Being a part of any community is about give and take, and in the writing community, one of the best ways to contribute is to participate as a judge for writing competitions and awards. Here’s 5 reasons why you should put your hand up and volunteer.

1. Free reading material

If you’re judging an award you will usually get to keep a copy of all the submitted entries, which translates into free books! As a judge for a writing competition you’re more likely to receive manuscripts rather than books, but it’s still free reading material. And award judge or competition judge,  you’re going to get access to reading material that you may not otherwise get. Which leads me to number 2…

2. Amazing discoveries

I was a judge for Australia’s Aurealis Awards for 2 years running and during that time I discovered some incredible writers whose work I may never have come across if I wasn’t participating as a judge. There is so much work being published it’s impossible to keep across it all, and as a judge you’ll often get access to works by emerging or unknown writers who will blow your mind. Great discoveries can be made when you’re judging writing competitions, too. There are always gems in among the “not-quite-there-yet” entries.

3. Get a broad view of what’s being written and published

Being a judge gives you the opportunity to see the breadth and depth of work being published in a genre. As a writer,  you’re expected to know what is out there in the market.With so much work being published, that can be difficult. But as a judge you get access to the wide variety of work being written across genres and sub-genres.

4. Be inspired

All writers can learn from other writers, and the books and stories you’ll read as a judge will often inspire your own work. You might uncover an unusual structure, or perhaps a great villain. Perhaps someone is writing in a new-cross genre or presents a juxtaposition of ideas that sets off sparks for your own work. Reading is necessary fuel for all writers, and as a judge you’ll be nourishing your writing brain while supporting your community.

5. Add to your writing CV

A well-rounded writing CV doesn’t just include a list of publications. If you’re applying for a mentorship, a fellowship or perhaps even a competitive master class or workshop, participation in your writing community will be looked upon favourably. Volunteering as a judge is a great way to show that you’re committed to your writing as a way of life. It demonstrates that you’re acquiring knowledge and experience beyond the confines of your writing desk.

Judge away!

Being a judge is often a big time commitment, and it is time that is taken away from your own writing.But I know from my own experiences as a judge that I gained more than I lost in terms of writing experience and industry knowledge. This year I’m a judge for the Australian Horror Writers Association’s Shadow Awards (non-fiction) and am again looking to be impressed by some great writing, discover some new writers and expand my reading horizons.

There are plenty of writing competitions and awards that rely on volunteer judges  every year. So if you see an opportunity to be a judge, think about offering your time. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

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Image of trophies by Brad K used under Creative Commons license. Image has been cropped.