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Contests 101: 5 Editor Takeaways

Contests bring out the best in all of us—the entrants, the judges, the agents. 


I’ve been on the receiving and giving side of both ends of the manuscript contest spectrum.

This blog posts focuses on the editor’s response to contest critiques.

As an editor with experience in evaluating and editing manuscripts (250 since 2017), I understand what it takes to catch an editor’s eye. I value the awesome responsibility required to evaluate and comment on a writer’s beloved work. And I respect what’s needed for each manuscript that comes across the work desk. It’s exhilarating. Truly.

Five Facts about Evaluating Contest Manuscripts

  1. Evaluating is hard.
  2. Evaluating is vulnerable.
  3. Evaluating is empowering.
  4. Evaluating is responsive.
  5. Evaluating is unpredictable.

I’d like to think that these are five of many possible facts about evaluating contest manuscripts.

Five facts from an editor’s perspective in evaluating manuscripts

  • Hard, because we know the author has poured blood, sweat, and tears into their manuscript, and it’s as much a part of them as their massive library collection.
  • Vulnerable, because we’re judging blind, not knowing who wrote what we’re reading. Yet we want to offer kind and helpful comments for each entry.
  • Empowering, because to think that we get to empower and validate a writer we don’t know is just the best thing there could ever be. That’s just pure bliss right there, and tastes richer than any mint dark chocolate bar in the whole wide world.
  • Responsive, because hitting that Submit button after judging an entry because we hope we have judged to the best of our ability and respected the author’s voice, their story, and the message while providing active feedback tailored for each manuscript.
  • Unpredictable, because once we hit that Submit button, there is no turning back. No guarantee that the writer will agree with us as we prayed our way through each story for wisdom in assessing and for words of encouragement in offering helpful feedback so that the story can be improved and scale up the ladder toward publication success.

What ebb-and-flow levels of curiosity and responsibility, huh?

In truth, most editors are happy to review manuscripts, to offer advice, to empower authors because if it weren’t for authors, we’d be out of a job. Publishers would not survive. Bookstores would not add to their shelves. And readers would have no books to enjoy.

Contests 101: Five Editor Takeaways

  1. Evaluating is easy.
  2. Evaluating is protection.
  3. Evaluating is discouraging.
  4. Evaluating is empowering.
  5. Evaluating is predictable.

I know, I know. Oxymoron, but we’re doing a switch on the “fear” words from the five facts about evaluating contest manuscripts.

  • Easy. While we realize that we take great care in providing useful, helpful, and honest feedback to each writer’s entry, we know that being as clear as we can about how the writer can implement our comments will be easy for them.
  • Protection. Most contests have high guidelines for their judges (or they should!). We know that a contest that has solid expectations for each entry is gold because we do indeed value each submitted manuscript and want to critique it to the absolute best of our industry knowledge. This creates a sense of protection for the entrants because the judge knows what they’re looking for and will have your story’s best interest at heart.
  • Discouraging. We sometimes do have to provide the author with a low score because perhaps the story is not where it needs to be . . . yet. And that yet is so empowering!
  • Empowering. And sometimes we give a great score because the writer did well in their story presentation.
  • Predictable. In all, we know that if the writer has done their homework, studied the craft, enlisted beta readers or a professional editor in the editing and proofreading stage, and knows that a contest does not define them or their writing, then we are confident that our comments on the writer’s manuscript will be received in a manner of gratefulness and encouragement.

And, who knows? You might even place in the contest, like one of my author-clients did!

Above all, each judge should view your manuscript through the eyes of grace. If they don’t, then please by all means, you’re free to chuck their advice. Grace given is a valuable and precious gift.

So, my writer-friend, don’t bemoan when submitting to contests. Exercise due diligence. Find out what your manuscript needs *before you submit. Most often, this includes reaching out to a trusted and experienced editor who knows what they’re looking for and who can give you the best overall critique advice for your story—in hopes of getting great feedback on that story submission.

If you’re worried about the cost, it’s usually not much. The cost of a critique is basically the same cost as a cup of coffee—-in general terms of experience. Both prices and experiences are just right.

So . . . are YOU submitting this season? Le me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Contests 101: 5 Editor Takeaways

  1. Interesting post. I am not planning to enter any contests right now. I honestly have too much else on my plate to leave room for even one more thing. And entering is definitely one more thing. One more reasearch project to decide which to enter. One more document to properly format. One more thing to pay for. One more thing to mail or email. One more thing to follow up on. Nah. I’m good. But I wish the best to anyone who does enter. Just remember the judges are human, too.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed! Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to comment. Such a gift. Blessings to you in your writing journey!

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