My Experience as a Judge in the 2022 and 2023 Fictionary Book of the Year Award Contests

It was my great honor to act as a judge in the 2022 and 2023 Fictionary Book of the Year Award contest. Sponsored by the owners and creators of Fictionary story editing software, this first-ever book award event sought to highlight the best-unpublished manuscripts edited with the remarkable Fictionary software

Words fail to capture the joy and privilege I experienced throughout this journey. As an avid reader, passionate writer, and dedicated editor, being entrusted with evaluating dozens of submissions was both exhilarating, daunting, and humbling. Each entry was a testament to the dedication, creativity, and perseverance of aspiring authors who poured their hearts into their manuscripts.

The contest stratified the manuscripts as either an Adult or Young Adult/Middle-Grade book. Three of the six judges focused on the adult submissions, and the other three on the YA/MG manuscripts. Contest creator and Fictionary CEO Kristina Stanley assumed the role of coordinator.

Reading, analyzing, and discussing these works was a transformative experience. I immersed myself in their worlds of captivating stories, diverse characters, and thought-provoking narratives. The dedication and talent displayed in these submissions left an indelible mark on my own writing, editing, and book coaching processes, and I shared my initial thoughts in this Fictionary Blog guest post. This article will expand those thoughts as I embark on judging in the 2023 contest.

Planning the Book Award

We met early Summer of 2022 as a team to decide on judging criteria and contest timelines and to work through questions or challenges. The shortlist of five books in each category was announced in the Fall, and all final manuscripts were due in December.

In February 2023, we announced the winners, whose exceptional manuscripts stood out among the impressive pool of submissions. The two winners won a free developmental edit and the opportunity for their work to be read by an agent from the prestigious Writers House Literary Agency.

Writer Takeaways From a Book Award Judge

The experience taught me valuable lessons about writing, editing, coaching, and collaboration. I learned the power of organization, motivation, and incremental progress and marveled at the imagination, vulnerability, and craft on display.

Completing a novel is a major accomplishment. It’s incredibly difficult to translate swirling threads of ideas, visuals, and emotions into a cohesive and compelling mass of words arranged on a flat page. Readers want to follow relatable characters on challenging journeys to experience excitement, romance, intrigue, admiration, forgiveness, relief, and more. No small task. It’s amazing so many of us try.

Each submission included a 250-word blurb or back cover copy, a 500-word synopsis, and a 2000-word opening. The contest organizers verified the use of the Fictionary editing platform and stripped names from the manuscript for anonymity. Kristina created a spreadsheet for judges to identify, address, and rank the presence and quality of essential elements in the blurb, synopsis, and 2000-word sample.

Then, we waited to see how many entrants came in.

I and the other two adult category judges, Shane Millar and Ryan Rivers received forty-three submissions. I did the math. 250 + 500 + 2000 x 43 = 118,250 words. Not bad, I thought; I’ve read longer fantasy novels in a week or two.


Forty-three individual works of creativity in no way compare to a single work by one author. Book reading is largely passive. Contest judging is not.

Each submission had an entirely different author voice with a unique premise, characters, story world, and thematics. Book award judging requires active reading, a deep consideration of every word, its meaning, and how it fits with the writer’s intent.

If I were to give this my best, and I was determined to do so, I’d need to organize, focus, and pace myself.

  • Organization
    • Google Drive
    • Spreadsheets
    • Color-coded folders
  • Focus
    • Clarify and reaffirm the criteria.
    • Assess my mental energy
  • Pacing
    • Create a timeline
    • Track progress


Demonstrate an understanding of the story, its strengths, weaknesses, and steps for improvement. Most contests don’t take this step, but Fictionary wanted to be more writer-positive.

We were determined to give our authors a motivating foundation from which to move their manuscripts to the next level. There would be no silent trashcan beside a slush pile.

There were stories whose premise excited me, but the synopsis and writing sample fell short, and some with generic blurbs and blockbuster scenes. And, of course, there were many variations of the possibilities.

What’s Next?

Looking ahead, I eagerly anticipated the 2023 BOYA contest, where I will again witness the creation of remarkable literary works. It is an incredible honor to be part of the vibrant Fictionary writing community and support and celebrate storytelling’s power.

As I write this, we’ve announced the shortlist and have a pause while the finalists polish for final submissions in mid-December. I’ll write more about the 2023 contest after the March 2023 winner announcements.

I invite you to visit to learn more about the software this extraordinary contest, and the remarkable works it showcases. Together, let’s continue celebrating and uplifting talented writers’ voices worldwide.


Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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