If judging books was a completely objective process, you could probably get computers to do it.
If a novel’s quality was objective, we’d have a definitive ‘best book ever’ that would be mandatory reading for everyone. Subjectivity is what makes this contest so valuable. Why? Because agents are subjective, publishing houses are subjective. Twelve different publishers turned down Harry Potter. Judging a book is tough to get right all the time.
We know it’s frustrating to have differing scores, or judges contradicting each other, but that’s what happens in the real world. We work a lot on standardizing our scoring but at the end of the day, you can’t measure your connection with a story. And that’s what a lot of the scoring boils down to.
Character strength, emotional depth, engaging style… these are all things that score better when we like and empathize with the main character or the narrator. But because not everyone has the same life experiences and quirks, not everyone will like who you’ve created. In fact, if you’ve created a layered, interesting character, opinion should be split on them.
When I’m judging, I work through the scoresheet and certain criteria jump out at me. If I don’t have an instant answer to an area, like logic and believability perhaps, I’ll go back and review it. Where were the rules of the world shown? Did they make sense or were they absent? Did that make it harder to understand some of the events? The subjectivity in just that question is enormous – some readers might assume rules and follow action in a sci-fi easily if they’re tech-savvy, while others might struggle.
I don’t give a lot of perfect scores (5 out of 5) for areas unless they really stood out to me. If a narrator has me laughing out loud, the style is entertaining enough. If I welled up, the emotional depth is there. For me, were I to give full marks across the board, I’d likely then breach competition rules and clamour to sign the author myself.
Everyone scoring below full marks is getting the real value of this competition: the insights! Being told an imperfect novel is perfect isn’t helpful at all. The publishers will be far harsher in their rejections of anything not up to scratch. The feedback is what Ink & Insights is all about.
I’ve entered as an author and I was glad that every area of my novel had a comment from at least one judge on something I could do better. Some people liked my style and some people didn’t get it. Often the one judge who disagrees with the others gives the most valuable feedback.
The challenge now is to make my style accessible to everyone. That’s a bestseller formula.
So I think subjectivity is great.
Jake — Second year as an Ink & Insights judge