Demystifying Contest Judges’ Critiques

Have you ever done something brave like scale a mountain, stand up to a bully or clean your boys’ bathroom toilet? (I have been there!)

It seems like you gather all of your strength about you and charge directly at the thing you are trying to do before you lose your courage.

Entering a Contest is a lot like that! We send our words off to kind hearted judges, who in their wisdom marked it up and now it sits in our in boxes.

I know you have been eyeing it since the first time you opened it and were sure you’d faint dead away. Now it sits there waiting for you, only you’re not sure if you are brave enough to open it again.

Why is it so hard to open? Partly, because we don’t really know how to interpret all of the comments. I want to encourage you to sit back and take a deep breath, then try the method below.

Hints For Demystifying Judges’ Feedback:

*First Analyze the Feedback by filling out the form below. Do Not Even Think About the comments yet, or try to make sense of them. If you do, you will just get overwhelmed. Right now, just do a movement of Data.

*Fill out this form below. You can find a printable chart copy at: Under the Resources Page

Type of Comments

Judge 1            Exp. Level & Genre: __________

Judge 2         Exp. Level & Genre: _________

Judge 3            Exp. Level & Genre: __________

 Compliments/Strong Elements In Your Writing
Recommendations for Spelling/Format/ Basic Grammar Rules
 Recommendations For Plot/Tension/ Story Line/Hook
Recommendations For Character’s/ POV/ Journey of the Character
Recommendations For The Synopsis
Greatest Weaknesses (Top 3)
Other Thoughts

*Developed By Michelle Lim .

*Look through the comments and highlight any similarities in one color.

*Spend some time rereading the compliments.

*Before writing the three greatest weaknesses, consider the highlighted commonalities and also the level of skill and genre of the judge.

*Fill in the three weaknesses and determine which ones you will work on first.

*Divide the year into three parts and assign one skill to each third. 

*Find Strong Resources on the skills you need help with and read, attend a workshop online or in person and practice the skills. 

*Keep your score sheets to analyze your own personal growth from year to year. It may encourage you to see the amount your writing has improved, even if you don’t final in a contest.

Writing Craft Resources That I Recommend:

Writing a Break Out Novel   By: Donald Maass

From the Inside Out, Deep And Wide, Kiss & Tell, and The Book Buddy.  All From Susan May Warren and My Book Therapy.

Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View  By: Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors  By: Brandilyn Collins

Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great  By: Donald Maass

Plot & Structure  By: James Scott Bell

What resources or tips can you recommend for learning from contests?


About Michelle Lim

Author Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle’s romantic suspense is represented by Karen Solem of Spencillhill Associates and has gained contest recognition in the Frasier, the Genesis, and the Phoenix Rattler, winning the Genesis in 2015 for her genre. Michelle writes devotionals for The Christian Pulse Online Magazine and Putting On The New. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories.

8 thoughts on “Demystifying Contest Judges’ Critiques

  1. dtopliff says:

    This is useful & constructive. I did find my 49 pt. eval. more helpful than my gushy 99 pointer, though a little shocked by the dichotomy.

  2. clearshoals says:

    This is great, Michelle. Thanks! And after breaking it all down, I recommend letting the comments and suggestions “marinate” for a while. Like dtopliff, I had a wide range between scores on a second entry. Both judges were published. So what happened? After putting it all aside and letting it sit for a while, I reviewed my synopsis and realized I made a crucial error in one sentence. One judge apparently took it as I intended, but the other judge took it literally (looking at it now, I don’t blame her one bit. I might have done the same) and it apparently affected her perception on character emotion and storyline. I’ve already marked it for correction.

    I grimaced, but the comments are very helpful. So thankful for them, and for people like you who are willing to help us make sense of it all.


    • Michelle Lim says:

      Excellent advise, Kimberli! Sometimes letting what you discover marinate allows you to contemplate the idea after you are over the emotional attachment to its preexisting condition. So glad you stopped by for a few tips!

  3. jeannemt says:

    MIchelle, love this form! I think I’m going to copy it and work on it. 🙂 Your suggestions and book ideas are right on. Thank you! The things I know to do you or one of the other commenters have already suggested. So thankful for your willingness to share your wisdom!

    • Michelle Lim says:

      Jeanne, glad the form is helpful. I used to just stare at my critiques and go, huh? What should I do with this? When I stepped back and allowed myself only to analyze the information in this format it freed me from some of the emotional attachment I had to my work.

  4. Great advice, Michelle. I haven’t really looked at the entry that didn’t semi-final, but when I do, this will definitely help. I’ve emailed this to several people I know.

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