Last week I received another e-mail asking me to judge a writing contest. As always, I declined.
I don't judge writing contests. I can't judge writing contests.
I am mildly dyslexic, wildly impatient, and I have the attention span of a six-year-old the day before Christmas. Trust me, you do not want me reading your manuscript or your book and assigning it a score.
I would make a very poor contest judge, even if I tried hard. But here's the thing: I am not going to try. I can't think of any reason why I should. I have better things to do with my time than force myself to read, all in the name of fairness, books that do not fully engage my interest.
This attitude shocks most of the romance novelists I hang with. I have been accused (even by my friends, who say it nicely, but who still say it) of having an unprofessional attitude. But come on. My publisher doesn't give a flip whether I judge writing contests or not. So don't tell me that judging contests was part of the deal when I became a romance novelist. Judging contests is not the mark of a "professional" romance novelist any more than wearing a pink feather boa is.
And please don't tell me that if a writer enters Romance Writers of America's RITA contest (which I did last year) she is obligated to judge a couple of categories. Authors pay money to enter that contest; the entry form says nothing about promising to judge. If it did, I wouldn't have entered (I'm all for giving judges a break on their entry fees, however; that seems fair).
Yes, I can hear some of you now: "It's a moral obligation." Well, sorry, but I don't base my morals on public opinion, and I'm getting really tired of hearing other romance novelists drop heavy hints about things that are Done or Not Done in This Community. Girls, this is not high school, and I don't have to join the club and wear the sweater if I don't want to. Also, I'd like to point out that while only RWA members may judge the RITA contest, one need not be an RWA member to enter it. Bearing that in mind, doesn't that whole "moral obligation" argument begin to sound a little silly?
And please don't suggest--unless you want to hear me laugh--that I should judge contests because I owe something to the genre. The genre has done nothing for me. What success I've had in writing romance, I owe not to some nebulous concept of "the genre" but to the grace of God.
One of the ways I express my gratitude to Him is by offering encouragment to my fellow writers. That's part of what this blog is about. And in addition to having posted pages and pages of specific writing tips on my website, I have been active in several online writers' communities over the past three years, especially this one. Also, anyone who e-mails me with a question or comment will always get a quick, personal response.
I'm doing what I like to do and what I'm good at, helping other writers in my own small ways. I'm not particularly interested in whether the scorekeepers in the romance-writing community think I'm doing enough or doing the right things. I would like to believe that all contest judges are people who enjoy judging and who are good at it, but I often wonder how many have simply caved under pressure from their peers to "do their part".
I'm always flattered when someone values my opinion enough to ask me to critique a manuscript or judge a published book. But I'm afraid I must decline all offers to ride on the contest-judges' bandwagon.
Thanks for understanding. Even if you don't.
UPDATED FEBRUARY 3, 2009
For the next few days, this page will be getting hundreds of clicks because Romance Writer's of America's e-mail newsletter is linking here. I'd like to point out that my post is now almost four years old, and while my sentiments about judging contests have not changed a bit, I have for the past three years judged RWA's RITA contest. That's because I've been entering my own books, and any RWA member who enters and who does not volunteer to judge other categories of the contest risks having her own books tossed out if too few judges sign up. In that sense, many RITA judges have not volunteered for the job. They have been coerced.