Tag Archives: Contests

Why Query Contests are Awesome

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.

Contests: What to Do When You Don’t Make the Cut

So you didn’t get into a contest you entered. It’s a tough feeling, no matter how much the hosts tell you they had to pass up entries they loved. What do you do now?

Before I got my agent, I entered my share of contests. Some I got into, some I didn’t, but each one was a helpful and productive experience. Here are some things I’ve found useful after not getting in:

  • Read the contest hashtag looking for general tips and feedback. See what you can learn from them to help improve your query/pitch/first 250 for next time.
  • If you don’t have experienced writer CPs yet, use the contest hashtag to find some. Or just exchange first pages and queries for crits. Your fellow writers are an amazing resource.
  • Read the entries that did get in. Figure out what they’re doing right. Apply those lessons to your own entry.
  • While you’re reading those entries that got in, realize this: Whoa, there are a lot of awesome unpublished books out there. You don’t need to feel bad that you didn’t get in, because these are some fantastic books.
  • Also realize yours may be just as good or better. And if it’s not yet, you can MAKE it just as good or better.
  • If you got any feedback from the contest, learn from it. Don’t implement it blindly, but think it through. Look at your work with honest, open eyes, and hone it until it’s so sharp you’ll bleed if you touch it.
  • Continue to follow the contest. Watch which entries get requests or votes. If any feedback is posted publicly on the featured entries, read it. This is your big chance to see what works live, and get a glimpse inside the process. It’s a great way to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
  • Revise your query/first page/pitch to make them better… IF you have a clear path and vision to do so. Don’t blindly rearrange the deck chairs if you’re not sure it will help.
  • Get more feedback on your revised query to make sure it’s working. Then, if there’s another contest coming up with fresh judges, enter it! Or if you’re ready, send out a query or two. There really is a lot of luck involved in finding the right contest judge/agent/editor for your book. You have to keep rolling those dice if you’re going to win the game!

GOOD LUCK! I have been there, and my heart goes out to everyone who hasn’t made the cut. Keep working hard and improving your craft, and your time will come. I’m rooting for you!

Contest Requests: Awesome, But Not Where the Rainbow Really Ends

I adore pitch contests. I think they’re an amazing way to meet other writers, get feedback, connect with the writing community, test out your pitch/query/first page without closing any doors, and more. They are absolutely amazing, and I think every querying writer (or about-to-query writer) should participate in them.

That said, you know what? In my experience, querying is flat-out a better way to get agent requests.

When you enter a contest, you’re not targeting agents who are seeking work like yours, or who you’d be eager to have represent you. You’re putting your work out there in front of a whole bunch of agents, some of whom may be perfect fits, but others of whom won’t be. When you query, on the other hand, you’re deliberately selecting agents who you think are a great match for you.

Here are my own stats from when I was querying and entering contests:

Requests from Twitter pitch parties: 2

Full/partial requests from blog contests: 2

Full/partial requests from querying: 14

One of the agents who requested a partial from a blog contest never got back to me on the material she requested, too. And, like many writers, I got my agent from regular querying. She found me in the slush pile.

So… By all means, do contests! If you get picked, yay! If you get requests, double yay!!!

But if you get picked and don’t get requests, don’t feel bad at all. You’ve proven you have a strong pitch and pages, or you wouldn’t have gotten picked for the contest. The particular agents just weren’t a great match for you. You can find better matches with regular querying.

And if you didn’t get picked for the contest, never fear! You’ve still gotten all the best benefits contests have to offer (see feedback, connections and friends, etc, above).

The only way to not win a contest is not to participate. Any which way, Just Keep Querying. And good luck!

January Contest Crit Giveaway: Query or First 250

While I got my agent through querying, contests were critical along the way. Contests helped me hone my query and first 250, introduced me to other writers who gave me great feedback and encouragement, and pointed me to all kinds of fantastic online resources. In 2015, I want to give back to the writing community that helped me so much, and one way I’m going to do that is offering feedback to help other writers entering contests!

Thus, for my first contest crit giveaway, I’m offering the following to anyone thinking of entering Sun vs. Snow*:

Comment with your query OR your first 250 (not both), and I will tell you the ONE thing I think would most improve it!

Why only one? Left to my own devices, I tend to give overly lengthy feedback, which is both time consuming for me and potentially overwhelming for the recipient. By limiting myself to picking the one most important thing, I ensure I can respond to (and help) more people, and also protect your sanity. 😉

This offer is for the first 10 comments. If I get more than 10 entrants, I have to stop there. Only so much time in the day!

If you want to offer other people feedback, please do comment on their entries. Just make sure to be supportive even when delivering suggestions. If someone comments on yours, make sure to return a crit for theirs!

Good luck to everyone entering Sun vs. Snow! Learn lots and have fun!

(* If you aren’t familiar with Sun vs. Snow, it’s a great, fun contest for unagented writers seeking an agent for their polished manuscript. If you’re querying, you should think about entering!)

[UPDATE: I’ve got all 10 slots filled now! Thanks to those who posted for their bravery. I may do another crit giveaway next month, so stay tuned!]