Q03: Contests

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Querying Writers. For the remaining questions, see here.)

What are your feelings on participating in contests, and what are your favorite kinds?

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Love contests of all kinds! Participating in The Writers Voice gave me the confidence to do a big querying push earlier in the year. I think each approach has benefits. Posting only the first 250 gets reactions to the writing on its own. Same for the query. But the ones that are most beneficial from an agent standpoint are the contests that combine the query and first 250 as they get a sense of the story and the writing. Even putting a pitch with the first 250 is helpful as sometimes the opening page doesn’t yet show what’s coming. I know it should, but stories do require some setup.

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I have mixed feelings about contests. I seem to always participate (and I have really good luck about getting in to any contests where there’s a set window of opportunity) but I’m not always happy when i get in. There tends to be a lot of stress involved in the bigger “agent judged” contests, which i don’t like, mostly because i try to avoid stress and anxiety in my life. Also, i feel bad when I get, like, a request from an agent in a contest and other contestants don’t. And I think the other, main, problem I have with the agent judged contests is I feel the contests show our work off to a lesser extent than if i were to just query them. Like, if i queried an agent, I’d be able to send them my whole query, which includes my publishing history etc, AND 5-10 pages of the MS. But in those contests it’s typically just the meat of the query and the first page. I feel it’s a bit of a disservice, and i always tell myself to not enter them. BUT, all that said, I can’t seem to help myself. I’m a slave to hype and excitement and almost always participate, even if i regret it later. I don’t have much luck, or really participate in, twitter contests or pitch contests so i don’t have any formed opinions on them

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I like query+ first 250 words contests – the ones that actually are posted online. (NOT the ones that are chosen out of a group before the first round!)

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I love contests – I’m in one right now! My favorite are the big ones ex. query/250 with multiple agents. It’s an awesome way to get your query/pages in front of an agent who will actually read your material rather than an intern/assistant who will pass/pass on (don’t get me wrong – i heart interns).

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I am a little torn about contests. I think they can be great and I know from several friends’ success stories that they definitely work, so I’d encourage anybody to try a couple. However, it can also result in a form of “contest fatigue” where I see contest entries that I’ve seen in three or four other contests already, so we all know the ms has been out there for a while. Also, I feel like high concept and commercial novels have a better chance of getting selected by hosts (not necessarily the agents making the final picks) so I’m not convinced that contests are the best way for writers of literary fiction to agent-hunt.

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Bring on the contests, man. All of them.  The competitor in me loves the challenge, and it’s a great way to find new agents, see what else is out there, and figure out how your work fits in.

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My feelings about contests probably have a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been much luckier with them than with my query. I haven’t participated in any for my current manuscript, but I did get a few partial and full requests for my first manuscript. I love contests that ask for pitches and the first 250 words.

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I just entered my first contest last week, a pitch contest, and was absolutely shocked when it was picked to go to the next round. If I don’t find an agent soon, I will definitely be entering more, whatever kind they are. They’re also a great way to connect with other writers. *cough, like Dahlia, cough*

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I want to participate in more contests. I’m not always sure when/ where to find them. I’m also not sure of the benefits of ones that cost you vs free ones and the success rate of people going that route. How does one find them all?

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I’m undecided on contests. Some of my CPs swear by them and have had great results. I’ve had some success but it seems to depend on the type of MS you have. If you have something with a fantastic, voicey opening or an amazing hook, those seem to do better in contests. I also think it depends on where you’re at in querying. It can be a great way to get feedback on your opening before you start to query, or at the end of a run. But not so helpful if you’ve already been rejected by the agents who are judging the contest.

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I think contests are great if you have the right kind of MS/hook. In my past experience, I felt like my MS wasn’t quite what everyone seemed to be looking for or what’s “hot” right now. I’ve found more success with querying over any contests I’ve entered. That’s not to say that contests are bad. I think that they’re a fantastic way to make new friends and build your writing community, and that’s a total win.

At the same time, if you have only one MS ready to query like I do, then I think there’s definitely a point when you need to quit the contests. If there’s something new going on with a bunch of agents who have already been involved in a previous contest I’d entered, I probably would hold off. Clearly, if they were interested, they would have made a request. I don’t want to look too desperate.

My favorite kinds of contests are the Twitter Pitch contests, where you use a hashtag and pitch throughout a specific window of time. There’s no pressure that way. If an agent or editor sees your pitch and likes it, great! If not, at least you tried. But the contests where you get “chosen” to go to the next level kind of make me feel like I’m back in Middle School trying out for the volleyball team and failing miserably. They just make me feel bad about myself and my writing, and that’s not a positive thing.

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What about you guys? Any thoughts on contests? Obviously I’m a fan (thanks, The Writer’s Voice!) but there are some really good points being made here. Please sound off in the comments!

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