I didn’t get my agent from a query contest, but I entered a bunch of them back when I was querying, and I found contests to be incredibly helpful to me as a writer. But not for the reasons I thought they would be.
Some people do find their agents through contests, but I know I got far more requests querying. When you query, you can pick agents you’re interested in, and who are seeking what you write. It’s a better way to find the perfect match.
Contests are, however, AMAZING for several things:
Feedback – Some contests offer feedback to entrants. These are incredible opportunities! But even contests that don’t offer feedback often will abound with chances for query exchanges or critique giveaways on the contest hashtag.
Community – Contests are often a great way to meet other writers through the social media surrounding the contest. You can learn from tips other writers post, meet potential CPs or beta readers, and simply know you’re not alone in the trenches.
Field Testing – If your query gets picked for a contest, that’s a great sign that it’ll get requests from agents, too. If it doesn’t get picked for one contest, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything—they’re often very competitive—but if you enter a few and don’t get picked, your query or your book may need more work before you send it out to agents. Entering contests is a great, risk-free way to field test your query without closing any doors.
Case Studies in Awesomeness – You can learn a lot by checking out the winning queries in major contests, even if you don’t enter yourself. It can be especially interesting when there are multiple rounds with revisions between rounds, so you can see how the query improves, or if mentors post public feedback you can learn from. You can read the queries (and excerpts, where applicable) and see which ones really want to make you read the book, and learn from what those writers do.
I entered a bunch of query contests when I was querying the novel that got me my agent (the one I wrote before THE TETHERED MAGE). The feedback I got from contests, and from people I met through contests, was absolutely invaluable in improving both my query and my entire novel; I wouldn’t have gotten my wonderful agent without what I learned from them.
I actually entered an early draft of the novel that would become THE TETHERED MAGE in PitchWars when I was still revising it, figuring it would be a good way to test my query at least… and wound up getting requests from all four of the mentors to whom I applied. I had to frantically finish my revisions and send off the full, and wound up getting picked as a mentee… and then got an offer from my lovely agent just a few days later and had to withdraw! But I knew from the huge difference between the judge reactions to that proto-TTM novel and the reactions to my previous novel that I’d finally gotten this right, and this was THE BOOK.
So if you’re a writer looking for an agent, I highly recommend checking out contests. Even if you don’t wind up participating, you can learn a ton and meet great people just by stalking them. (Er, stalking the contests, that is, not the people.) You don’t have to win contests to get published, but they are a fantastic place to find community, learn, and practice, so you’ll be much more prepared to revise your novel into its fully evolved badass form, write a killer query, and get the agent of your dreams.