Writing Contests: How Do You Decipher Judges’ Feedback?

Writing Contests Deciphering Judges Notes low-resReposted from May 25, 2014:

The subject of writing contests came up in a writers’ group that I belong to.
One of the writers in the group was bemused because she was given feedback by the judges that doesn’t square with the feedback she’s gotten everywhere else, even from professional editors.
How can this happen?
The explanation is simple: unless you have judges that are experienced with your genre, they will give you feedback according to what they know is expected in their writing genres and from their target audience as opposed to what is expected and accepted in your genre and from your target audience.
It is also possible to receive a range of feedback from judges (on the same writing), from “I hated it. Your book belongs on the compost heap (not that you’re likely to have a judge be this rude or unreasonable),” to “I loved it! You need to publish this tomorrow!” Some of the criteria involved in judging submissions of writing can be very subjective.
An author’s voice can be instinctively loved or hated even when their writing is technically perfect.
Maybe the judge is a stickler for grammatically correct dialogue or hates contractions, or thinks that every sentence should end with a period, exclamation point, or a period. None of those em dashes or ellipses, please!
Or–here’s a common biggie: they seriously dislike first person point of view, and can’t get into your story because you used it.
Maybe they hate head-hopping, or they only want to read deep POV, but your style is more literary.
Whatever their reason for not liking your writing, if your passion for writing clearly comes through your story, and your characters and their dialog are authentic, if your setting is true to your story, then it’s probable that even though a judge didn’t like your writing, your story still has worth.
Why I don’t submit to writing contests is also simple: I have deep reservations about paying for this kind of feedback. I’ve done it only once, and then I decided never again, because I didn’t like that resulting feeling of extreme perplexity. I’d rather pay a professional editor 4 times as much or more, not that I have that kind of money right now, or swap edits with other published authors than pay to enter a writing contest.
But that’s just who I am.
What about you? Do you enter writing contests? Why or why not?
How do you decipher judges’ feedback, and decide whether or not the judge gave you excellent advice that you need to take to heart and make changes based upon?

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