Why Contests Are Important

Posted: June 8, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

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My daughter and I enter our manuscript (query, pitch, first page, etc.) into a lot of contests. We haven’t “won” any yet.

So why do we keep pounding our head against that wall?

Well, it’s like this.  There are hundreds of good resources readily at hand for how to write your novel: classes — both online and in person — critique groups, how-to books, YouTube lectures, writers’ blogs, your mother, etc., etc. If you are serious, you can thoroughly teach yourself all of the aspects of novel writing, from plot to dialogue to pacing to character development to building tension, and every other particle of minutiae you can think of. You can surround yourself with other writers who can share their experience, collect beta reader who can tell you what’s wrong with your WIP, and hire editors who can help you fix it. Plus, there are like a million books out there you can read as examples of what works.

But what about finding an agent?

<crickets>

Sure, a lot of people are willing to give you advice. Some of them have even found an agent themselves. But mostly their advice is pretty vague. “Make sure your query has voice, but not too much voice.” “In one paragraph describe your entire book, but leave out everything that isn’t essential.” “Include Character, Conflict, Stakes, and Consequences.” “Don’t waste a single word.”

Okay, fantastic. But how?  Maybe there are some examples of successful query letters. Great. But they aren’t about your book. How do you craft the irresistible query for your book? Where’s that class?

There are actually editors out there who provide query feedback for a fee.  But that can get expensive, and what do you do if you pay and still get no results?

Here’s where the contests come in.  My daughter and I most recently entered #QueryKombat, and for the first time we made it into the first round. The actual contest itself is a series of elimination rounds based on voting by agented and published authors, alternating with opportunities for agents to request partials or fulls. What you’re supposedly vying for is agent exposure. The idea is that if you make it though several rounds, revising along the way, you haven been “vetted” and agents are much more likely to be interested.  You’re not actually winning representation or a publishing contract, although in theory your odds go up.

But the real benefit of such a contest is the feedback.  We were eliminated in the first round of #QueryKombat. Over three days the votes were 2-1 in our favor, then 2-2, 3-2 in our favor … then 3-6 against. It ended up 4-6. But each of those ten votes came with a detailed analysis of our query letter and our first page, pointing out both strengths and weaknesses.  In addition, participants were required to comment (but not vote) on at least six other entries.  So we actually ended up with closer to twenty detailed critiques of our query.

This is tremendously helpful. And I don’t know any other place where I could have gotten this kind of targeted feedback on my query.

So if your are querying yourself and unsure about how to craft that perfect query, look for the contests.  There are dozens every year (see my 2016 Pitch Contest Calender).  And the great thing is, you don’t have to “win” to win.

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