Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
Are you a fan of the reality competition TV show THE VOICE? Each season’s early episodes start with blind auditions. Four professional musicians/judges/coaches sit with their backs to the stage. They’re listening only to the voice of the contestant who has 90 seconds to convince a judge or judges to push a button and turn their chair for the singer. If no chairs turn, the contestant is out of the competition. If more than one judge turns, the judges plead their case for why the competitor should select that judge to be their coach.
The viewing audience sees things the judges can’t see:
- a heartwarming or tragic backstory
- the aspiring musician’s journey
- the contestant’s stage presence
- costuming and lights
- the contestant’s interaction with the audience
In the blind auditions, none of those factors are known by the decision-makers. They press their button–or don’t–by virtue of the voice alone. They don’t know the singer’s age or experience or look or other factors that might influence their choice. It’s the voice.
They decide based on uniqueness, strength, subtlety, power, skill, tone, intonation, vocal control, song choice, range, storytelling-through-song, emotional connection to the song, (which they hear, not see), and how the judge perceives the singer might fit into his or her stable of singers for the season.
Have you considered how similar that is to a writer’s blind auditions?
Contests and awards
Most contests for unpublished writers are blind auditions. The judge doesn’t know the name of the author. The author doesn’t know the judges’ names. The writing has to stand on its own merit, with no influence from the writer’s backstory of how long he or she has been working toward publication, how many classes the writer has taken, or what other judges think about the writing. The judge can’t be swayed by the writer’s kind eyes or bright smile or that it’s a submission from the son or daughter of a famous author.
Submitting to an agent or editor
When an author submits a query or proposal to an agent or editor they haven’t met, it’s a blind audition. (And since agents and editors meet a plethora of writers at conferences and workshops, even if there’s been a brief introduction, it may still feel like a blind audition to the industry professional.) But that’s not necessarily a detriment. The writing must stand on its on merit. Yes, a full proposal will share the author’s bio and perhaps a picture of kind eyes and a bright smile. The decision to pursue or not pursue shares much in common with a judge listening for tone, skill, range, storytelling, dynamics, and emotional connection that shows up on the page.
When a reader opens the book
The blind audition concept doesn’t end when a book is contracted. Especially when selecting a book by a debut author, the reader comes at the novel or nonfiction blind. The reader doesn’t yet know (and may never know) the author’s tortured journey to publication, or the author’s personality and “presence.” The reader is listening for a voice that captures attention in fewer than 90 seconds, and convinces the reader it’s a story worth the investment.
Just this season on THE VOICE, singers have heard judges say:
- You’re not quite ready. Come back next year after you’ve worked on __________.
- I could hear the nerves in your voice.
- I could feel your emotional connection to the song even before I turned around.
- You won me over from your first notes.
- Beautiful depth of range and use of dynamics.
- Creative approach to a familiar song.
- Captivating tone.