In the months leading up to ACFW Conference, contestants wore knee-shaped holes in the rugs beside their beds and judges in the first two rounds kept a low profile, maintaining secret identities. I’m not suggesting they donned trench coats and fedoras, but anonymity helps protect the integrity in the contest. These judges are acknowledged at the conference banquet. However, the final round judges are posted as soon as they are confirmed.
According to Pam Meyers, Genesis Coordinator, “When people see that certain editors or agents are going to be judging the final round in a given category it increases the interest in entering the contest.” Even so, to a contestant, it can seem as if the whole judging process is somehow mysterious.
Pam added, “The final round judges don't necessarily have a different score sheet (than the previous judges, which is available on the website). We always give them one as a guideline of what to look for in the entries, but they are not required to score every element listed on the score sheet. All we need from them is an all-around score for the entry. Of course if they want to make comments regarding the entry, they are more than welcome to do that.”
By the end of September, excitement over this year’s contest had pretty much quieted except for the winner, who can possibly still be seen on clear nights orbiting the earth. It was then that I contacted, Jeff Gerke, the owner and editor of Marcher Lord Press, to get the perspective from the viewpoint of a final round judge.
Jeff had judged Genesis twice before and knew what he was getting into when he was approached by the contest coordinator. So why did he do it? He laughed. “Mainly because I was asked.”
Jeff went on to explain that the contest coordinators have made the judging very easy. “The biggest difficulty is making sure my scores are consistent across all the entries I judge. I’m not the only judge, even in the final round, so my average scoring level might be higher or lower than other judges. I can’t worry about that. I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.” This year, he received three entries, but recused himself from those he’d already seen as a freelance editor.
“Not many contests are based on just the first fifteen pages of a novel,” Jeff said. “It’s an interesting idea. I usually can spot fantastic writing in the first ten plus pages. Now, whether or not the author can keep it up until the end of the novel is another story.” In his experience, it’s possible to become interested enough in a story that he would request seeing a complete manuscript from even a non-winning participant.
What advice did Jeff offer to future Genesis finalists? “Don’t worry if you enter and get disheartening or even conflicting feedback from judges. There is no ‘right’ way of writing fiction, but pretty much every fiction expert will tell you there is. Only their right way is diametrically opposed to the other guy’s right way. Don’t take it all too seriously. Almost nobody makes more than $5,000/year writing Christian fiction, even authors you’ve heard of, so keep working on your fiction for the love of the task only, not for hope of riches.”
Good advice, Jeff. So to Jeff Gerke and all the other Genesis judges, thank you and God bless. We’ll do it all again next year.