Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


The Magic Has Begun!

I feel like a swimmer who’s been underwater for too long. You know that feeling? Lungs burning, muscles tiring, brain thinking only one thing–I’ve got to reach the surface!

You keep straining and kicking and pulling the water behind you. You can make it. You have to make it. You don’t have a choice except to make it or . . .

Finally, you do! You break through to the air, gasp a long, loud lungful, and boy! Is it sweet.

You might have heard that long, loud lungful come from my part of Okie-Land yesterday morning. (Late yesterday morning.)

I finally finished my portion of our contest. WOOHOO!!! (Except for actually judging, that is.)

My romance writers group is hosting a contest right now (Where the Magic Begins) and, like a glutton for punishment, I volunteered to be the judge coordinator. JC isn’t such a hard job if someone hands you all the judges. That’s rare, though.

We started this contest to help other unpublished romance writers get published. When I first started writing, I had very little contact with other writers. No critique group. Nobody to say, “You’re doing this right. You should do this better.” So I entered a contest. I knew I wouldn’t win, but I wanted feedback. I was desperate for it.

Entering a contest was a good idea, but that was the wrong contest. (A little research would have helped.) In that particular contest, there’s one judge per category. So if there’s 50 entries, that one person judges them all.

That’s too much work for one person. My entry didn’t get good scores. In fact, the woman who judged it didn’t even finish filling out the score sheet. Instead, she wrote a note that said she didn’t think I had what it takes to finish that book. (A not-too-nice way of saying it was bad.)

So when my writer’s group talked about starting a contest for unpublished writers, I was all for it.

I wanted us to be there for other writers. I wanted to be able to lend a hand–help someone else God had given the craving to write. So I helped carve out the rules.

In our contest, judges must make comments on the manuscript as well as on the score sheet, which is keyed for the specific category, telling the entrant what’s right as well as what’s wrong with their twenty-five pages.

We insist each entrant receive good advice. (I was shocked when I learned that many long-time-regularly-published authors give bad advice in hopes of discouraging those they view as competition.)

Why? I don’t know. I figure if the book I write is good enough, an editor will make a spot for it if she has to. If it’s not, I probably don’t want my name on it anyway. Ü

We have a lot of entries in our contest. (More every year.) And finding judges for it isn’t easy. (Guessing how many you’ll need is even harder.) I finally came up with a math formula to help me.

Each entry (X is the number of entries) gets three judges (Y). Each judge can do around 5 or 6 entries. X times Y divided by 5= the number of judges I needed.

Example: Say I had twenty entries in Single Title. 20 x 3=60/5=12. I’d need twelve judges for that category.

A little daunting for me when I looked at the entire contest. But at least I’m ready for next year. I have my formula. I’m going to ask my chapter for more help getting judges from the very beginning instead of yelling “calf rope” toward the end.

The best part is I’ve met so many NICE women who, even though they already have a “name” and are on deadline, are willing to lend a hand.

That might just be the reason I’m going to volunteer to do it again next year. Maybe.

Or I might just be a glutton for punishment. 🙂