Here’s the Thing: Contests Aren’t Really About the Agents

Did you raise your eyebrows with that? Did you that combination snort-scoff thing? Or roll your eyes? (You didn’t think I saw, but I totally did.)

I’m not budging. I stand by my statement. If you’re slapping your logline into contests entry slots for agent attention alone, you’re doing it wrong.

Are there author-agent match-ups that rise, phoenix-like, from the fires of contests? Absolutely! I know of several, including one of my (long-suffering) CPs K.T. Hanna. It happens all the time, and if it happens for you, slap a gold star sticker on your forehead because you just received the Ultimate Contest Participant Bonus Prize.

But for every contest success story, there are a dozen others that end in duds. Maybe you get a few requests, but they don’t end in yeses. Maybe the agent that you were really aiming for doesn’t even give your entry a passing nod. Maybe you get no requests at all. Nobody wants to think about it or talk about it or even look at it directly, but it totally happens. Agents are elusive, unicorn-esque creatures that may or may not appear where you want them, and no matter how polished your entry, it might not ring any of their bells.

“So…what?” you say. “Should I just not enter contests? I seem to recall you being involved with quite a few, Little Miss Hypocrite?”

No, you should totally enter contests. I’m a huge, HUGE proponent.

Why? Because of the other writers.

That’s where the goldmine is, people. Thrown together by a shared, high-stress situation; huddled on whatever the contest hashtag is; joined by the biting of nails, the ripping of hair, the rending of garments…this is how great writer bonds can begin. Take the movie Speed, for instance. The only way you get a world in which Sandra Bullock swaps spit with Keanu Reeves is if you throw them in a blender with a bus and a bomb. Contests are our bus and bomb. The agony, anxiety and elation is a fucking insta-crucible. Shit melts together. Writers melt together. Maybe you’re not besties for life, but I bet you’ve got a lot more people to share wins and woes with.

This won’t happen all on its own, though. That gold ain’t gonna mine itself. You have to be active in the contest – not just with the hosts or the agents, but with your fellow participants. Get on the hashtag and talk with people. If possible, take time and read the other pitches. If you see one that rocks, tell that person they rock. Stay positive on the hashtag even if the contest isn’t going great for you. It’s not going to be easy, especially if pitches you hate are getting lots of agent-love, but put on your big kid panties and keep your cheer on anyway. After all, someday you’re going to want people to cheer for you.

An agent may be your end goal, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by strapping blinders to your head and tramping toward them without making connections along the way. Connections are awesome. Connections help keep you going when you can’t find your way out on your own.

Don’t do contests just for the agents. Do it to be part of the community, or you might find yourself missing out.

Tracey: When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that…
Zoë: You find someone to carry you.

Firefly

16 thoughts on “Here’s the Thing: Contests Aren’t Really About the Agents

  1. Great post!

    I feel the same way, and have used some of your comments as a boot to kick others and encourage them to enter. The best contests are the ones that encourage commenting and community between the entrants and get everyone familiar with each other and their projects. The agent round ends up being much less important in the grand scheme of things.

    Two of my favourites so far — #GUTGAA month and #PitchLive!

    John

  2. You know what I love about contests? All the critiquing feedback. My pitches and queries wouldn’t be half as good as they are if the other contestants hadn’t taken the time to leave comments and suggestions.

    I’m a big proponent of the RWA chapter sponsored contests for the same reason-even if you aren’t named a finalist, many of them offer detailed feedback.

  3. You get ALL THE LOVES for quoting Firefly. 😀 One of my favorite quotes from the series.

    I haven’t entered any contests ’round these parts just yet, but I’m hoping to get a little more involved with it next year. They look like a ton of fun, regardless of the outcome. 🙂

  4. Awesome post! So so so so true. Thanks for the reminder, it’s so easy to get caught up in worrying about the agents you forget about the most amazing people you meet along the way. I personally have met three outstanding authors who have helped me tremendously with my craft or my pitch (sometimes both), in one way or another because of a contest I entered. I haven’t won any contests, but I won the friendships. It’s a win/win.

  5. I’m a tad obsessed with contests. I love interacting with other writers, providing/receiving feedback, and just soaking up the experience and knowledge I take away from each contest. I’ve learned sooo much from contests alone this year, and most of my writer pals have come from them.

  6. Yes, exactly!! Great post. I’ve met so many wonderful writers from contests, and I think I get more joy stalking other people’s entries than waiting for feedback on my own. If you gets requests, awesome, but that definitely shouldn’t be the sole goal of entering a contest.

  7. Well said! In fact, I would say this is not only the case for contests, but for much of social media. If you just post and disappear, it’s easy to be overlooked. But if you engage, you never know what might happen. I haven’t done much with contests, but I can gladly say that I first met ALL of my closest writing friends through blogs, Twitter, etc. It’s about being a person, not just a pitch. (Though now I kind of wish there were more contests for editors, because I think it might be a good experience.)

  8. There are a lot of good in contests. I have met some great writers through them, but there is something else I think it invaluable– said from someone who has only made it to an agent round of one contest (and got no requests from that).

    Putting yourself out there– risk free.

    What I mean, is that with as an new, unpublished, unagented writer is can be hard to tell when your manuscript and query is truly ready for agent eyes. I have made this mistake before. Sending out queries, pitching agents, before I was ready. Now they are agents that I cannot query with the same manuscript. I’ve burned those bridges, so to speak, at least with the with this novel (and I am painfully stubborn about it 🙂

    With contests, on the other hand, I can try and fail as much as I like. And like queries, you learn each time. Even more so, because you get to see the quality of the ones who are chosen. And, in some, you get direct critiques. So even with the failure, you have an open road ahead of you. As you learn and grow, you can still start over and query all the agents you like. This is the greatest value that I see in the contests, at least for me.

  9. exellente! as always. and very classy to end with a firefly quote, you! i have to say that getting feedback is the best thing, besides all the wonderful camaraderie in the trenches. the contests help you gauge where your writing’s at – it’s like giving your work a little test run. getting an agent would be great, but it doesn’t have to be the only goal.

  10. Great post! I have to agree with you about making connections. The best contest I ever entered was The Writer’s Voice, back in May. I ended up with no requests, but my teammates (Team Krista) were awesome. Since then, I’ve stayed in touch with many of them and we’ve used each other as beta readers.

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