Friday, May 21, 2010

Digesting, Dissecting, Delighting, and De-licing Contest Feedback

It is contest season, and many of us are either getting back scores or getting ready to get them. Scores received from judges are hard (not sure I would want one from the guy in this picture....) There are many horror stories that make you want to cry, and other stories of delight that make some (myself included) want to puke--er, I mean happy for that extremely talented person!

In my 2 years of entering contests, I've received back 8 sets of scores with comments. One other that just had an overall score with no comments. And wow. They varied a TON! From a perfect score all the way to about 50% of the possible score... on the same manuscript! It makes one very confused to receive such differing comments.

So, how do you digest all this feedback you get? How do you know what to listen to, and what to throw in the fireplace and watch burn with utter delight?

I gotta be honest. I doubt I've perfected this yet. But I do have some suggestions that I hope will be helpful. I call this the Quadruple D method. (not to be confused with a very large bra size...)


When you get your scores, read through them, then step away. Far away. How long depends on how bad they are and how thick skinned you are. But taking time to digest and get over the initial "HOW DARE THEY" reaction is very important. As a note, I wrote a post on the stages of coping with contest failure on my own blog after I found out that I didn't final in the Golden Heart Contest in March. That might help you during this stage!


When you are ready to read your results and actually digest them, do it slowly and methodically. Separate comments in to these categories (or others that you see fit)
  • GSP. Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation These are usually easy fixes, and we ALL have them in our manuscripts. I'm convinced that we can edit until we are blue in our faces and still have that one stupid missed period or "double" word.
  • DUH ME! These are things that are glaring, that you want to slap yourself for not seeing. They may be a place where you "told" instead of "showed" or wrote something that made no sense at all.
  • WOW! I love these. It occurs when you get a comment that puts a finger on a spot that never felt just right to you anyway, and it NAILS exactly what was wrong. That plot point that was a little too weak, or that sentence that just sounded kinda funny. LOVE this kind of feedback!
  • Hmmmm. Sometimes there are comments that just cause us to think a little more. We aren't sure if we agree with them or not. It might be an "ly" word that for you, works really well because, of course, YOU use them sparingly, but the judge says it's a no-no. Or a comment about a character, or conflict, that doesn't completely ring true.
  • Um, no. These are things that we just plain disagree on. The judge might not like a character, might think your dialogue is stilted, or think that you don't have a strong enough conflict, but you think all of those things are actually really good. You might even have other judges that complement you on these same things.
  • WHAT THE...?? Yes, I would finish that with the word "heck." Not CBA friendly, I know. My apologies. But still, these are the comments that make us scratch our head because they really make no sense at all. They are almost downright comical, or will be in a year when we get over our low score because of them. Seriously, what was the judge THINKING?

Okay, you've digested the criticism. Take a minute to look at the positive notes. What things are you doing right? Where are your strengths? This might differ from judge to judge. I had one judge in the Genesis this year, actually most of them, that said my dialogue was my strength and that I did an excellent job on it. However, one judge out of the 6 (I had 2 entries) said that my dialogue was too long and stilted, and needed work. I'm choosing to think highly of my dialogue. 5 of 6 works for me! LOL.

But seriously, take a minute to smile at the praise. As much as we need criticism to get better, we need praise to stay sane!


After you have basked in the praises, it's time to rub your hands together and get to work. Have you ever had to help someone get lice out of their hair? I have. We had 3 foster kids and 2 children of our own at the time, and found out that we had a very heavy infestation of lice (unsure if kids brought it with them, but that's a long story...)

Regardless, for the 2 boys, I just shaved their head with clippers, made them use the special shampoo, picked out anything left, and we were done. Easy! Oh, and my baby at the time didn't have much hair, so that was quick too. Think of these as your GSP's and your DUH's. Get them done and over with, then on to the next.

My husband and I also had some, hubby more than me since he stays home with kiddos. For me, I sat patiently while hubby combed through my hair. Blah! It was a pain, but we got it done in short order as mine wasn't too infested. For him though, at the time he sported a hair style that was long. I mean shoulder-length, wear in ponytail long. And he has this gorgeous thick hair. Or shall I say, did. Yes, we had to cut it. And I mean, army-style shave your head, cut. It was painful, but we knew it needed to be done because it would take hours upon hours to get it out. Those would be your WOW's. You know it needs to be done, you do it, and you're much better off for it.

But then we came to the 2 girls. Neither would sit still for more than five minutes. Both had gorgeous at least shoulder length hair, Karalynn's was half-way down her back. I wanted to throw up at the thought of cutting it. But at the same time, after days of trying every remedy known to man, there was still lice in their hair. We could never get it all. We finally had to call the doctor and get professional help by way of a prescription, and eventually, yes, I did have to cut a good bit of it off.

And this, my friends, are your Hmmm's, Um... no's and WHAT THE...?'s. (stop rolling your eyes at me please!) Seriously. This is when might just need assistance to figure out what to do.

For your Hmmmm's, look at how many judges commented on it. Did some say it was great, and some say it was awful? Did they explain themselves? Many times though, you are truly stuck, and this is when a good writer's group or crit group comes in. They can help you weed through the remarks. Sometimes though, it's just going with your gut.

