I’m in contest mode right now. No, I’m not entering them. I’m judging them. Somehow I managed to volunteer to judge two contests at the same time, so I’m up to my eyeballs in entries. As I ‘struggle’ through each one, I now know why editors and agents whip out those form rejections. With some manuscripts, there’s so many things wrong with them, there’s just no place to start. The grammar and sentence structure is so bad, it gives me a headache trying to read it. Or the plot is so overdone, I can name at least a dozen authors who’ve written a similar book and done it ten times better. Sometimes, there’s not really anything wrong with the writing, it just doesn’t have that special…whatever. The story doesn’t bore me to tears but it also doesn’t keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. It doesn’t excite me.
Out of the batch I’ve gone through so far, there’s only been one that I wanted to keep reading past the first page. It wasn’t because it was technically better than all the rest – it still had some issues. But the writing was engaging enough, the plot was fresh (or at least fresher than any of the others so far), and the author’s voice showed through the typos and occasional grammar boo-boo. If I was an agent or editor, I probably would’ve requested to see more. Then again, if this was one of a hundred queries I’d received that day, maybe not.
I can honestly say that after years and years of judging contests, I’ve only run across one entry that really grabbed me. I couldn’t stop reading it. I was upset when I got to the end and there was no more. As page after page drew me in, I got chills thinking, “OMG, this is fantastic! Why is this author not published yet?” I wanted to track her down after the contest was over and beg her to let me read the rest. It was the type of entry, that if I was an editor or agent reading it, I wouldn’t just email the author and request more. I’d pick up the phone and call her and say I want to see the rest NOW!
So I have learned one valuable thing from judging all these contests. I know that if I’m ever going to sign with an agent or sell to an editor, that’s how I have to make them feel. The writing has to excite them. It needs to give them chills (in a good way) as they read it. It has to keep them turning the pages, totally oblivious to the chaos of the office around them. It needs to leave them reaching for the phone because they can’t wait to read more and not copying and pasting that dreaded form rejection letter and whipping it back to me.