Sunday, August 19, 2012

In Praise of Contest Entrants

Lately I've been having some contest anxiety -- it's really hard to put your work out to be judged in public. And yes, that's a strange realization for me, as a blogger of Operation Awesome, which is best known for the Mystery Agent contests.

Confession and credit due -- the Mystery Agent contest was Katrina's idea, and it  was driven by all the other wonderful women of Operation Awesome, especially Amparo, Lindsay, and Kristal. When the contest launched in September 2010, I wasn't even sure whether it was a good idea.

But it was a brilliant idea! We've had a lot of great agents help out, and we've had success stories -- winners who've gone on to get offers and contracts.

But I'm here to praise the entrants who didn't win. Because those writers deserve praise for putting themselves out there and taking the risk.

Because when the contest launched, I had an agent. I don't have one anymore. I can't enter our Mystery Agent contests, but I've entered others. And mostly I have lost. Sometimes it's worth a shrug -- nothing ventured, nothing gained -- but sometimes it feels like every agent in the world has simultaneously seen your query and rejected, while everyone else you know is watching.

Of course it's not really like that. Of course contests are fallable and limited. One of my good friends suffered from a  high-profile contest entry that gained her zero agent requests -- not even any comments. It threw her into a spiral of writerly despair -- probably the lowest point I've seen for her. The only thing that pulled her out was an agent offer -- then an agent cage fight, with multiple agents competing to represent that very same book, just weeks later.

Oddly, the fallability of contests is why I think they're worthwhile -- because querying is fallable too. On any given day that an agent reads your query, she might be in an awful mood. She might have suffered a crushing defeat with a client in your genre. She might have blisters from breaking in new shoes or her office neighbor might be eating a really stinky lunch at his desk. And you get a rejection.

So a contest is another chance, and you never know. Maybe your pitch attracts an agent's attention when a query didn't -- or vice versa.

And there's this: I think when agents look at their queries, sometimes they're looking for reasons to say no -- wouldn't life be easier with no new fulls to read?

But in a contest, SOMEBODY is going to win. Why not you?

So keep entering, OK? If you can be brave, I can be too. 

What are your thoughts on contests? How hard is it to put your work in public? Why do you do it? 


  1. Thanks for writing this Kell. It's terrifying to put yourself out there, and it's really hard to face the disappointment of not winning, especially when it's so public. But you have to try. You have to keep trying. You're letting yourself down if you don't.

    Thanks for offering these opportunities for aspiring authors, because it is worth it. If nothing else, I'm a braver person because I entered contests such as these.

  2. The first time I put my work out there? Terrifying. But it gets easier each time I do it. Thanks for the contests and the opportunities they bring.

  3. I agree with JeffO (the above comment). The first few times, it was terrifying, and I felt sick to my stomach. Believe it or not, I wasn't just anxious about the agents' opinions, I was nervous about the thoughts of other entrants and everyone in the blogging community who might read it. What if they thought my premise was stupid, or my first page was a real stinker? Would they stop reading my blog, or just feel sorry for me (I know, a tad dramatic). It's gotten easier and easier to enter~ this community is so supportive (this post is evidence of that!), and everybody is really rooting for each other. I tend to set my expectations low during contests, which keeps things pretty stress-free. A contest win is no guarantee of getting an agent, but the process of putting yourself out there is a huge step in declaring, "I love to write and I believe in my ideas and I'm dedicated to getting better at this, so I'm going to keep trying, dammit :)" Great post!

  4. Excellent post. It totally expresses my current state of mind about entering contests: "...but sometimes it feels like every agent in the world has simultaneously seen your query and rejected, while everyone else you know is watching."

    I have won three pitch contests (one on this blog), yet, I still have no agent. Honestly, one starts to feel exactly as you have stated...that everyone else is watching...and shaking their heads, wondering why you're still entering contests.

    Thanks for this honest, heartfelt post. :)

  5. I have to admit I'm glad to not have to enter contests anymore since I signed with an agent, but I think they are worthwhile and I encourage writers to bite the bullet and go for it. I had one agent give me a standard rejection on a query, and one week later choose me as a winner for a contest on this website! So it's so true that contests can be another chance and I think they are worth it. Thanks for hosting these agent contests.

  6. Thanks for this entry. I finished my manuscript last month and your August contest was my first ever. I didn't win, and I received my first two rejections this week too, but I'm going to keep trying. I think these contests are wonderful because you get to see what other writers are doing, compare your pitch to theirs, and even if you lose, you still get to read the agent's feedback. Terrifying? Absolutely. But it helps to know you're in good company.

  7. Many thanks for this post. The first time you hang your heart out on the line for all to see is the hardest, you're correct. My first time posting was on a writers blog. Granted, it wasn't a contest, but when no one even made a comment, it was eye-opening. Comments flew around all other pieces, many other pieces, while mine sat alone in the corner unnoticed and apparently unloved. It took a while for me to hang my stuff out there again. That said, I find writers to be a gracious, forgiving, and honorable lot, willing to share knowledge and offer encouragement. As Dee so eloquently said: helps to know you're in good company.

  8. It's so true that sharing your work is stressful and terrifying. I only recently did it for the very first time (yes, first time ever), and it took so much inner talk for me to do it. I'm glad I did though, because the best thing that could have happened did. I entered a pitch contest, and while I didn't win, I got one of the two honorable mentions. Yay me, right? I entered the exact same words in another pitch contest, and the feedback was "meh, this isn't that great".

    Moral of the story: you're so completely right. Contests, querying, it can all be so subjective. You have to be able to write, of course, but from there it's a matter of having the right person at the right time reading your words.

    I agree with your last point... it's always worth it to try. :) Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thank you for this post. This month is the first month I've had a "polished" manuscript to so I can enter contests like this. It is hard to put my words out there, to know that probably what I'm getting from the contest is a big, fat, no. But I've heard too many success stories and seen so much good feedback, even in just the 2 contests I entered so far, so I'm going to keep putting myself out there. Thank you for having mystery agent contests and applauding the winners and the losers:)

  10. I have mixed feelings about contests. It can be exciting. It can be heartbreaking. It can be frustrating.

    I've tried all year to join this contest and it seems like not matter how early I try to post, I miss it every time. Frustrating.

    I get some really great comments and advice when posting my query or first 250 or pitch.

    I haven't gotten an agent request, except one time and she never replied.

    No matter the outcome, contests are addicting. So for every turn down or heartbreak, it's still a good thing, if only for the feedback. Even when the feedback it hurtful, it can be helpful. If nothing else, it toughens your skin for the next round:)


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