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RWA’s national published contest: the RITA’s. Are all books judged the same?

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It's been a little while since everyone who didn't final in the RITA's received their scores. Every year this happens, I think a few different things.

  1. Why give scores out at all?
  2. If giving out scores, why not ask for judges comments, and especially reasoning when giving out bad scores?
  3. Are the RITA's worth entering?
  4. And why do I enter anyway?

Now, I'm going to start this off with this qualifier: THIS IS NOT A SOUR GRAPES post. I've been judged harshly before. I've gotten bad reviews before. Not everyone is going to like my work. It is not for everyone and not just people who don't read romances. I'm sure some lovers of romance won't find my brand as wonderful as another author. When I got a 1-star review from a woman who didn't like the fact there was sex in the book, obviously she picked the wrong book and well, not everyone likes chocolate, but as one reviewer commented: does that mean you should bash chocolate?

Interesting question. In that case, I think the review sold me some books. But mostly, I'd say, if you don't like chocolate to begin with, don't write a bad review. But if you are a lover this type of book and you thought everything went wrong with book, then by all means, leave that 1 star review loud and proud.

I'm being very honest here. This is because, in order to crack that barrier from known to unknown, authors need to have both lovers and haters. As a brand, we don't exist if no one hates us. The most powerful form of marketing for authors is readers talking to other readers and not just if they love the book, but hating it too. As many people LOVED 50 Shades, many others HATED. That debate sold a lot of books!

Why is this important? Because I know, if I'm going to cross from the level I'm at right now, to the next level, I do need those discussions between readers. I can promote my books all I want. My lovers can promote my books and they will sell a few more copies that way, but what makes people stop, look, and listen?

Controversy. So if readers are vehemently hating and judging publicly, well, I say, that author has done something RIGHT.

So, I honestly don't mind someone giving me a bad review AND telling me why. I've a few readers tell me my heroine was too winey. I hear that enough, I'm going to take a good look at my writing. I mean, the readers and their opinions are important to me. I don't take criticism personally, especially when a reader gives me a reason why.

What fascinates me is that many people don't bother to write a review for a book that was 'okay'. Even at times if they thought it was the best book ever, they might not take the time to write that review. But if a reader is that disappointed, they are all over that! And, as it should be, but again, the reason really helps me out. I can either look at it from the idea that the reader is the reader for my type of books, or maybe it's something I really need to look at, or maybe the book is fine, but the reader and I have a difference of opinion. It happens.

I have judged a lot of contests and I have given low scores before. Usually we have a bunch of questions that we rate, so I can usually find one area that the author excels in and I can say something TRUE and POSITIVE. Not because I feel the need to be politically correct. Nope. that's not me. Nor am I just being nice. That said, much of writing is a craft that is learned and takes many years to master. We all started somewhere. Someone's grammar may such, but their descriptions could be stupendous. Their characters may suck, but the plot interesting. They may have impeccable grammar, but the characters don't pop off the page.

I remember feeling really bad about giving a low score in the RITA's last year. I went through all my notes thought about the different elements and while I didn't feel as though the writing was as good as it could have been and I found a few flaws in the plot. I also took issue with one of the characters and how they behaved in one scene. I gave it a 5. That score says a lot and I felt it was an accurate score. The book, in my opinion, was mediocre. But I really wish I could have explained my score to the author. They may not agree, but how can we improve if we don't get to know how people feel about the words on the page?

But you all say, Jen, this is a published contest, why should we give you feedback, you already know what you're doing?

To which I respond with: Then why the fuck did someone give me a 1?

If a 10=perfection. A perfect storm of words, characters, plot, and all that goes into a book without one single thing that didn't work.

Then a 5=well, I won't remember it tomorrow and I might not ever read that author again, but I didn't want to cut my eyeballs out.


Did I take the 1 I got on my recent RITA score that way? Nope. I did not. Do I think it was fair? Hell no. And not because I think I'm all that. I don't. That said, a 1 is not a representation of my work. Granted, I get that there is always a level of subjectiveness to judging and what I think is a knock out, someone will think it's mediocre. HOWEVER, we are judging the writing. And we are all professionals in the same industry. We read as authors, not as readers. So, you can hate my work as a fellow author, but judge it on its writing merits.

Now, I could be way off base, because I have no idea why this person gave me a 1, but I'd really like to know. I might not like the reason, but I'd have an understanding. If I didn't, than that's on me, not the judge.

Unless it was just a mean move. Again, not suggesting it is (though others have), but I'd be lying if it didn't feel like it had that mean twist to it. I mean, this is a really small business and its not like I haven't 'done' a few things in my day.

I've kind of always worried that the RITA's have become a popularity contest. I don't know. I've been lucky, most of the books I've judged have been by authors I've never heard of, so I had no preconceived notions. I have read authors that I'd heard of, but hadn't ever read.

There is no answer to fixing the contest to make it fair for everyone. Right now, if you enter, you have to judge. We don't have enough judges. But peers judging peers isn't always a good thing.

I don't know if I will enter again or not. I do have a book I published this year that I think is the best work I've done to date. We shall see....


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