By Iola Goulton
Omega Writers have recently announced the finalists in the 2020 CALEB Award. The finalists had a week to revise their entries based on the first-round feedback, and submit their full manuscript. These are now with the final-round judges, and we will announce the winners in October.
Those who didn't final will also receive the feedback on their entries in the next two days. (If you don't, please contact me at caleb [at] omegawriters [dot] org, just in case your email provider has decided to mark the message as spam.)
I got a few questions when I sent the feedback to the finalists, so thought I'd use today's post to address contest feedback, based on my experience as a contest entrant, judge, and organiser, and my background as a fiction editor.
Feedback isn't always consistent. Most contests have multiple first-round judges, and those judges aren't always going to agree with each other. Some feedback will make sense. Some won't. How do you decide which feedback to use and which to ignore?
Here are four questions to ask:
1. Is the feedback consistent?
If three out of three judges commented on an issue, it's probably something to consider changing. If one judge out of three commented, then it might be something you can ignore.
2. Is the feedback about an error of fact?
Did you write "Jesus's" and the judge corrected it to "Jesus'" (or vice versa)? Did they change your punctuation, or correct a fact? If so, they might be right ... but they might not. If the judge cited a source for their change, then check the source and make the change if appropriate.
However, most judges don't cite sources: they're judges, not editors. In this case, check for yourself in the appropriate dictionary or style guide. Hire an editor. But don't stress too much about these kinds of mistakes. An agent or publisher will overlook minor style errors if you have a compelling plot and interesting characters.
3. Is the feedback expressing an opinion on writing craft?
This is a little more subjective. Has the judge misunderstood your writing? Is that because you didn't make something clear? If so, how can you revise your writing so a future agent or publisher or reader won't misunderstand?
Or is there an issue of writing craft you need to work on? For example, some novels are written in omniscient point of view. But it's hard to write omniscient well—it often reads more like third person with headhopping.
4. Is the feedback addressing a fundamental plot or character issue?
Plot and character are the fundamentals of a great story. Readers (and judges) need to understand what your main character wants and why. If we don't understand those fundamentals, we're not going to buy into the central conflict of the story, the "why".
For example, does it make sense that your cash-strapped main character gives up a good paycheck in a job she loves to live with her in-laws and homeschool while her husband runs the family farm? Not to me ... unless you can give a compelling reason for the character to give up a well-paying job that will provide much-needed cash for the family coffers. For example, maybe the closest hospital is a two-hour drive from the farm. That would work. But there needs to be an obvious and compelling reason.
But it might be that the judge simply didn't "get" your character or their situation. In that case, it's fine to ignore the feedback. At the end of the day, it's your story and you have to follow your own vision.
Above all, don't let the feedback discourage you. Judges give feedback to help, so accept the feedback on that basis.