July 31, 2014

Sitting in judgment

Just in case you're the kind of amazing writer who can whip something off in a day, it isn't too late to mention that I'll be the fiction judge for this year's Room Annual Writing Contest! The extended deadline is August 1st at midnight. 

A few weeks ago, I answered some questions over at the Room blog, which you can read here

I also thought it would be worth mentioning that although I will be judging the contest, there is a chance I won't be reading your story.

The Room contest, like many (if not most, if not all) other fiction contests in this country, employs readers to read and vet the entries before they go on to the main publicized judge or jury. These readers are no slouches, I should add. Often they are published writers with one or more books to their credit, or editors or critics of long-standing. They are used to reading stories, and they know what makes a good one. I've been an early reader for a number of literary fiction contests, and I've always done my best to make careful and considered choices. 

But still. There is a certain degree of subjectivity in any matter of art, and there are questions of taste and style and subject matter that differ from reader to reader. Maybe in one of my previous incarnations as an early reader I passed over something brilliant because I couldn't see past the magical duck or the narrator named Toothpaste or the Pre-Cambrian time period.* (*Not real examples.) Some contests have a safeguard against this, which is to have everything read by TWO readers, so that one person's magical duck bias won't rule out a rare duck masterpiece.

Maybe you read that I was the judge and you looked at all your carefully polished drafts and selected the one you thought *I* would like best. Maybe you even checked my collection of short fiction, Mother Superior, out of the library. I might do something like that, if I was submitting to a contest.    

This is a long-winded way of saying that I will not be reading all of the entries for this contest, but a pre-selected, anonymized stack of what has been vetted to be the very best work submitted. And I'm so delighted to have been asked and to be able to come in at the end and take credit for lots of other people's thoughtful reading and consideration. 

But when the winners are eventually announced I don't want you (or you or you) to think that I didn't like your story. Maybe I never even read it.  


Rachel Thompson said...

Hi Saleema,

I just found this blog post, when I was Ayelet Tsabari's blog today. (Note to self: set up Google Alert for Room).

I wanted to let you know that Room does use TWO readers and always has! The first readers are editorial collective members at Room, who volunteer their time to do this.
They are no slouches when it comes to reading submissions (every general submission to Room is also read by these editors).

Of course, we think they pick the very best of the submissions (in my un-biased opinion—I'm not a contest reader, but I am an editorial board member), but I agree all art is very subjective. There is naturally a chance something you may have liked didn't make it to you. (Though, it's hard to imagine anything that topped the winners Lisa Mclean, Leah Ranada, and Paula Lemke's pieces.)

Thanks so much for judging the contest and also for writing about the process. It's great to make it more transparent for those entering and I, personally, have a problem with publications that use only one volunteer reader with limited editorial experience.

Rachel Thompson

saleema said...

Hi Rachel! Thanks so much for your comment. I'm happy to know that Room does use two readers for its contests. (If I hadn't been in such a rush to write the blog post, I probably could have found this out!)

It was such an honour to judge, such fun to read the work, and I agree, the winners are superb!

Every time I think of setting up a Google alert for something, I stop myself because I wonder if it will take the all the fun out of Googling...but I'd probably be better off just doing it. :)