Recently, I had the opportunity to be a judge for a writing contest. I won't give the name of the group because judges need to be anonymous. I received the first ten pages of the manuscripts of three Christian contemporary novels. I was provided a score sheet for each to fill out and I could optionally make comments on the manuscript (via Microsoft Word Review) and return all the files electronically.
I printed and read the three entries as soon as I got them. My first thought was that it was going to be hard to decide which one was best since I liked them all. But then I didn't have to do that. All I had to do was to fill out the score sheet. My second thought was I sure would like to read the rest of the books since they all sounded interesting. I probably won't get to read more, but there was an item of the score sheet about whether or not what I read made me want to read the rest.
As it turned out, I left town for awhile and didn't fill out the score sheets right away. When I got home I reread all three entries and made comments on my printed copy as I read. Then, I set the manuscripts aside again and reread them all the next day before filling out the score sheets. As I entered my scores, I often had to go back and check the notes I'd made.
Next, I added comments for each of the twelve items on the score sheet. It was at this time I remembered how I had been helped by contest judges and as I thought about that, I expanded my comments in ways I hoped might help the author. These comments sometimes led to changes, up or down, in the score I had already entered for the item.
Finally, I took the optional step of making comments on the manuscript itself. At this point, I had studied each of the submissions in such detail that I could see ways to make improvements. Only one of the three authors had problems holding a tight point of view, but I pointed out each error in hopes that the person could not only correct the manuscript, but learn how to prevent errors in the future.
I'm sure the authors will disregard some of the suggestions the way I did when I was the one submitting manuscripts to contests, but perhaps they'll also get an idea that will help improve their writing the way I did. Who knows, maybe I will get to read the rest of the books someday.
If you have a manuscript and would like some feedback from an anonymous reader, find a contest and send it in.