ECA Judging Guidelines
For books in all genres, judges will consider the following:
- To a professional editor, mistakes in punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling (per industry-standard guidelines) jump off the page. While we understand that very few books are completely error-free, multiple PUGS mistakes will eliminate an entry from moving on to the second round.
- If the book uses too many fonts or has wrong or missing page numbers, inconsistent spacing, or other formatting issues, it may not qualify to move on to the next round.
- If a book contains slang or foreign words that may not make sense to a modern American reader, the meanings of those terms must be explained in a glossary and/or in a natural way within the text.
For a fiction book, judges will also consider the following:
- An attention-grabbing first chapter that flows well, holds the reader’s interest, and makes him or her want to turn the page at the end of the chapter.
- Use of active voice to keep the reader engaged. Show, don’t tell (except where the story needs a bit of telling to move past mundane sections).
- The storyline needs to be engaging throughout the length of the book. Characters’ actions and decisions should make sense, each one building on what has happened before. Characters must encounter obstacles that seem insurmountable, increasing as the story continues, and find intriguing ways to go over, around, or through them.
- The book’s main characters—both heroes and villains—should be fleshed out and three-dimensional, with understandable goals and motivations. Good guys should not be all good; bad guys should believe in what they’re doing. The Christian characters in the story should not all be perfect, and the unbelievers shouldn’t all be horrible sinners. Main characters should change in some way because of what happens to them in the story.
- Dialogue should be fun to read. It should be relevant to the plot and move the story forward. Each character’s way of speaking should be distinct, recognizable, different from the other characters, and unique to his or her background and experience. (Wayne, the PhD from Harvard, should not speak just like Joey, the high school dropout from New Jersey.)
- If you’re writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, your attention to worldbuilding is key. But setting counts in books that take place in various parts of the real world too. A scene in the swamps of south Florida should feel different from a scene that takes place in New York City, Georgia, or Alaska. A book set in 700 AD Spain will feel different from a book set in World War I England or contemporary Chicago. Your setting should be appropriate to your story, interesting, and with just enough description to make it easily imagined—but not long pages full of description.
- Point of View. POV must be consistent, showing everything in a scene from the POV character’s perspective—nothing that character couldn’t think, know, or observe. If the book has multiple POV characters, the POV character for each scene and chapter must be apparent within the first one or two paragraphs.
- Clean content. No gratuitous violence, explicit sex, profanity, or perspectives that would be offensive to most mainstream evangelical Christian readers. Behavior contrary to Christian principles must not be glorified; characters who sin must experience the consequences of their decisions and actions. If the story requires characters to swear, act violently, or participate in sinful behavior, it must be written creatively, leaving specific details to the reader’s imagination.)
- Each character should think, act, and behave in a way consistent with his or her background, experience, occupation, hobbies, etc. For historical fiction, details of the era must be accurate. (For example, cars during World War I did not have automatic transmissions and purr along well-maintained roads at a hundred miles per hour. DNA tests didn’t absolve people of crimes in 1904; they didn’t even enter the legal system until 1987.)
- At the end, all major plot points should be resolved, beginning with smaller, less consequential ones and working up to the major denouement and resolution. The best endings hearken back to something that happened in the beginning of the story. The main character either accomplished what he set out to do or fails in his original goal but realizes he and his life, or at least others who are important to him, are better off the way things turned out.
For a nonfiction book, judges will consider the following:
- The material needs to be interesting enough that the reader wants to keep reading until he or she reaches the end of the book.
- The content should be presented logically in a way that makes sense. (If your book is a devotional based around caring for sick puppies in Iowa, it shouldn’t include sidebars on the differences between the various poison frogs of the South American rain forest.)
- The book’s content and word choices must be appropriate for its intended target readership. (For example, a book for middle-grade children shouldn’t contain words like anthropomorphism and existential crisis.
- No matter how beautiful your writing may be, there must be some tangible benefit for the reader, preferably in every chapter. (The flip side of that is also true. Even a book with a great message or story will be eliminated in the first round if the judge finds too many errors.)
- If your book includes facts or statistics, they must make sense and include all appropriate details. (For example, “Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce” is much too vague.) Proper citations, appropriately formatted per industry-standard guidelines, must be used for all quotations from outside sources.