NOTE: The following is a submission by one of our RPLA judges. As they are anonymous, no author name, picture, or other information has been included. Enjoy!
I have a secret. I’m a judge for the Royal Palm Literary Awards. Judging is hard. It’s time-consuming. My brain labors and smokes as it makes the shift from critiquing to judging and absorbs whatever changes to the process FWA has made since the previous season. But judging for the RPLA has become addictive in the best of ways. Being allowed the privilege to read work by a diversity of writers at very different stages of development has made me an absolute voyeur of creative structure.
My secret delight? Helping writers see, in a very concrete manner, the state of their craft. I can do this because FWA provides a unique list of criteria against which I break down the creative structure each writer I judge has offered me in the form of their entry. I get to see all the layers the RPLA deems crucial for each category and comment on each one separately. RPLA is one of very few contests to offer feedback on each entry from at least two judges. This feedback not only shows writers why they have received the scores given, but also gives them a structure map against which to view, think about, and rewrite each entry. Why is that important? Every comment gives writers an opportunity to deepen their skills. Writers with skills equals readers happy to buy books and magazines.
My deepest pleasure? I love being chosen as a final judge, the one that gets to read the semi-finalists’ longer works in whole, not just the first thirty pages, but the whole shebang. The vast majority of all contests for longer work award prizes based on reading, at most, the first thirty to fifty pages of each entry. As an RPLA judge, I’m here to tell you that even superior quality over the first few chapters is not an indicator that the writer can hold the story together over the entire length of the work. RPLA is a rarity in the world of literary contests because in order to become a finalist, your entire work must be evaluated. Both writers and readers holding an RPLA award-winning book can be assured it is of very high quality from first page to last.
My greatest joys? Reading in social media posts, newspapers, at book sites, and in the FWA magazine that entries I’ve judged have become or, through re-write, eventually become, semi-finalists, finalists, and/or winners. Hearing an agent say that noting an RPLA award in a query is a sure way to get her attention. Seeing the looks of surprise, excitement, and happiness on the faces of the RPLA winners at conference. Stumbling across that rarest of gifts—one which isn’t mine or hers or his, but is given in general to all RPLA anonymous judges— a verbal or posted acknowledgement from a writer that some small bit of RPLA feedback proved helpful.
RPLA is a prestigious FWA writing competition, now in its 15th year. Its mission is to recognize excellence in members’ published and unpublished works while providing objective and constructive written assessments for all entrants. Entries are accepted in 26 categories for adults, 15 for youth, with published and unpublished entries judged separately. Submission window closes May 1. Check it out.