In an event of a dismal loss, I was counting on some direct, constructive feedback from the judges as my consolation prize. The judges, comprised of a group of agents, editors and published authors, complete a detailed score-card that gives a breakdown of categories such as characters, setting, voice, conflict, mechanics, and so on. Included in my 'thanks for trying' email, are three of the judges score cards for my entry: then known Going for Gold (now as Tumble Into Me).
The results of my three score cards, each marked out of 100 possible points, vary quite interestingly. Two of the judges comments are similar, while the results of the third one differs and is less positive. Upon scrolling down my entry towards the scorecard, I have one of those 'can't look' moments. As in, since I didn't qualify for the next round, I was anticipating depressing scores. Surprisingly, before I reached the results of my first scoring, the judge left some comments and some tips: really positive comments I might add (which I'll circle back to in a moment). In any case, I found myself immediately relieved and willing to face the scores.
From the results, my strengths are character (18/20), dialogue (14/15 - with remarks about watching out for dialogue tags) and setting (9/10) - these are areas I do feel comfortable and somewhat confident in so I found this reassuring. I received average results on conflict (7/10). I'm really pleased to have scored 16/20 on style/voice and that the judge felt that my writer's voice was 'unique, enjoyable and flows smoothly at a good pace', that she'd like to see more emotional responses, and to be careful of the occasional 'head-hopping'. Lower points were given for opening/hook (something I'm continuing working to improve) with a score of 3/5. Mechanics, which includes grammar, punctuation and POV received the lowest at 2/5. While this is surprising to me: I've never received negative marks on grammar and punctuation, it's generally a strong suit of mine, this does remind me of areas to be mindful of. Out of a possible 100 points, this judge gave me 78! Phew! Not as bad as I feared. Then again, I am not sure if that is considered quite low in the scheme of the contest results, but it's a number I can swallow.
*NOTE: I really enjoyed the story. It’s a lovely premise and I’d love to read more and find out about Julia and Liam. Your dialogue is snappy and fits the country. Good job. I really like Liam – a lot. He’s the sort of kind, caring, hot, hunk of a guy we’d all like to fall in love with. They both have enough secrets that it makes the reader curious and dying to learn more about how they’ve come to be together in this far away land. You’re right, there is definitely something hot about a Scottish accent. Good luck with your story.
The second score was even better! I earned 83/100! I got flying colours on character (20/20) & dialogue (15/15) and for style/voice I achieved 19/20! I couldn't happier! Some of the other scoring are alike but the mechanics one - the one about grammar and punctuation and POV and previously earned the surprising 2/5... I earned 5/5! On one hand, I am feel redeemed, that I do have a relatively clear understanding about grammar and punctuation and that my POVs are clear. Like everyone, I'm not perfect, run-on sentences sneak in here or there, as well as a purposeful fragment of a sentence (to help establish perhaps the characters internal response, or mood or such). As I am in an editing draft, any areas where the POV seems unclear, I do take time to go through entire scenes or chapters if needed and make sure the switch is clear.
On the other hand, now that I have two different points and comments on the mechanics portion, how can I tell which one I should...heed? Not only that, these two judges had exactly the opposite to say about the storyline/plot: one saying how they love how 'they both have enough secrets to keep the reader curious and leaves them dying to know why/how they come together in this far away land'. The 2nd judge asked 'why is she in Scotland to begin with? Might be nice to indicate this from the start'. This is a purposeful decision on my part and I feel the first judge/reader has the response I would hope for - they are intrigued, curious and want to know more. Again, I am left with two opposing reactions ( which realistically would be what different readers may have). What better way than to see 'where the majority is', then to see what the third judge had to say?
As mentioned, my third and final score card had a less than favourable score (imho); possibly because I was feeling content and encouraged with the scoring of the first two. The comments are exactly what an aspiring author wants and needs: praise for areas that work great and what areas need extra attention (and in some cases suggestions of where to look for examples of how to improve these). My third score was a whopping, wait for it - 59! Where both previous judges scored similarly, this judge rated the same category drastically lower, ending with comment that 'overall the entry was average.' Don't get me wrong, this judge did also include constructive comments highlighting points she liked and suggested areas to look at for improvements. All of which I will take in to serious consideration. I want my story to succeed, and to do that I need to accept areas of weakness in order to learn what it takes to improve them!
I know this is the first of many forms of feedback I will get going forward. Readers may or may not like my story, judges may or may not get it, and agents may or may not want it. This is the first in receiving this type of feedback on my story. All I can do is learn from the comments and hopefully find a way to determine which comments/suggestions to work on and which to let slide - as I've found out before, contradicting feedback is enough to make my head spin. If any writer's out there have developed a way to weed through the positives and negatives and select what truly will work to improve the novel, and how to avoid listening to feedback that may not be right for YOUR project, please, please...share!