Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Enter Contests!

I was interviewed by Miss Snark's First Victim! This happened yesterday, and most of you have already seen it, but I was walking around in a NyQuil cloud all day long yesterday (allergies...ugh), and I thought I had posted about the interview, but when I checked today, clearly, I had not. That, or Blog Gnomes stole my post.

It was probably the Blog Gnomes. Nasty little buggers.

Anyway, before the Blog Gnomes hit, I didn't post about the interview as I'd intended, I wanted to post about contests.

Do you enter contests? Jay Asher (author of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY) is well known for his support of contests:
I also entered every writing contest I could find, winning a few along the way, and some of them brought me in contact with agents and editors that later came in handy. The community I found at the conferences and the confidence I gained by winning contests is what kept me going through all the rejection letters.

I'll be honest--I never really bothered with contests very much before I read Jay's opinion. I don't often do short fiction, and when I do write short fiction, it's always very much genre, not literary, and that has always seemed like a harder sell to me.

As I continued writing seriously, with the intent for publication, I started paying more attention to contests. Writing doesn't have to be a cocoon, and contests help assure that you aren't cushioning yourself in privacy.

Be careful where you submit your work to contests. Some charge money, some have strict guidelines, some expect you to give up publication rights, some aren't worth your time, and some are, frankly, shady scams.

And figure out what you're going into the contest for. Is it to win a prize? Is it for feedback? Those are two very different types of contests, and you'll be better off if you decide before you start which you want more.

For me, I sought feedback. Here are some of the best contests I tried for:
  • Miss Snark's First Victim
    • The prize for these is usually agent attention--"winners" get a leg up in submitting a partial or full
    • It's helpful, though, because nearly everyone who submits will also go through the other entries, giving feedback. Everyone gets at least feedback from the agent.
  • Query Tracker
    • Occasionally, QT organizes contests with agents. These are usually pitch contests, where you submit a one-sentence pitch.
    • Losers don't get feedback, but there is often a post before and after the contest explaining what makes a good pitch, why the winners were selected, etc.
There are other places that aren't exactly contests but that still provide feedback:
  • Jodi Meadow's Query Project
    • Jodi was a slush reader at a literary agency and certainly has experience with reading queries and knowing what works or doesn't, especially when it comes to the details.
  • Query Shark
    • This is Janet Reid's query blog. So be prepared--she holds no punches. You can learn a lot just from reading the archives, without entering.
  • Evil Editor
    • You can submit a query or a first page here. You'll be gently mocked--but overall, you'll get an idea of where your query makes readers get lost.
  • KT Literary "About My Query"
    • Kate Testerman is a literary agent, and her "About My Query" project breaks down queries into what works and what doesn't. Comments are often very helpful here.
Lest you think I'm throwing you to the wolves (or sharks), you should know that I am recommending each of these places based on my own experience. I entered them all, and I learned from them all. In fact, the first submission I did for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was to Miss Snark's First Victim contest, which Jodi was judging in her capacity as a slush reader. I didn't win--but the feedback I got from them helped me to change my first chapter and query into something better.

So, what are the best sites you have for contests and feedback?
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