One of the things that I love most about publishing and one of the things that frustrates me is that there is no magic formula for creating a best-selling book. What will have one person riveted will have another putting the book down after chapter one and never picking it up again. This is one of the reasons that I think this is such a great contest and that it is important for writers to see differing opinions when it comes to their work.
Those of you who have entered I&I for the first time this year might not be aware of the evolution of the scoresheet that we use as judges. Catherine takes great care every year to try to work through the many nuances of different genres and to try to neutralize bias as much as possible to create a scoring system that is fair to all entries. But, there is no way to have two people read the same piece of text in the same way, no matter what sort of boundaries or guidelines you put on that read.
I have happily been a judge for 3 years for Inks & Insight and have scored entries in both the Master and Apprentice categories. For me, scoring an entry starts with my enjoyment and the ease of the read. If I couldn’t pull myself away and got frustrated when I got to the end of the entry and couldn’t read on, that is a good sign and my scoring is going to reflect that. On the other hand, no matter how great the protagonist was, if I could never picture the world that they existed in, the scoring will reflect that as well.
I try to take some time between reading and writing my report. I take notes on the page as I go of important details but I like to see what sticks out most for me a few hours later after I have had time to really process the entry. Sometimes while reading I will get hung up in one small detail but shortly after will realize that it is less of an issue. Sometimes smaller problems combine in my mind and lead to one big central issue.
When approaching the scoresheet, for me it’s really important to stay true to what each component is asking me to score. I have taken huge deductions from manuscripts that I loved if they didn’t fulfill one of the sections. Truthfully, the most difficult is when I have issues with a manuscript but have trouble pinning down exactly what it is missing.
On top of that, I try to put myself into the head of an acquiring editor or literary agent as well as a general reader. If there are “red flags” in the book that might keep it from getting published or getting noticed by the best publishers, I think that writers have the right to know. I also think that it is important to look at the commercial appeal of a book as much as its artistic merit. Publishing is, after all, a marriage between art and commerce.
Jessica — Third year as an Ink & Insights judge