Hmm, not entirely sure if it's a good idea to have a page titled Good, Bad, Ugly right after the page About Me but we'll see if it works out.
This page is intended for those new writers who aren't sure about entering contests. I was there once and plunged in headlong with the worst piece of under edited, way under polished, barely plotted crap ever to be attached to an email. I am not kidding, it was really bad. Anyway, the feedback I received for my crap was amazing and made me enter another one with a better story that was a little more polished than the first. Here, I'm going to share my scores and a few comments from the judges right from the awesome to the really, really ugly. This is in no way a reflection of the contests or their coordinators. It isn't even really about my novels or my writing. It's about the judges and how selective the process is. It's about the fact that sometimes the feedback is so bad, you wonder if the judge even looked at your work. It's also about the fact that it's a total crapshoot and what you take from it will either make you or break you...
So far I have entered the following contests; The Molly, Single Title and Loving It, The Golden Claddagh, Ignite the Flame, Launching a Star, The Linda Howard Award of Excellence, Fire and Ice, The Emerald, Little Gems, The Golden Acorn, Finally a Bride, Fab five, The Lone Star, The Royal Ascot, Great Beginnings, The Catherine, The Rebecca and probably more I can't remember. As you can see from the scores, there is no one contest that is the same. I also love the contests where the lowest score is dropped. Some of the really bad scores are from the beginning of my writing career so if you're an agent or editor reading this, please don't think it's all recent.
One other factor to take into consideration is the final judge. I used to enter anything and everything I heard about that I was eligible for but that is not the smart way to do it. Have a look at the final judges for your genre and then decide.
Out of all the contests I've entered, I've won three, had a short story published by one and finaled in seven. That's it. You don't even want to know how much money or time I've spent. I have had a lot of fantastic feedback that has been invaluable but also a lot of crap feedback that didn't help anyone. I am now published by Carina Press but as a result of hard work and submitting a great story, not via a contest.
I can't give you the titles of all the novels because they are still in the contest circuit and I wouldn't want everyone to know who I am in case of unfair judging (either way).
These are for my first Carina Press release - Scandal's Mistress (Carina Press August 2012)
At times the dialogue felt a bit too modern. On page 10 Carmalina says, “Absolutely”. Earlier Justin thinks: Too easy.
In Chapter 1 Carmalina isn’t nervous about performing on stage. I think this is unrealistic given her throat ailment and the possibility of hitting bum notes. I think she’d be very nervous.
I felt the first kiss came too early in the story without enough motivation.
The characters were really appealing.
I was drawn into their lives and wanted to spend more time with them.
The author handled deep point of view well and managed to show nicely nuanced internal conflict within the first three chapters, especially on the heroine’s part.
Your story has possibilities: a good opening; a heroine with a lovely name and of interesting background; a hero who is different in that he’s disliked by many, including his family.
Unfortunately, the hero, as depicted, is a thoroughly nasty cad whom it would be difficult for any reader to like or view with sympathy.
If you read Regency you will see that ‘bottoms’ and ‘cocks’ do not appear. (This is absolutely my stupidest comment out of every contest and came from a non reader or writer of Regency)
You have a wonderful, lyrical voice. And a gift with characters. The ideas I had listed are really minimal but I want you to have every advantage when you submit this. You are very talented. Finish this book, submit it. I will be waiting to buy it. Good luck.
The grounding in history. The characters and their motivations and expectations simply don’t seem real or believable to me. They come off as very modern (esp the heroine).
The skill the author shows with the actual writing. The author’s strong suit is her voice and her craft. Everything else can be learned.
My second Carina Press release - Behind the Courtesan (Regency)
The author is a good writer, and the romantic tension she creates is well done, but the storyline is unoriginal and needs work.
The scenes with the hero and heroine are the best and the dialog well-crafted. The authors writing style is mature.
YOU’RE TELLING A STORY SET IN AN UNUSUAL SETTING, THE STAGE. IT’S NOT OFTEN DONE, BUT YOU DID IT WELL.
Well-paced, dialogue flows naturally, immediately sympathetic to the heroine, chapters end with a mini-cliff hangar and keeps you turning the pages. At one point I forgot I was supposed to be judging the entry!
You are obviously a talented writer and I can see where this can be a dynamite story. Keep in mind, I gave honest, no holds barred feedback, intending to help you improve the story with what I saw as weak spots. And it is only one judge’s opinion.
This author has done a great job on this story. If she (he) adds more action and more sexual tension to the first chapter and continues building that throughout the book, there should be no problem selling this story. Good job!
Very slow opening. Nothing happening to engage reader’s interest until third page and then it’s fleeting. The heroine’s observations don’t inspire curiosity, elicit emotion. Instead of telling us these home truths, find a way to show the facts, THEN let the heroine make the observation at the end of the scene, if she has to. If you’ve done a good job with the scene, she won’t. Way too much fal-de-ral at the beginning. Get to the meat of the story, viz. the base emotions she feels at the moment her world changes forever.
We'll call this one Sex (Contemporary - it does have a lot of sex in it =))
Scores - 108/115 - 106/115 - 77/115
This is one of those semi-outrageous sex-fantasies, but you got me to suspend my disbelief. I thought it was cute and very sexy. The love scenes were hot and fun.
More attention to character development. The hero came across as a horny college student on spring break. He needs to be attracted to the heroine for reasons more than physical. Also, the heroine needs to show some genuine emotional attraction to the hero as well. How is it that the hero is a plastic surgeon AND a sex therapist? That’s an unusual combination that should be explained.
We'll call this one Desperado (Chick lit)
Scores - 44/60 - 47/60 - 27/60
Effectively, you have no setting.
Nice voice, good flow, but all telling of the story. Needs more detail and lots more atmosphere.
The 10/10 is for the first two paragraphs.
I like the heroine’s voice and style, though it is a bit too much at times. She’s interesting, and I see the potential for a great deal of humour here.
The opening and the main character’s voice are both fresh and fun. I like the main character’s name.
Strong voice, characters feel alive, and i was hooked from the first sentence. I don’t know where the story goes, but it has the feel of a great read. If the rest of your manuscript is as captivating as the first five pages, all i can say is, wow! You have talent!
You need to do a little work on pov and characterization…just a little to tweak your natural talent. Head hopping, the characters acting a little bit over the top (though circumstances did allow this)…don’t rush the scene, and make sure you show how these characters are based on their actions. Are her hands shaking as she draws on nigel? Does he look her up and down? Do daniel’s fists clench? Take a little more time to really bring us into the moment of this great scene. Nice work.
Discussed in the manuscript—the dialogue overwhelms the story. It needs to be bolstered by good narrative and by layering of background material. It is effective in revealing characters—but somehow elements of those characters are not believable.
There are too many instances of telling, the pace being slow, the pov straying, awkward sentence structure, etc., for this entry to be submitted at this time frame to an agent or editor.
Great hook at the beginning, great pacing too. Dialog is also very strong. Characters come to life, especially in the opening scenes.
THE BEGINNING WAS VERY INTRIGUING. I BELIEVE THAT WITH SOME WORK, THIS COULD SELL.
Too much telling, not enough showing, sentences are mainly past tense, over-use of 'was,' 'to,' and 'had' hero isn't introduced until the 24th page and by the 34th page there are no signs of the hero and heroine meeting anytime soon, rarely uses all 5 senses