Contests are a great way to get a variety of professional opinions. But unless the sponsor's reputation is solid for fairness, be sure the contest is hosted by someone or some organization that is not selling author-help services.
The WRITERS DIGEST Self-Published Book contest judges read and comment on your whole book. Diary of a Robot, was submitted just before the June, 2021 deadline. The judge gave comments that I received on 12/06/2021. Naturally, I fixed things before submitting the book to the Eric Hoffer Award contest. (Check elsewhere on my website for those results.). Here are some of the Writer's Digest judge's comments:
This book has perhaps the most unique (and entertaining) voice of the whole lot of books I read. . . . The Frankenstein's monster sort of tale, but told in more of a 2001 style with a twist of humor, is great.
[It] is exemplary in its structure, organization, and pacing. . . . However odd the premise and structure of the book, it works well. The delivery of the story by Robey is pitch perfect. The footnotes could be sort of humorous, though there were just so many of them.
This book is exemplary in production quality and cover design. . . . The book covers themselves are sort of a lark—statements from the company legal department and a disparaging author bio. Again, this is something that just seems to work and I think it contributes to the charm of this book.
This is a great satire that seems to know the genre of artificial intelligence taking over really well. The premise of the book (as well as the book itself) is entertaining and wholly unique despite operating in this tradition.
INK AND INSIGHTS contests are EXCELLENT for developing writers. Four lit biz judges give ratings for the first 10,000 words of your book in over 50 topics covering Characters, Plot, Story, Writing Technique, and Proof-reading. Each judge also gives text comments for each judging section. Here are example comments from Judge 1 for Diary of a Robot. I made this summary brief while trying to keep the judge's balance so that you can see the kind of criticism Ink & Insights editors give. Judge 1's comments are in line with Judge 3, and fairly typical of the other two. When two or more judges agree, you should be fairly sure they are on target. My judges' combined feedback resulted in quite a few changes.
The narrator for 'Diary of a Robot' is unlike any I've read; it's wonderful. The voice is unique, but more importantly, its perspective is innovative. ...
The use of footnotes was incredibly strong, too. It's easy to overdo footnotes in fiction, and it's easy to include information that, although important to the narrator, ultimately slows the plot down without adding much; but in 'Diary,' the footnotes work in tandem with the main text, and the robot's asides ('Dear Diary':) allow for it to interject its own voice, making it so that the reader never loses sight of who's telling the story (and why).
The humor in the robot's voice makes this at-times difficult to follow (because of technical jargon and the like, not because the plot is confusing) ... it offsets the scientific tones with its levity.
I have no complaints about this narrator. I wish I could spend more time with it.
As per Guy and Dr. Little—I still feel like I'm getting to know them (which makes sense considering how little (no pun intended) time the reader has spent with them so far), so I don't know have much to say about them. Guy's nervousness about getting fired was funny but I also didn't quite understand its origin. Why was he so nervous? I chocked it up to it being a quirk of his, but a bit more elaboration on whether he's either prone to deep self-doubt/similar quirks or whether he's actually done something to warrant his fear would help. I hope there wasn't something in the text that I missed regarding this.
The way the story moves through time is so enticing; leaving the reader on multiple cliffs, before jumping to different time and characters, while still maintaining a clear (enough) logical thread connecting these jumps. The robot's voice guides us through these turns, giving the reader enough information about Guy and Little before they appear on the page that the reader can follow the otherwise spare-on-detail passages that adopt their POV's. ...
Although the world-building in this manuscript is superb, I gave a 4 on one of the early setting questions because I often had difficulty orienting myself within a given scene. This whole manuscript is light on description, which seemed to fit the eye of a robot, who I assume wouldn't be so taken with setting or ambiance, so the lack of scene-setting wasn't surprising or really much of an issue, but a bit more texture-giving details could help.
The other 4's I gave in this section were because of the already mentioned issues of not knowing Little and the lawyer's backstory, and because the jump from Little leaving his old company to starting his own happened very quickly.
Other than those 4's, everything else was great.
The writing in this manuscript was amazing. Like I said before, the narrator's voice is so original and compelling, it grapples with such interesting questions, and it seems to have such a strong grasp on the narrative, even as it flies to different times and POV's. The use of footnotes and the way they speak to the main text and the way they remind the reader of the robot's presence was masterful.
The only 4 I gave in this section was because a few of the passages where the robot muses about storytelling or about its reason for making its decisions with the storytelling—like the one at the top of 24—went on for a bit, even if only for a paragraph or two. Those out-of-scene passages can read slow pretty easily, regardless of how interesting their subject matter.
This was one of the best, and certainly most memorable, pieces I've read for Ink & Insights. The manuscript is so well thought-out; it knows exactly what it is and is trying to achieve; and it's just so smart. A wonderful blend of genres, a wonderful cast of characters. I wish you the best as you start to pitch it.
(Some Ink & Insight editor criticism is because they might be looking for things that the story shows after the first 10K words.)
Thanks for your kind and helpful words about Diary of a Robot. Your comment about footnotes resonated with others so I chopped notes that didn't advance the plot or theme or characterization enough. The biggest help was your question about why Guy was so afraid of getting fired. I thought about how to link that to the existing text, and out popped two very satisfying (for me) additions. On page 106 I changed Dad Two to Dad Three, and on page 306 I inserted the following two-sentence paragraph after the Dad's "You were lucky. You didn't lose any fingertips" comment. Guy tells us:
“Then it was like he read my mind: ‘No, we won’t send you back to the agency.’ And he took me to the basement to show me how to reset the circuit breaker.”
You may remember that Guy is an orphan. He disobeyed Dad Three, a foster father, about not messing with the electric outlet. To a foster kid, getting sent back is like getting fired. I didn't want to belabor the point more than making those changes. Some readers will get it; others won't. There is also the possibility that some readers will think for a second that the dad is taking Guy to the basement to beat him... but Don't Believe Everything You Think.