“Are you entering the Royal Palm Literary Award competition for the first time?” I asked.
“I am. I’m so excited,” the aspiring novelist said. “Do you know how they choose a winner?”
“The one with the most points wins, I guess.”
This brief conversation happened following a writing group meeting a couple of weeks ago. It might help those of you considering participating in the competition to understand how you will be judged.
Your work will not be viewed in the same way you look at works when you critique. The judges have specific items they must consider. And even better for you, they are required to provide an explanation of why they scored, no matter a high or low number.
Each judge receives a rubric specifically for your genre, which lists the items to be judged. For example, all book-length fiction rubrics look at characters, setting, plot, story flow, dialogue, creativity, mechanics, appropriate genre, and overall impression.
Each entry is sent to two initial judges. In the case of a book-length entry, the initial judges read only the first 30 pages. A perfect score on a single rubric is 50, which is the result of adding the various items within each rubric, most worth a maximum of 5 points each.
Should a judge score a 3 or less on any item, s/he is required to offer a suggestion on how you might improve that particular segment of your entry. If he finds your characters unworthy of his caring about them, he will offer tips on how to perk them up and make them more interesting.
It’s not the judge’s intent to rewrite your story, only to show you examples of how you may bolster your work.
To make this all easier to understand, you can go to the Florida Writers Network (members only) and check out the rubrics for yourself before you submit your entry. Do you believe your work can earn a score of 4 or 5 in each category? Did you proofread until you’re purple? Has the book been run through a critique group? If not, at least several beta readers?
Once you have followed all the rules and submitted all the appropriate materials, your work will then be run through the judging process. If in the first round your entry reaches a total of 80 points out of a possible 100, it will become a semi-finalist and you will be notified. Semi-finalist entries are then sent to a third judge. That judge uses the same rubric, but that score is doubled, and if the entry is book-length, the final judge reads the entire book. If your score meets the minimum of 160, it is now a finalist and you will be notified. After that, the top three scorers in your category will be the winners. You will not know that until the October conference.
“So, knowing what your manuscript will go through, will you still enter?”
“You better believe it. Even if I don’t bring home the trophy, I’ll have valuable feedback to help improve my chances for next year. And if I win, I can brag to publishers, agents, family, and friends. It’s a win-win opportunity.”