Any Contest Score Can be a Winner No Matter How Low It Is

By Pamela, S. Meyers
A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love, and Love Will Find a Way, contemporary romantic mysteries, and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other midwestern spots for new story ideas.

Last week, as head coordinator for ACFW’s 2015 Genesis Writing contest,
I returned the first round judged entries that were not semi-finalists. Since
then, I’ve heard some entrants express disappointment in their scores. Of course, we’ve all heard again and
again how subjective these contests are  It’s the same with most
everything from books, to movies, to food and fashion. Not everything appeals
to everyone the same way. And it’s that way with our writing. It’s all subjective. But does that mean if we don’t place in a contest all is lost? Of course not!

Some years ago, before I became involved in Genesis as the head
coordinator, I decided to convert a third person POV manuscript into a first
person POV. A daunting task, as anyone who has done this knows. I eagerly
rubbed my hands together, anxious to let the process begin and was pleased with the results.
My crit partners had seen the story from its inception and I needed
fresh eyes for feedback. What better place to find that than the ACFW Genesis
Contest? I told myself it most likely wasn’t going to place, and that was okay.
The judge feedback was what I was after. Meanwhile, I continued to work on the
manuscript, and by the time the semi-finalists were announced, I’d changed the
beginning at least three times.
Even though I’d said I wasn’t looking to move on to Round 2, when my
name wasn’t on the semi-finalist list, I felt a strong tinge of disappointment, but I tucked it away. Late one evening, a couple weeks later, the judged entries arrived in my email. I
knew better than to open them then since judges’ comments were likely
the last thing I wanted in my head just before sleep. That notion lasted about
five minutes. I opened them.
Bad mistake.
The scores were much lower than any I’d ever received in a contest. After
I scraped myself up off the floor, I moved past the numerical scores and
skimmed the judges’ comments, reading some and ignoring others, then licked my
wounds and shut off the computer. I did fall right to sleep, but an hour later, my
eyes popped open. My judged entries immediately materialized in my mind’s eye, and soon, the voices in my head began their taunts.
“You can’t write.”
“What were you thinking?”
“Time to give it up.”
On and on they went, until a Greater Voice broke through the clamour.  I sensed God was telling me it was time to get off the pity pot and focus on someone else.
I began praying for a friend’s sister who was gravely ill. Within moments I
fell back to sleep.
next morning, I spent time in one of my favorite passages, Hebrews 10: 35-36:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You
need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive
what he has promised.

I’ve never doubted my call
to write, and knew from Galatians 6:9 that God had promised me that at the
proper time I would reap a harvest if I didn’t give up. I camped on those verses
for a length of time, meditating and praying, then called a crit partner.
She helped me realize that
by switching genres I also needed to change how to begin my story. We
brainstormed and soon, fresh ideas for new opening chapters flew between us
faster than we could say them. She showed me that the judges’ comments were
spot on because they pinpointed issues others had missed. That made entering
the contest all the more worthwhile. I hung up with a renewed and
energized spirit, grateful for all I had learned in a one-hour phone call and
from some of the lowest contest scores I’d ever received.
Rarely have I regretted entering a writing contest, even if I didn’t
place. And this experience was no different. No matter how low your scores on a
contest entry are, remember there is always a nugget or two in the comments to
help point you in the right direction. You just need to keep your eyes open so
you don’t miss the prize.
What have you learned from your judged contest entries or from judging writing contests yourself?