Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Perfume and the Nasty Judge

Conferences: Editors and Agents are people too!

This will be my first year going to the RWA National conference. I'm really looking forward to it. I've never been to San Fransisco...heck, I've barely been out of my time zone. I'm nervous about a lot of things, but one thing I'm not nervous about is meeting editors and agents. I have to thank my local chapter for that.

Every June my local chapter, Long Island Romance Writers, has a luncheon with editors and agents in attendance. It's a lovely, relaxed setting where you can mingle with the guests and sit and eat with an editor or agent you're looking to connect with. By attending for the last four years, I've discovered one very important thing, most editors and agents are very approachable and eager to talk.

Websites are great for finding out their guidelines, what they're looking to acquire etc... but nothing can replace meeting face to face. There have been a few times I thanked my lucky stars an editor/agent passed on my story. Hey, we're not going to click with everyone. And there have been times I've submitted to someone I never even considered.

On Sunday, Jeannie mentioned Kristin Nelson's suggestion to keep your pitch down to two minutes (or a couple of sentences) This is a great idea. Give them the gist of your story and then let them ask the questions. But be prepared. I can't stress enough the importance of knowing your plot, your characters and their conflicts (both internal and external) You can fumble your words--hey, we've all been there--but to not be able to answer a simple conflict question is not a good thing. Be enthusiastic and don't worry about being nervous. I'm sure you won't be the first nervous writer they've ever encountered and you won't be the last.

We've all heard the typical conference suggestions; wear comfortable shoes, pace yourself, never talk bad about anyone (a good rule in life as well as in the conference:) but the most important, please, please don't go crazy with the perfume. A few nights ago, I attended my daughter's spring concert and the woman in front of me must have bathed in her fragrance. By the time the concert was over, my head was pounding and I felt physically ill. Be kind to your fellow writers. No one wants to miss a workshop or editor/agent interview because they're stuck in their room with a migraine.

Contests: Not every judge is a happy, friendly gal like me :)

I've heard a lot of the burning question: To enter or not to enter. There are those who love contests and those who would rather eat glass then enter (ew, kinda graphic there, wasn't I?).

Before I discovered critique groups, I entered a few contests and they helped me a lot. Contests judges taught me to go easy on the exclamation points, lose the unnecessary name tags and for God sakes woman, learn the POV rules!

They also taught me, not everything they say is gold.

As a contest judge and a critique partner, I feel the golden rule should be; criticize with kindness. Now is not the time to hone your gift of sarcasm. Yes, you need to be honest, but if you can't do that and be kind, you need to rethink being a judge. Otherwise you come off like the bully on the playground.

I've heard horror stories where writers receive low marks because of simple formatting issues like using a # instead of a * for a scene break, because their sex scenes were a little too graphic for the judges taste or because your Texas hero had never been to a major city. Some judges will fall in love with your voice, some will hate it and others simply won't 'get it.'

If you have the time, it's always nice to send the judges a thank you note. On the other hand, if you've encountered a judge who was nasty, insulting or rude, you need to contact the contest coordinator.

This happened to me a few months ago and I didn't say anything. Since then I've been told by contest judges, coordinators and writers I should have complained. No one has the right to make you feel inferior or stupid and they certainly don't have the right to insult you.

Contests and conferences are great tools for writers to utilize. They can be expensive and time consuming, but anything that will give us the edge and get us closer to the golden ring can't be all that bad.



  1. Of the 3 times I complained about judge nastiness, 1 time I got zero response, 1 time I got a fake apology, even though I and the two other finalists all complained about the same thing, and 1 time they admitted they weren't going to use that judge again but oddly enough they "lost" the discrepancy entries I was supposed to receive.

    As a contest coordinator, I'd like to think I'd give greater satisfaction were someone to complain. It might be challenging if I felt the complaint was unfounded, which of course makes me question my own complaints. But then I remember the wackadoo things the complaints were about and I *know* they were justified *laugh*.

    So far nobody has complained while I've been coordinator except me, complaining to myself!

    Jody W.

  2. Shout out from a displaced Long Islander: Hey, yo! What exit? : )


    I've been lucky. Judges haven't reamed me, but I have had some strong comments. That's fine. I'd rather be told in clear, if blunt terms, than given no explanation at all for a score that's good OR bad. Yes, it does help to know what's working FOR the story : )

    As for conferences, great advice, Maggie. I've been to one general writers' conference and the RWA National in Reno, so my attendance is limited as well. Like you, I found agents and editors very kind and approachable (when I wasn't scared silent to avoid jabbering mindlessly). I've never made an in person pitch session, but if I ever do you can be sure I'll have notes jotted on a 3X5. Like, my name ; )

  3. Jody, I've heard of people complaining with little or no response. Very unprofessional, if you ask me.

    Some people can be overly sensitive and complain about a perfectly acceptable comment, but if more than one person complains, I think there needs to be an investigation.

    For the most part, I've found contest judges to be kind and extremely helpful. Those are the judges who make a contest worth entering.


  4. Hey Cathy! Exit 51 lol

    I agree, I'd rather a judge be blunt then not comment at all, but I still think it should be done with kindness.

    What's worse than a nasty judge? How about entering a contest and having NO proof the judge even read your entry. She gave me straight 3's (on a 1 - 5 scale) and not one comment.

    At least I knew the nasty judge read my entry :)


  5. All 3s and no comments?!? Gah! What a putz (is there a female equiv. for that, or is it non-gender specific?). As an entrant, I fear those kinds of marks. As a judge, I ALWAYS comment. With kindness of course : )

    BTW, I grew up in Brentwood. What is that, Exit 52 or something? I forget. It's been a while ; )

  6. Maggie,
    I love your golden rule--criticize with kindness. Good luck at National.

  7. "but the most important, please, please don't go crazy with the perfume."

    An excellent point, Maggie! RWA National is supposed to be scent free (it says so on their website and in conference materials), yet few seem to heed this instruction, or they obey during the week but not for the RITA awards when it is most important. Two thousand women all wearing different scents is hell for those who are allergic!