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Contests from a Judge’s Perspective

by Lisa Jordan

Rejection, though undeniably painful, does not have to hold us back from accomplishing what God wants us to do. ~Jennifer Benson Shuldt

After entering one of my first writing contests, I was determined never to enter another. After all, my low scores attested to judges’ inabilities to recognize talent, right?

Uh huh…

Actually my own inflated view of my words and lack of growth as a writer contributed to those scores.

Looking back, entering that contest gave me an initial taste of rejection in the publishing world. I could have given up at that point because, after all, why bother?
Lakeside Sweethearts Book Cover
But I didn’t. I knew I was supposed to be a writer because I felt God’s calling in my life.

That contest entry motivated me to learn and grow as a writer.

I’ve judged quite a few contests over the past few years-both for unpublished and published writers. I’ve come to understand how agents and editors can read just a couple of pages before they’re able to determine a writer’s level of ability.

Here are three things I’ve learned as a contest judge:

Judging is subjective. What I love, another judge may dislike. What I dislike may resonant with another judge. Reading is subjective. Trying to write a story that pleases everyone is impossible. Write the story of your heart.

Low scores encourage growth. Seriously. Would you prefer to have a contest judge say your entry isn’t ready for publication, or would you rather risk that one shot with your dream agent or editor? Feedback offers you an opportunity to improve your craft so when it’s time to submit to an agent or editor, then you will have a stronger chance to gain a publishing contract.

Rejection shows your courage. You’re willing to put your work out there for others to read. This leap of faith doesn’t go unnoticed by editors and agents seeking wonderful stories. When you take steps to strengthen your skills, that shows them you’re willing to grow as a writer and improve your writing abilities. It shows you have a teachable spirit, and you’re willing to invest in your career.

God has a plan and a purpose for your writing career, but it’s also a learning process. So, the next time you receive low scores, consider the feedback and use it as a tool to strength your skills. Those scores aren’t meant to deter you from your goals, but to inspire you to work toward greatness.

LisaJordan2x3HeadshotRepresented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such, Lisa Jordan is an award-winning contemporary Christian romance author for Love Inspired. She believes in promises of hope and happily ever after and threads those themes into her stories. Her third novel, Lakeside Sweethearts, released this month. Visit her at

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2 Responses to Contests from a Judge’s Perspective

  1. You are so right, Lisa. I shudder to think where I would be if I’d submitted some of the stories I entered in contests. I encourage every writer to enter contests that offer feedback. The feedback I received made a huge difference in my writing.

  2. Meleah Heavner says:

    Thanks for this post, Lisa. I appreciate your encouragement. I’m assuming that your post is not necessarily advocating that people start entering contests, so much as keeping an objective mind-set regardless of the results, right? Because one thing that concerns me about contests is the cost. The minimum I have seen to enter a contest is, on average, about $15 as far as I’ve seen. Are there any contests to enter that are at a lower cost or, better yet, free (via some kind of sponsorship or something)? I understand if there is a cash prize it is probably funded by the entry fees, but I don’t know. And I’ve been told that entering contests with a low fee is a sign that they’re not worth entering in some way anyway, not very reputable or the feedback is non-existent. The contests I’ve entered so far have all costed no less than $10 and that was rare. I think one costed me $45. And I have never gotten any feedback, whatsoever, on any of them, except to say that I didn’t win. That’s why one thing I really look forward to about this site is the opportunity to ‘barter’ critiques, so to speak, via the critique groups. I think your advice about not giving up, if you do get negative feedback, is spot on, but is there a list anywhere of good contests to enter, where one can at least get some feedback of some kind, just even a couple of sentences? I’ve stopped entering contests altogether, as of now, until I figure out what to do. Any other suggestions?