For your Um .... no's... I HIGHLY recommend that you get another opinion. I can NOT tell you how many time I've rejected a crit only to discuss with with someone else, and be lovingly put in my place. Sometimes, just talking it over with a 3rd party who knows writing helps you see it from another angle that you were blind to before. But then, other times your gut is right, and this can be disregarded.

For your WHAT THE...?'s, laugh hard. No, really, I'm not kidding. Learn to laugh at them. I've found that most of the time these are due to different generations, different writing audiences, and different belief structures. We are all different, and come from a different set of assumptions about life, faith, and what is acceptable in books. Maybe you did go a little overboard and need to tone a section down... but many times I just chalk these comments up to funny and move on. I could moan about how they cost me a contest final, but in the end, I write to serve God, not any one persons' opinion. Once you get published, you'll have reviews that say some pretty crazy things too, so just think of it as practice for your future published self.

Discussion: Have you entered contests lately and gotten feedback? Was the feedback helpful? I totally understand that some are still smarting from their recent contest feedback, so feel free to share how you're feeling here. Some of us have the same thoughts! Please though, be kinda and respectful to judges. Regardless of whether we always agree with them, we here on the alley appreciate all of their hard work, time, and effort that they put into judging. I think I speak for all of us when I say: The helpful feedback beats on the bad stuff any day!


Jill Kemerer said...

Just saw this RT'd on twitter and had to stop by. Great post. All of it rings true! I've entered a few contests and always learn something but usually have a few head-scratching moments too!

Pepper said...

FANTASTIC post, Krista. I'm feeling that post-traumatic contest results (PTCR) today, but all will be well. You know, in the BIG picture, it's really JUST a contest. That's it.
AND - most of the people who do these have the best of intentions.
One of the judges from my most recent contest results took A LOT of time to help 'teach' me how to improve my craft. She's getting a BIG time thank you note.

Oh yeah, that's another thing. Thank You notes are always a nice gesture....if I don't end up burning up the papers with my gaze ;-) Maybe we should wait a few days to send them...after we've remember that we're Christians. LOL

Keli Gwyn said...

Great job on the post, Krista. Not only do you give helpful tips, but you do so in an entertaining way.

You mentioned one of your strengths that your contest judges have noted, that being dialogue. What are some of your other "Delighting" comments?

Casey said...

LOL Pepper, I like that idea. :) Oh, I still haven't gotten my contest entries back, but I think probably this weekend if the message on the ACFW loop is any clue. Oh joy.

I have gotten a lot of crits from my coach and hers can be very hard to swallow. But her words have made my writing better. So after stepping back (and several deep breaths later) I am ready to make those changes. And what I have found is that I actually really like to revise if I have edits telling me what is wrong before me.

Great post Krista, thanks!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great strategies, Krista!

As hard as it is to swallow, it's a whole lot easier to have someone tell you what they think is wrong rather than simply etching a score on the paper. Then you have the choice to fix or leave.

Krista Phillips said...

Jill, thanks! yes, there are always those few head-scratching comments. I've learned to laugh them off (for the most part... ha!)

Pepper, you are so right. It IS just a contest. At the moment, to be honest it's nice to have something to focus on instead of baby issues, so I'm using it for that:-)

Casey.. me thinks you need to come and revise for me since you like it, HA!!

Mary, I agree, it's nice to get the feedback, no matter how difficult it is sometimes!

Krista Phillips said...

Keli... My delighting comments...

Most agreed that my POV was great (although one said it was great and still gave me a 3... hrm.)

One noted that my use of secondary characters was great... but again, gave me a 3. *sigh*

Most agreed that I had a good, distinguishable writer's voice and knack for humor. One suggested I write more like another author, and that slightly irritated me because I want to be my OWN brand, not someone elses.

One said I did show and tell nicely (but another said I stunk, lol! My words paraphrasing theirs of course!)

One wrote that I had a strength in developing characters into people we care about (but some others disagreed)

I have a LOT of food for thought, and a lot of delicing to do, too though, so I've passed quickly through the "delighting" phase:-)

Christina Tarabochia said...

Krista, this is genius! I was just talking with a friend. Her POV character shared her real-life career. One of her WHAT THE ...? was a judge telling her she needed to do more research because it wasn't realistic!

Oh, and you brought back de-licing memories. Thank you so much. ;p Andrea got them the night before 1st grade, starting at a new school. Took 5 hours of section by section picking to get them out of her thick, angel-curl, shoulder length hair. :(

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Krista -

I still haven't received feedback from the Genesis contest. This will definitely help process whatever comes down the pike. :)

Susan :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh Krista, this was genius! It is sooo incredibly helpful! I love how you broke it all down. Amazing!!!

I haven't gotten my Genesis scores back yet, so I'm sure I will be doing some whining, and reflecting on what you had to say about digesting them.

My TBL scores were really good. One judge didn't have much to say, but the other two had suggestions on tightening up some scenes, which really helped. It was one of those Wow moments that really made me think and want to get to it and make it better. Sure there were some grammar type stuff, but that doesn't make me roll my eyes and question "WHY". :)


Karen Lange said...

Good stuff, thank you. The last two contests I entered didn't give any feedback, so it's hard to know how I missed the mark...but onward and upward:)