The Golden Heart Part 1: Judging Contests

judge_ribbonA simple rationale and guest blog by the Grammar Wench, Jody Wallace

Not all contests are created equal. The Golden Heart requires a first round judge to read 55 pages (partial + synopsis) per entry. The scores based on only the partial are tallied using a four-part rubric. The judges are not allowed to comment, but they certainly have opinions about the entries and reasons for judging.

So, why take time to judge writing contests when you’re so Gol Dern busy?

Because you’re a writer.

That’s what it boils down to. You’re probably a writer if you plan to read this series of posts. If you’re not, you at least have a mad love for reading, hence your involvement with RWA or a similar organization.

As a writer, you’re curious.

As a curious writer, you want to know things. Such as what other people are writing. Especially people who aren’t published yet, because published stuff is already available.

One way to find out what’s unpublished and lurking in the wings is to judge contests.

Thus, judging contests fulfills your curiosity.

If that’s not enough rationale for you (and if that’s not a long enough post for our esteemed Ms. Jillian Lark), consider the distinct probability that you, as a writer, can hone your talent for words and become better at what you do by judging contests.

No, I’m not talking about your razor sharp wit. Contest judging isn’t an invitation to hone your predilection for pithy putdowns. Leave that to Simon Cowell, your fiction, your battles with your nemesis, and occasional encounters with rude strangers who totally deserve it.

Contest judging is an opportunity to exercise your skill in literary analysis, which you need in order to, I don’t know, solve your own plotting issues, combined with your skill at finding the perfect words for difficult situations. And that, my friends, comes in handy anytime you write anything.

Can you look at a piece of writing and think, “I see what she did there, and that’s clever?” Can you look at a piece of writing and think, “There but for the grace of Dog, go I?” Dogs not being particularly graceful, when you read a piece of writing with an eye for judgment, you can become more aware of the underpinnings of said writing and your own writing as well. You can figure out what ingredients were used to create this stew of plot and character. What ingredients were used…and what ingredients might make the stew more palatable.

In your opinion.

In your perfectly worded, because you’re an awesome writer, but honest opinion. That opinion may be in the vein of Yippee I Love You, and that opinion may be less salubrious, but equally supportive. You’re a contest judge, not a book reviewer, whose job is to share an opinion with other readers. What you have to say is literally FOR the author, who does not deserve to be kicked in the face no matter how much you disliked the partial. That’s called punching down, friends, and mostly it’s something power-tripping jerks do. You’re not a power-tripping jerk with limited writing skills, are you?

Which is to say, if you cannot find the right words to be honest yet diplomatic with a fellow writer, you may not be as talented a writer yourself as you think.

It takes no effort to be snarky, rude or insulting, given the anonymity of most contest judging. Look at any Internet comments section, if you dare. The difference between a crappy contest judge and an Internet troll is that the judge will (maybe) spell more words correctly and not mention Hitler. One hopes. On the other hand, it takes a lot of effort—and skill—to build up without putting down.

Can you do it? Can you satisfy your curiosity about the “competition,” enrich your writerly competence, and fairly judge contests? Can you give your peer who entered the contest something to chew on, not something that will gag her? There’s a wonderful reward in it for you—a unique look at works-in-progress, improved mastery of words, and the chocolate you will buy yourself because yum. And that reward is why you should judge contests, if you can find the time, the opportunity, and the grace.

Happy Judging! ~ Jody Wallace

Jody Wallace photo

The Grammar Wench, aka Jody Wallace, spent umpteen or sevenish years coordinating her local RWA chapter contest and enters and judges a lot of contests as well. Ms. Wallace loves grammar, commas, cats, amigurumi, writing romance novels, drinking a maximum of two cups of coffee a day, watching her handsome husband do dishes, and battling her nemesis with razor sharp wit.

You can find out more about Ms. Wallace at, and you can find out more about the mistress of the Wallace household, Meankitty, at


Are you judging the Golden Heart contest?  If so, why did you volunteer?  Have you judged other contests?



Scoring Guidelines and Registration for Judging The Golden Heart (RWA members only)

Kristan Huxman

Erin O’Quinn

Kay Hudson

Loucinda McGary

Related posts:

How to Build a Better Writing Contest

Future posts:

Golden Heart series continues next week and ends in Mar. 2014. Click here to follow my blog.


  1. Thanks for featuring me!

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