So, it was my first year scoring RITA’s for the RWA yearly contest. On the RWA website, there’s not a lot of explanation as far as what a 1, 5, or 10 means. Is it bad to get a 6? I don’t know. Can you only give out one 10 because that means “best book in the universe”? I don’t know. Is it only people with an average above 8 who make it to the finals? No idea.
Besides, who am I to be judging anyone, anyway?
And don’t even get me started on decimals…which is like the ultimate splitting-hairs hedge option. An hour of my life disappeared as I grappled with “is it 9.4 or 9.3”? Yeah.
In my day-job, the rule is to always give patients the benefit of the doubt. Easy enough. Sounds like a good rule to use for the RITA’s.
Therefore, in all transparency, I present to you – how to score RITA entries – Dr. Jill style.
#1) The scale starts at 5 and stops at 10. We’re going to call this the “RITA gonad” scale. You have to have serious writerly balls to simply enter this contest. If you have the guts to write, edit, publish, and enter an entire book, the contents of which are still glowing with the pieces of your soul that you ripped out and laid down on the page – that’s automatically worth a minimum score of 5. Just for making the massive effort and taking a risk.
#2) Genres I don’t read. Yikes. Here’s how I scored these books. Even if I didn’t dig the genre, I went with quality of writing + overall quality of book + imagining myself as a reader who capital-L Loved that genre and how they would respond to the book + an extra 0.5 points because I feel like my limited experience with certain genres puts those entries at a disadvantage. So. Lowest store possible on a genre I typically never, ever read? 5.5. (TBH, I kept looking for a secret power to shoot out of the sweet Amish woman’s fingers, or for the prim Regency lady to suddenly whip out nun chucks and just start wailing on the bad guy. Sorry, but welcome to my world.)
#3) Hot (or appealing), supportive dude + strong, confident heroine bonus. If the author gets that right, I’m tacking on 0.5 extra points automatically.
#4) Cliché deduction. Ok, show of hands. Who backs up a truck full of cliché’s and dumps them into their first draft? Yeah, me too. That’s why my editor has a fiesta calling out each and every one of them in my manuscripts. So, I've got a heightened sensitivity to them because that's my bad habit. A few cliché’s are fine, because maybe you can’t sanitize them completely away. But 15+ in a short novel? As my editor says: “You can do better.” Clichés are minus 0.5-1.0, depending on how distracting they are.
#5) Awesome cover bonus. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but should convey a sense of the book and have interesting images. Sexy abs are a plus. Extra few decimal points for how well the cover is put together.
#6) Sleep-deprivation bonus. Sleep is precious and sometimes rare. If your book keeps me up past my bedtime or makes me borderline-late for work, that’s an extra 1.0 point. No book has yet made me miss a delivery. That would be like 25 points on the 1-10 scale.
#7) Author props bonus. If the author did something really cool with a standard trope in such a way to make me go “wow, that’s pretty awesome”, that’s an automatic 0.5-1.0 points added right there.
#8) Grammar police deduction. No, I’m not the world’s best grammarian, so if I notice grammar errors (again, needs to be >5 to get annoying), then that’s 0.5 points off.
#9) Next in series bonus. If I’m picking up my Kindle and downloading everything else the author has written, based on the RITA entry, that’s like 1.5 extra points.
#10) Gestalt point. All right. Sometimes when I enter a patient room in the office or hospital, I’m hit with a blast of that’s-not-right or things-will-be-fine. There is no science behind it. There are no superpowers involved. It’s just a gut feeling. Even a finely edited book can still be “off”. Or a good book can have that intangible “something extra”. We’ll call these “gut points”, 0.5 points either way on pure instinct.
Agree or disagree, I’m certain there are a million ways to score RITA entries. It’s certain that some writers will be thrilled and others horrified by this scale. I’d love to hear how other authors/judges approach scoring RITA entries. Maybe I can incorporate these other authors’ scales into next year’s judging.
Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to duct tape folks together and help when I can.