contest.
c) Crawl into bed, curl up in a ball, and cry.
d) Analyze your results.

Choices a, b, or c are all viable options, and each has indisputable therapeutic value, but the focus of this article is analyzing your contest results. Cork the wine bottle, stash the voodoo dolls, and throw away all those soggy tissues. We’ll work through this. On second thought, . . . better leave the wine bottle out.

Step 1:  Take a deep breath. You probably won’t be in the right frame of mind to deal with the feedback right away, so give yourself some time to let the sting wear off. I’m not going to go all Dr. Phil on you here, but I will say this:  be good to yourself. Remember that submitting your work takes guts, and feel proud for taking the leap. How much time should you wait before you face the feedback? However much you need. If you can utter the words “score sheet” without triggering a nervous tic in your cheek, that’s a really good sign.

Step 2:  Sort through the data. Start by simply looking at the numbers. Sometimes it helps to make a little chart of positives and deltas. If the contest uses a 5-point scale, 4’s and 5’s are positives, 3’s or lower are deltas. You’ll probably be surprised to find that the positives outweigh the deltas.

Use all the data that’s at your disposal. Some contests let you know your entry’s rank and what score was needed to final. Some disclose the judges’ data, such as the highest, lowest, and average score they awarded. All these numbers will give you an idea of how your entry performed in comparison to the others.

Step 3:  Dig deeper. Look for the comments that correspond to the lower scores. For example, if you got a 3 in the characterization section of the score sheet, look for any written feedback in the manuscript or on the score sheet that relates to character development, and jot it down. You’ll start to get a good sense of what the judges see as problem areas and how you might fix them.

During this step you might find that lower scores in multiple sections can be traced back to a single source. For instance, if your heroine’s internal conflict isn’t clear, that could result in low scores in characterization, plot, and even synopsis. As a judge I try to avoid double or triple dinging, but if it happens to you, don’t despair. The good news is you’ll be able to bring up three scores with one fix.

Step 4:  Spot the trends. By now, you’ve probably noticed the areas where the judges agree, and the areas where they don’t. Don’t dwell exclusively on the deltas–look at positives too. If they’ve all said you’ve got a killer opening hook, yay! If a couple said that more details would enhance the setting, that’s an area you’ll want to address.

The trickier question is what to do about conflicting comments and scores. We know judging is a highly subjective process, so discrepancies aren’t at all unusual. Go with your gut in these cases, and maybe consider the source. If the judge has given sound advice and has made specific recommendations for improving your writing or your story, give more credence to her scores than you do to scores from a judge who focused on superficial issues.

Step 5:  Draw a picture. Geek alert:  this step is completely optional, but I like Venn diagrams–two or three overlapping circles–to represent the judges’ feedback. A chart, spreadsheet, or web diagram would work too. Sometimes a visual aid just helps make sense of all the details and puts everything in perspective.

Step 6:  Now what? This is a question only you can answer. Once again, you have options. Here are just a few. You could:

a) decide you love your story just as it is and ignore the judges’ suggestions.
b) finish writing your story (if it’s in progress), and then go back and incorporate suggestions.
c) revise the beginning before finishing the story.
d) do a complete rewrite (ack!)

Whatever you decide to do, you’ll be armed with data (and perhaps, a Venn diagram 🙂 ) to help you focus your efforts.

How do you deal with contest feedback (whether it’s good or bad)?
Any tricks for making sense of it all?

Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win!

One lucky commenter will win a copy of The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.

I’ll choose a winner from those who leave a comment for Anne on 3/5 or 6 (and include an email address when prompted, which I don’t share), and will post the winner’s name 3/7.

Congrats to the winner, Cathy P.

You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and March 31. Make sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.

On April 1, I will choose one person who will have her choice of five covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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27 Responses to Making Sense of Contest Results

  1. Anne,

    It’s so great to learn that you’re a math teacher, too! I guess there’s something to be said for the left brain/right brain combo when it comes to writing romance, eh? What grade(s) do you teach?

    Thanks for validating my process, too; it’s so wonderful to discover that I am not alone in my analytical, make-a-Venn-diagram, approach to processing feedback!


  2. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by and especially to those who left comments. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on contests as well as hearing about your experiences.

    I held the drawing, and Cathy P. is the winner. Congrats, Cathy! I’ll be in touch.

Comments are closed.