Lately, I’ve been thinking about the preliminary judging that I’ll be participating in for the RITA contest that beings in mid-January. Usually, when we rate a book—be it on Amazon or Goodreads—the scoring is on a scale of 1 to 5. It’s a rating system that I’m familiar with and can easily define. However, the scoring used to judge the RITA contest is much more comprehensive and consists of a scale ranging from 1 to 10. The following is taken directly from the Romance Writers of America website:
Each preliminary-round entry will be scored individually on a scale of 1.0 to 10.0, with 1.0 being the lowest (poor) and 10.0 being the highest (excellent). Decimals (from .1 to .9) are STRONGLY encouraged to help avoid the possibility of a tie. Judges are encouraged to think of the points system as equivalent to a classroom grading scale:
6.0-6.9: Below average
Below 4.0: Very poor
Now, with that being said, I’ve been thinking about how to define each level, particularly since decimal points are encouraged. I don’t want to randomly assign a decimal point or even a whole number without having a clear formula in place beforehand. After all, the ratings judges assign can potentially impact someone’s career. There should be nothing arbitrary about it, and so I’m devoting this blog post to what I believe fits the criteria of a solid 10.0 rating, the highest rating that can be assigned to a book in the RITA contest.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve read only a handful of 10.0 books in my life. These are the books that keep you up all night reading, or even up all weekend reading. You cry and laugh dozens of times while reading a 10.0 book. Sometimes you’ll stop and reread a phrase because the writing is so extraordinary. You remember where you were when you read a 10.0 book. Afterwards, you wax poetic about it to everyone you know. This is a perfect book; perfect in its plot, characters, pacing, and structure. The characters feel like living people, and they pop into your mind on occasion, like when you’re taking a walk and your mind is bright and clear and reflective. You wonder how they’re faring in their imaginary world.
10.0 books are the books that you keep forever. Even if you have an ebook copy, you need the physical copy as well, or something just doesn’t feel right. You keep them prominently on a shelf, the covers cracked and smudged from so many readings. These are the books you’ll continue reading until your eyesight goes, and then you’ll faithfully listen to the audio version until your hearing goes. And when all else fails, you’ll relive their adventures in your mind, until that too goes.
And so what are two of my favorite 10.0 books? Firstly, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which I originally read in 2002 and have since reread too many times to remember. I picked it up at Barnes and Noble because it looked interesting. I proceeded to spend all weekend curled up on my couch devouring this 850-page clunker. I barely stopped to eat and sleep. Everything about Outlander dazzled me. Jamie and Claire are like real people in my mind after reading about their lives for over fourteen years, and that, to me, is the makings of a perfect book. Outlander, the first in Gabaldon’s long series, is one of my most treasured 10.0 books.
Another example is A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron. I read this book in the summer of 2011 while on vacation down in Florida. I sobbed ugly sobs while reading this book. I laughed great belly laughs while reading this book. The story of Bailey the dog and his many incarnations as he struggles to find his purpose confirms what all of us dog-lovers already know: the bonds we have with our animals stay with us long after they’re gone. I still simultaneously smile and get a lump in my throat whenever I look at the cover of A Dog’s Purpose.
That’s it for this week! Next week’s post will break down scores 9.0 to 9.9 in what is quickly proving to be a much more detailed overview of book scoring than I would have thought possible!