Here Comes The Judge: A Guest Post by K.S. Brooks


K.S. Brooks is an award-winning action-adventure novelist, children’s book author and photographer. Brooks is the author of Lust for Danger, The Kiss of Night, Night Undone, The Mighty Oak and Me, Postcards from Mr. Pish, and Mr. Pish’s Woodland Adventure. She is also a freelance editor and recurring judge of the Maryland Writers’ Association’s Novel Writing Contest.

I’ve been honored that an extremely reputable writers’ association has invited me to be a top-level judge for their annual novel-writing contest numerous times now. I recently received a follow-up email from them with a point I found to be most curious:

Issue: A few writers complained vehemently about the critiques. Their feelings were hurt. They told me that they only wanted to know whether they won or lost. Next time, we could have the writer opt in if they want the judges’ written remarks. What do you think?

What I answered: I will write my comments anyway because it helps me to score the manuscript. I would say NOT to tell the judges if the writer opts out because that could influence the judging in some way as it becomes obvious that they do not wish to become better writers by learning from others. I’d say whoever coordinates the information back to the writers should control if they see the critiques or not.

What I was really thinking: Seriously? Their feelings were hurt? They’re lucky to get judges who are conscientious enough to provide them with feedback. Most agents and publishers won’t do that, so how will they learn what their strengths and weaknesses are? The idea of this is just completely absurd to me.

If you have a tendency to use the same word three times in the same sentence, wouldn’t you want to know? If you don’t know how to properly use punctuation, wouldn’t you want to know? If you’re point is lost due to wordiness, wouldn’t you want to know? Perhaps a more important question is: Why wouldn’t you want to know?

I always make an effort to note not only the bad parts of the manuscript but also the highlights, like a nice bit of imagery or a clever line of dialogue. I try to follow “The One Minute Manager” style to keep things balanced even if the writing is so bad it’s nearly unbearable to read. There’s no reason to tell someone that you’d rather slit your own wrists than read one more word of their pathetic attempt at a manuscript.

Once I traveled from Boston to New York City at the invitation of a literary agent. I handed her my manuscript and was promised a detailed critique when she was done reading it. Time passed, and I didn’t hear anything so I dropped the agent a line. Her response was a curt rejection. There was no critique. There was no explanation.

Critiques are worth their weight in gold.

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