For this particular contest I have a rather comprehensive guide to use--which is helpful.
Though I certainly mark down for problems, I also find the good things to mention. I am well aware that we all begin at the bottom and I'd never want to be guilty of discouraging a budding writer. In my career as a writer, I've had many who helped me along the way with gentle criticism and wonderful suggestions. Frankly, I learned more about writing from various members of my critique group than from any other source.
What I look for:
First off, does the person know how to format a manuscript--or if it's already in book form, know what the inside of a book is supposed to look like.
An engaging first line and paragraph.
Letting me know who the main character is right away. Not an information dump, but enough for me to want to learn more about him or her. Three dimensional characters.
Where and in what time period is the book set--I want to know this before I get too far along.
Realistic dialogue that moves the plot along.
Action, dialogue and narrative interwoven.
A good grasp of grammar rules and how to use them.
A plot that keeps me engaged--with no gaping holes.
And my biggest bugaboo-- a knowledge of point-of-view. No head hopping in a single scene.
And as usual, I have my work cut out for me. If I'm lucky, I'll read some great tales.
Marilyn,who is putting on her editor hat now.