Well, my part in judging the first round of GUTGAA entries is over. To say it was 'fun' seems to damn it with faint praise - though it was fun, it was also much more than that. It was illuminating. Here are three things I learned.
1) There may not be any new stories under the sun, but there are a million different ways of telling them.
First of all I was humbled by the sheer vastness of new, unique ideas. If you think it's all been done before, you need to read the entries in this contest (there were over 200, and I read at least 100 of them.) I can't tell you how many times I sat up and said 'whoa!' Even the entries that weren't what I usually read made me think that there is so much talent out there, so much creativity, it's staggering. I also discovered that I like Steampunk - who knew?
2) Your cup of tea is not my cup of tea, but we can respect our different blends.
When I first started voting I read all the entries and made a short list of what, off the bat, interested me. I had about 15 entries on it. I did this so I wouldn't be unduly influenced by other judges opinions and to give me time to develop my comments on the entries I eventually whittled down to 10. I shouldn't have worried. Although in the end we judges definitely came together on some of the entries, we still needed tie-breaker judges to come in and make final decisions. Why? Because it's SO SUBJECTIVE. There was one entry that I absolutely fell in love with. I mean, if I'd walked by it in a bookstore, I would have plunked down my wallet in a hot minute. And not one other judge agreed with me. I was like WHAT???
But it's not a popularity contest. If you entered and only received one vote or no votes, that does not mean your story isn't good. IT CATEGORICALLY DOES NOT MEAN THAT. I can't stress this enough because it only takes ONE agent to fall in love with your work, to believe in your story and your talent. It only takes one. Lots will go meh, not for me. But with one agent, your story will resonate like a bell.
A short story about what happened to me right before I got an agent. I entered a a contest on a blog where a published author would crit one lucky query. I got picked to be critiqued, that was the good news. The bad news was that the author did not like my query. Not A Little Bit. She thought the idea had promise but thought the query was pretty terrible. I was crushed because, though I'd gotten some full and partial requests, I also got a lot of rejections. I wanted to revise the query in case it was not doing the job. While I went to my crit friends and online community for help, while I worried about how to take apart the query I'd worked on for months and start again, (my soon-to-be-agent) Barbara emailed to say she wanted to talk. The rest is history. I'll say it again - SUBJECTIVE!
3) The Blogosphere is a place full of people who want to pay it forward.
Yes, there are trolls. Trolls are gonna troll. (Don't feed them.) 99% of the people involved in GUTGAA genuinely want to help each other make connections, succeed, and support one another. I can't imagine the amount of hours (and blood,sweat, tears) GUTGAA mastermind Deana Barnhart put into this project, but I'm thinking it turned into a full time job for months. The judges donated time and the entrants generously put their work up for scrutiny. The agents are about to donate their time reading the finalists to find a winner. I'm not Polly Anna (those of you who know me, know I snark too much for that) and I realize everyone has a stake in the project, whether it's to grow their community, get help polishing their pitches or find new talent. But the generosity is there and it's wondrous.
So, what do you think of GUTGAA? AND it's not over yet! There's the Agent Round of the Pitches and the Small Press contest still to come.