In years past I’ve been the sole judge, reading all the notable stories and picking my ten favorites. This year, though, I invited two others to join me in this duty. Everything was looking good until one of these judges decided she no longer wanted to be a judge.
You see, she was worried what a writing friend would say because she hadn’t picked this friend’s story from the notable list. Even though this judge had already turned in her picks, and even though I promised her anonymity, at the last minute she demanded I remove her and not use her selections.
I gnash my teeth and flail my arms because this is so stupid. This is what happens when we let personal connections get in the way of honest evaluation. Clearly the judge was capable of setting her friendships aside when evaluating the stories, because she passed over the friend’s story rather than giving it special consideration. That’s step one. But step two is trusting her friend to take a similarly dispassionate, quality-based approach, and apparently that was unpossible. So the judge’s assessment of the friend’s irrationality is really what led the judge to withdraw.
The solution seems straightforward:
- If you are in the business of evaluating artistic works created by people you may know, only befriend the sensible, rational people in that group of artists.
- If you fear that a friend of yours is not sensible and will be offended by you not automatically declaring their work the best ever simply because you are friends, either stop being friends with them or cope with their irrationality, but don’t pass the buck. Your friends are your problem.
- If neither 1 nor 2 is tenable, get out of the business of judging or reviewing.
I realize this sounds a bit harsh, but as a former awards judge I am appalled by this judge’s behavior. Really poor form.
I do wish it were easier to do anonymous review in SF/F/H awards and contests, and even in book reviewing and anthology compiling. Obviously it’s impossible for a retrospective award–the judges are fans, and will already have read many of the works up for consideration–but under some other circumstances it might be worth trying. Another layer between judges/editors/critics and authors can only be a good thing.