by Lora Doncea

If you are asked to be a judge for a writing contest, take time to consider the opportunity seriously. It requires much more than just editing the piece or giving your impression. You need to carefully score the writer on several key areas, each one appraising a specific skill set. 

Key points to consider:

1. Judge in your area of expertise.

It may sound easy to read a few pages in a genre you’re not familiar with, but you need to critically evaluate the writing. If you are not familiar with the specifics of a certain genre, it’s better to decline and let someone experienced do the judging.

2. Always be respectful.

You will be anonymous as a judge, but don’t use that cloak to cut someone down. Your scores and words will impact a writer. I will never forget submitting my first novel in a well-known competition. I poured my entire soul into my book, I used two editors, and I made sure it was perfect. There were three judges. Two gave me very high scores and were complimentary, but the third one shot me down. That judge actually ridiculed some of my lines, was sarcastic, and even mean. It crushed me. Since I had two judges who gave me high scores, plus this judge wasn’t professional, I knew it wasn’t a reflection of my writing. However, I was left with those ugly barbs in my heart—plus that person completely eliminated my chance of placing in the contest. I still remember those cutting words to this day … and I never wrote a book again. I started to several times, but I lost all of my passion after that hurtful experience. Don’t be that judge. Always be respectful to the writer.

3. Communicate clearly.

If you find errors or areas that are weak, don’t just knock down the writer with a low score. Communicate clearly what the problem is and offer a solution of how to fix it. For example: “The secondary character is more interesting and has more action than the main protagonist. You may consider altering the story to feature the fascinating secondary character. Or you should develop the main character to have a much stronger presence. I would xxx …” Adding professional, clear notes to your scores serves two purposes: the writer will know why they got a low score (how else will they know what you were thinking?), plus you can help them develop their skills by sharing your expertise with them.

4. Be objective.

Even if you personally like one entry over another, this is not a comparison contest. Treat each entry as the only one. Score it based on its own merits.

5. Give compliments.

Be generous with compliments! Everyone needs to know when they are doing well, so build up this writer who has worked very hard and is putting themselves out there to be critiqued. Tell writers all the things that they are doing well—don’t just point out their flaws. And always end with an encouraging note to them. 

You may not realize it, but you can truly have a powerful impact on a writer by being an excellent judge.

Lora thoroughly enjoys editing fiction and nonfiction books for Christian authors. She views editing as a ministry, partnering with authors to make their writing polished and successful. She also writes a blog of “Savvy Writer Tips” to help writers spot and fix common problems. Read them on her website: or on Facebook: SavvyWriterTips. Lora’s varied life experiences help her when editing. She’s been a recorded Christian musician, a computer and web programmer, a college teacher, and a Bible study leader. She spent years oil painting and loves photography. She recently exchanged life in the big city for a cabin in the mountains where she savors gorgeous scenery, diverse wildlife, and peaceful times with family and friends.