I’ve entered very few writing contests: the Golden Heart last year (where one judge gave me a perfect 9 and another a 2), two where I won first and third place, and two where I didn’t final. I’m grateful for the feedback, even when I feel a little like a yo-yo, going from one extreme to another. The most recent (and probably the last) contest I entered is a case in point. The perfect score was 99. My scores? 94, 82.5, and 65. That’s a 29-point difference between the high and low numbers.

I’m in full disclosure mode. I’ve condensed the judges’ most salient comments into one paragraph each.

Judge #1:The writing is quite good. You have an easy, readable writing style, and the first page was wonderful and engaging. Your writing style is engaging and fun to read, and I really appreciate that you are giving me just as much backstory as I need to understand and pique my interest, but not so much as to make me roll my eyes. Great job! The dialogue is generally good, but there is too much irrelevant conversation and narrative. I find my attention span drifting for the most part. The characters don’t have distinct voices, either, and so I am at a bit of a loss. I suggest that you take a hard look at what you are writing and ask yourself whether every sentence—every sentence, mind you—pushes your story forward. If it doesn’t, delete it. Because, as a reader, I only care about the story. Everything else bores me. Of course, tastes differ, and you will likely get different responses from other people, but to me, this does not sound like a book I would like to read.
(M.R.:Ouch. Edging into the cave. Whimpering.)

Judge #2:The author has a WONDERFUL voice. I enjoyed this story very much. At first, I was a little confused as to exactly what was going on, and not entirely clear as to why the H & H couldn’t be together, but better understood the conflict as the tale unfolded. There are a few places where the author gives quite a lot of back story, which slows the pace in those parts. Some judicious tightening would help. Overall, she does such an excellent job of description that I was quite intrigued. The young H&H are delightful and reminded me of Heathcliff and Catherine before she was made to be a lady. This author has amazing descriptive ability. What areas do you feel need improvement? Not a thing. This entry is ready for publication!
(M.R.: peeking out of cave to catch the ray of sunlight.)

Judge #3:I found the first scene gripping. Great tension. I think you are a strong writer. I think the writing is strong and the first scene was very tense and drew me right in. I liked the heroine in particular – especially during the first scenes. She was very strong and you made me really curious about what had gone on in the past between these two characters to make her decide to accept his proposition. I simply didn’t buy the conflict or think it was big enough to carry a novel. I feel like the story is a little too predictable, and that the conflict could be too easily resolved with a couple of frank conversations.
(M.R.: Frankly, I’m not going to enter any more contests!)

The same manuscript evoked three distinct reactions. I may not agree with all the points (except for Judge #2, LOL), but they remind me how subjective writing is. Just enough backstory. Too much backstory. Great description. So much description my eyes are glazing over and I hate your book. All I can do is keep writing. Easy, right?

Do you enter contests? Are you doing the Golden Heart this year? Are you curled up in your cave like me or ready to take the leap?

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith