I've been thinking about judging, reviewing, and opining on books lately for two reasons. First, I've asked a reviewer/judge/friend to guest blog in this spot for the first four Wednesdays of 2009. P.J. Coldren is a reader for the Malice Domestic Contest as well as a frequent book reviewer. She will explain her credentials in her blog and give some ideas on what makes a winner, whether in a contest or as a published novel.
The other reason for my thoughts on judging is that I volunteered to judge for the RWA's 2009 Golden Heart Contest. The impending arrival of material has been announced, and I'm considering what my own qualifications and considerations are.
First, I think lifelong reading is essential. I'm pretty eclectic, and like Picasso I've gone through different "periods." I recall reading every single biography in the elementary school library as a kid, and I did another round of that as a young adult. I read widely as an English teacher, so I have a sense of the range of writing, from very, very good to very, very bad. Although mystery is my favorite genre, I've covered the rest of them pretty well too.
What I will do as a judge is remove my preferences, as much as possible, from the judging. What I write and what I like to read has to take a back seat to "Is this well done?" I get irritated by people who say they don't like this or that genre. Every genre has works that are gripping and well-written, so you're only cheating yourself if you dismiss a whole section of literature. I appreciate a person who can say, "I usually don't read ***, but this is a good one."
I guess that the best qualification for being a reviewer or a judge is a wide background and an open mind, at least to this judge's way of looking at it.