We teach our students how to write and get published!
View our Course Catalog >

Anatomy of a Score Sheet

What are judges looking for?

When I was first starting out on my publishing journey, I entered a lot of contests for feedback, for the possibility of getting an agent or editor interested in my work, and for the prizes. But every contest is different and each has their own review process.

Below is a copy of the score sheet from the Tampa Area Romance Authors TARA contest from a few years ago. This will give you an idea of what contest judges are considering when they read your work.

Are the characters compelling and well-rounded? Are their motivations clear? Is the hero/heroine instantly identifiable from secondary characters? Does the point of view technique effectively reveal the characters to the reader?

Plot & Conflict:
Does the story start at a good point with a strong sense of movement? Does at least one main character have clear external conflict and at least a hint of internal conflict? Is point of view consistent with the character whose head you are in? Will the conflict sustain the plot? Does the plot seem contrived? Do the scenes flow with effective transitions?


Is the dialogue purposeful, realistic, natural? Does it move the plot forward? Are the conversations engaging? Does it fit the time period? Are tags used effectively?

Style & Pacing:
Is the writer’s voice unobtrusive? Is pacing appropriate to the story? Does the author effectively show action with a minimum of telling? Are the opening and closing hooks effective? Is the transition from narrative to internalization to action or dialogue smooth and balanced? Is the writer including too much backstory or background information, thus slowing the pace?

Are the mechanics of the story accurate, clear, and neatly executed? Are there major errors in the consistency of tenses, reference to pronouns, misplaced modifiers, etc.? Is sentence structure correct? Are fragments used effectively? Are there obvious errors in spelling and punctuation which might be prevented with a more careful proofread? Do punctuation errors affect the readability?

Is the manuscript clear and attractive and prepared in the generally accepted format with 1″ margins, double spacing, page numbers, font, left justification, and size of type? If standard industry guidelines were not followed, does it affect the readability?

Pretty detailed, right? If you ask these questions about your own manuscript, how would it measure up? Here’s another score sheet. This one was from the Fab 5 Writing Contest from the Wisconsin RWA.

Is there a hook that captures reader interest? Does the hook serve to catapult the plot and conflict into being? Or is it simply an eye-catching gimmick? Is the situation believable or does the writer make it seem possible?

Is the main character portrayed as believable and sympathetic? Are the character(s) actions/reactions appropriate and well-motivated? Do we know what drives them? Is the internal conflict established or introduced?

Does the action unfold with a natural feel and a sense of immediacy and good pace? (A good idea what the book will be about? Not too much backstory?) Is the external conflict established or introduced? Does the scene seem fresh and clear or clichéd? (If a standard romance premise, e.g. cowboy/baby/amnesia, has it been introduced in a unique way?)

Does the dialogue, including internal thoughts, move the story forward? Does the dialogue sound natural and realistic to the characters and/or situation? Does the dialogue or lack of it work for the genre and time?

Is a sense of time and place established? Is the setting easy to picture without being intrusive? Does the writer use several of the five senses to create a vivid picture?

Is the writing free of unessential details? Is the author’s voice fresh and/or unique? Is the point of view consistent and are changes smooth and logical?


But not every contest will give you this level of detail. Here are my RITA results:

Below please find the scores for your entry, Necessary Evil, in the preliminary round in the 2017 RITA® Contest.

Final Score: 7.5

If there are 3 negative responses to any question, the entry is disqualified. Final scores are calculated by dropping the high and low scores and averaging the three remaining scores. You may refer to the following information in order to determine the ranking of your score.

For the Romantic Suspense category:
      Top quarter; final scores equal to or greater than 8.26
      Second quarter; final scores between 8.23 and 7.63
      Lower half; final scores equal to or less than 7.60


These score sheets should give you a good idea what some of the romance writing contests are looking for and how they report their scores, but the writing tips are invaluable to any writer.  These are the same things editors are looking for when you submit your work for publication. Concentrating on these questions before you submit to your next contest can give you a leg up on the competition.

If you want to judge for yourself, Necessary Evil is .99 for the next few days HERE.

IFW Personal Essay Contest – A Trip That Didn’t Go As Planned

Tell us about your trip that didn’t go as planned in first-person essay style format suitable for a magazine. It can be about a trip of a lifetime or a trip to the grocery store, just make it engaging and make us feel like we’re right there with you. Deadline: July 31, 2018.

USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes contemporary love stories and paranormal romances.  Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks.  Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists and the first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time.  Her dragon paranormal romance series from Entangled Publishing, has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

Post comment

Become a better writer today
IFW Logo Small

1000 N. West Street #1200, Wilmington, DE 19801


© 2024 Direct Learning Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

Licensure & Memberships

Recommended for college credits by the Connecticut Board for State Academic Awards

College credits obtained through Charter Oak State College

Approved as a private business and trade school in the state of Delaware

Institute for Writers LLC BBB Business Review
IFW Facebook 1
IFW Instagram
IFW Podcast

© 2024 Direct Learning Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.


1000 N. West Street #1200, Wilmington, DE 19801


© 2024 Direct Learning Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Institute for Writers LLC BBB Business Review