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Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby glorybee » Sat Aug 02, 2014 9:10 am

The last criterion on the judges’ rating form for the Writing Challenge is How publishable is this article for its intended audience?

In order for the judges to score an entry on this criterion, they must first be able to define intended audience, and there are several possible interpretations of this term. When I was judging, I tried to keep all of those interpretations in mind.

1. The first audience for every Writing Challenge entry is, of course, FaithWriters. This audience is almost entirely Christian adults with an appreciation for the writing process and for excellent writing. My feeling is also (although as far as I know, no demographic polls have ever been done) that FWers tend to be conservative/evangelical Christians, mostly protestants, and probably more “mature” adults as opposed to 20- or 30-somethings. I know, of course, that there are certainly younger and less conservative and non-protestant Christians here, but that’s my sense of the majority of FWers.

With that in mind, the first question I’d ask myself is if a piece of writing would appeal to this hypothetical mature evangelical Christian. Now obviously, mature evangelical Christians all have very different tastes in reading (see #3), but there are some things that will be universal turn-offs:

• Too much sex, graphic violence, foul language, or other content that doesn’t reflect a Christian world view. In fact, these are prohibited in the rules to the Writing Challenge; nevertheless, occasionally an entry appears that seems to stretch those rules. Note that an entry doesn’t have to be overtly Christian—many entries are not, but they are wholesome and appropriate for Christian readers.

• Espousal of beliefs or practices not typical of most Christians: ghosts, astrology, and other occult practices.

• This one is totally my opinion, but I think it’s best that a Writing Challenge entry not get into areas that are typically controversial in the Church. There is certainly a place for essays on, for example, the “right” type of church music or the position of women in the church (and these are mild compared to some issues facing the Church today). But the Writing Challenge is probably not the best place. It is, after all, a writing contest, and not the best forum for starting a dialog on a contemporary controversy.

• Bad writing.

• Writing that would appeal more to other audiences: children or teens, readers of highly academic material (to name a few).

2. Second, when I was judging, I tried to keep in mind that the Editors’ Choice pieces each week would eventually be published in a FaithWriters anthology. Even though there was considerable delay in the publication of those books, they are being published, and so the question becomes, what is the intended audience of the FaithWriters anthologies, and would [this piece that I’m judging] do well in such a book?

For the most part, that audience is very much like the audience I’ve referred to in #1, above. But here I’d put my editor’s cap on, and try to determine if this entry would require considerable editing in order to fit into a book. Also, I’d reconsider some of the other judging criteria here, particularly creativity and originality and craftsmanship. If the piece is well-written, but takes the same approach as several other well-written pieces, I might have to compare it more specifically to those other similar pieces and rank them for the final judging category.

3. Finally, I’d look at the genre of the piece, and try to determine if it was a good representative of its genre. If it’s a free verse poem—is it a good example of a free verse poem? Would aficionados of free verse poetry look at this with enthusiasm and approval? If it’s a war story, would people who love to read war stories love this one, too? Or would they find it improbable or overly predictable? If it’s a devotional, would people who read devotionals every day enjoy reading this one? Would they find something new and exciting in it, or is it just more of the same old thing?

In order to determine this, of course, I had to be familiar with all of the genres, and what characteristics are typical of each. I’m not a huge fan, for example, of fantasy writing—but I had to put my personal preferences aside and look at my mental checklist of “Things Fantasy Readers Like and Expect to See.” I’d ask myself: If a person who loves fantasy were to read this, would they be happy? Would it fit in a fantasy anthology?

Of course, that’s just an example—the same would be true of any genre.

***

Other judges may approach this criterion differently (and if you’ve ever judged, perhaps you’ll add to my list by posting a reply), but this is the approach I took.

I welcome your questions or comments about the “Is it publishable?” criterion. And as always, feel free to ask me any other questions about writing that you may have, or to suggest ideas for future lessons.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby RachelM » Sat Aug 02, 2014 6:02 pm

Thank you for this lesson, Jan!

I think this criterion is the one that I am most unsure of when I'm going over my entry. I took it to mean: Would this entry be likely to be published in a publication or anthology of its genre? But considering the readership of the FaithWriters anthologies is very helpful, and it's not something that I really thought of before.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby CatLin » Sat Aug 02, 2014 10:59 pm

When I was a volunteer judge back in the day, this was the hardest criterion for me to judge. I finally settled on looking at how likely I would be to read this sci-fi short story in a magazine that catered to sci-fi aficionados (to build on your example). It was kind of like a mash-up of all the categories combined :) PS: I could have used this advice a long time ago. :roll:
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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby glorybee » Sat Aug 02, 2014 11:03 pm

It's definitely a difficult category to judge, but an important one, and not just for the Writing Challenge. If what we write is not publishable, then it shouldn't be published--not even self-published.

Thanks for your input, Rachel and Cat!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby gracelikerain » Sun Aug 03, 2014 5:47 pm

When I'm writing an entry, I don't consciously think of "how publishable is this". I just try to write what I like to read, which I suppose, boils down to the same thing. But this is a great list of things that we should be thinking about. Thanks, Jan.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sun Aug 03, 2014 7:32 pm

It's about time I start posting on this thread, considering that I was the one who requested it. (Thanks Jan!) :D

I used to be very sensitive about this issue, until I finally got into Masters. "People just don't understand my writing!" I moaned. :violin

Now, I realize that my lack of E.C.s wasn't because the judges "just didn't like" my entries. I wasn't placing because my characters didn't express enough depth and emotion. Once I improved that aspect, I starting placing higher.

However, I've noticed that in regard to a few of my recent entries, the readers didn't like them. They didn't leave unkind comments, of course. If they left a comment at all, they wrote something like "Um...interesting..." Yet, some of these unpopular entries placed, at least in the top fifteen, if not the top ten. So I think the judges are really fair about judging an entry on its merits, even if it's not an entry that will be popular with many FW readers.

gracelikerain wrote:When I'm writing an entry, I don't consciously think of "how publishable is this". I just try to write what I like to read, which I suppose, boils down to the same thing.


Yes, I too, write what I like to read. I've got to be absolutely crazy about my entry in order to put the time and effort into constructing and polishing it.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby GeraldShuler » Sun Aug 03, 2014 11:46 pm

I know this is about how the "judges" look at the publishing potential of the piece, but here is what I have noticed in my own entries. The ones that get EC's almost always have comments from the readers about how they would love to see this made into a book. The 750 words has caught their attention and they would seemingly be willing to buy a book of that... whatever it happened to be. So, it seems it is more than the judges that recognize publishing potential. The readers appreciate the same quality.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby glorybee » Sun Aug 03, 2014 11:56 pm

JayDavidKing wrote:I know this is about how the "judges" look at the publishing potential of the piece, but here is what I have noticed in my own entries. The ones that get EC's almost always have comments from the readers about how they would love to see this made into a book. The 750 words has caught their attention and they would seemingly be willing to buy a book of that... whatever it happened to be. So, it seems it is more than the judges that recognize publishing potential. The readers appreciate the same quality.


Yes, and that's precisely my point (although said far more concisely than I said it). A piece has publishing potential if people will want to read it.

Thanks!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--THE FINAL JUDGING CRITERION

Postby Athayde » Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:24 am

I'll write it again, Jan:

A piece has publishing potential if people will want to read it. After all, isn't it what really matters? :D

Blessings.


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