Judge Training 102 — Comments

Judge Training 102


Some of the best feedback regarding Great Expectations has been the high quality of the comments. Nothing is more frustrating for a contest entrant than to have points deducted and not know why, either via comments in the manuscript or on the score sheet. This takes time, we know. But once again, we’re back to motivation. Remember why you agreed to judge.

Having said that, beware of overwhelming entrants who have much to learn. Choose two or three aspects you have expertise in and expound on them instead of trying to give drive-by explanations of everything that needs work. The writer will come away much richer with a complete understanding in those two or three areas and be open to receiving feedback on their next challenge if not overwhelmed by everything they don’t know.

What about writing style? What if you personally dislike fragmented sentences or slang. Don’t let your personal bias make the decision if points should be deducted for grammar. If the slang or fragments work for the story…then we should set personal preference aside.

It’s all about the story.
Of course, if you’re being jarred from the story, then that’s what you should point out.


We hope judges have the time to comment on each section as a whole AND the two final questions on the score sheet. IF you commented throughout the manuscript…feel free to remind the contestant that’s where they’ll find the comments. (Some of us are anxious and jump straight to the score sheet.)

REMEMBER: There are NO absolutes

I would caution a judge never to write that the story won’t sell. I would caution against even stating that you’ve never known a story like the one you’re reading to have sold.

There’s always a way to get your opinion across. Use phrases like:

*For me…

*As a reader, I…

*This didn’t work for me because…

*I’ve never seen a story like this, but…

For every “rule” we quote about writing…there’s a manuscript out there that’s broken it.

Feel free to cite outside articles (better if not your own). And feel free to send your own articles or those you have permission to share to me for our file section.



DISCLAIMER from Angi Morgan: I don’t know who my judges were and I hope I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings. I’m not trying to discredit their words, their volunteer time, and I’m certainly not bitter. People (including editors) are in different places in their lives and will interpret stories individually. That being said, here are some comments I received in 2009. All of the judges saw the exact same words–no corrections were made.

ANOTHER POINT: Your remarks will be taken more seriously if there aren’t mistakes. I have typed the judge comments exactly as they appeared on my score sheets.

  • “It’s disingenuous to save the Tah-Dah about the child until page 25. The sheer number of names you’re throwing around makes it hard to keep up.”
  • “Grammar and punctuation need a second look. If you’re not in a critique group, you might want to consider joining one.”
  • “If the rest of the book is written in the same fast paced, snappy dialogue, intriguing characters, sexual tension and suspenseful emotional impact as the chapters I have read, then I believe this book will be published. I look forward to seeing it on the book shelf and reading the full book.”
  • “This is excellent, well thought out and developed. The GMC for both the H&H seems appropriate and with proper depth.”
  • “Because of the long passages of narrative and internal dialogue things get a bit slow at times.”
  • “I had a hard time believing she doesn’t just tell Steve that Rory is his son. She would have done it the moment they were in the cabin together.”
  • “Most everything reads very well, with the exception of needing more setting and clarification on setting in several places.”
  • “The first scene needs to be simpler and some of the motivations of the characters could be tweaked a bit.”
  • “The story grabbed me from the beginning. I was intrigued.”
  • “I’m not getting an original ‘voice’ here.”
  • “Wonderful Opening Scene”
  • “Double check your vocab and word usage. Also with internal thought dialogue or brand name’s, I believe you should italicize instead of underling.”
  • “Well written and interesting.”
  • “I would have like to know a bit about the connection between Jane and Steve.”
  • “While the characters were interesting, I didn’t feel connected to them.”
  • “Interesting. Guess I’ll have to wait for the book. Great story. I wouldn’t be able to put it down.”
  • “Gosh, what can I say?  Your story really held my attention, good action and interaction.”
  • “This was a fantastic read. I would definitely pick this up if I saw it in a bookstore. Good luck finding a home for it!”

Please keep in mind that there are no absolutes. Each of the above judges felt it was necessary to point out what they felt was wrong with SEE JANE RUN. Fortunately, the editors at Harlequin felt differently. The same manuscript (no changes) won the 2009 Daphne du Maurier and 2010 Golden Heart. It sold soon after without any editorial changes.


WHENEVER AN AUTHOR RECEIVES A SCORE OF ONE, TWO OR THREE, it’s very helpful to include WHY you felt the score was needed. Try to point out specifics on how the author may improve these areas in regards to this specific manuscript or overall in their writing.

Giving someone a four or five because you enjoy the reading is wonderful. Consider leaving a couple of comments about WHY you enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s the boost that keeps a writer writing (especially after they’re told they’ll never sell by another judge who doesn’t get their style).

As always, if you have questions relating specifically to an entry, contact GEcoordinator@ntrwa.org.

~ ~ ~

Most of the opinions on judging and interpreting the questions’ intent are my own words. I’ve been in the business over 15 years and have spoken to many authors, gathering information. A lot of the time when a question is asked, I go to authors who publish in that genre for advice. Please use your own expertise and experience, but keep our humble interpretations in mind.

~Thanks, Angi Morgan


Contributions and edits by Fenley Grant.