But somewhere along the way, I changed my mind. It might have had something to do with the fact that I started hosting a regular blog contest (“An Agent’s Inbox” is taking a few months off, by the way, since I need a little time to recuperate from “The Writer’s Voice,” but it’ll make a comeback in August, and I already have September’s and October’s rounds scheduled, too), or maybe it was because I started to notice all of the contest-generated success stories that kept cropping up. Anyway, I changed my mind, and here are a few reasons why:
1. Blog contests are a great way to connect with people. I’ve had several people tell me that they met a new critique partner through “An Agent’s Inbox,” and I’m pretty sure “The Writer’s Voice” and the ensuing Twitter pitch party are singlehandedly responsible for launching several new critique groups the size of small European countries. So play along and look for like-minded writers whose comments/tweets you find insightful.
2. Blog contests are also a great way to get clear, unbiased feedback. Every writer needs critique partners, other writers who love you and your writing and want to help you make it shine, but sometimes, your critique partners are too close to the story to give you clear, unbiased feedback on your query and first few pages. Critique-based contests like the ones hosted by Authoress of Miss Snark’s First Victim are great ways to figure out how to put those finishing touches on your writing.
3. Agents usually pay more attention to contest entries. I may be going out on a limb here, but I really do believe that agents give contest entries a closer read. They have a finite number of entries to get through, so the task seems less overwhelming than, say, tackling the query inbox, which never ends and usually doesn’t even take a day off.
Case in point: I know of at least one writer who received a form rejection from an agent one day, then a full request from the same agent six weeks later via a contest. The query had only minor changes, and the first page was exactly the same, so either the market changed dramatically in a matter of weeks or the agent paid more attention to those contest entries than she had to her queries. (That full request turned into an offer, too, which made me wonder how many manuscripts agents inadvertently pass up that, if they’d taken a slightly closer look, they would have fallen in love with.)
4. In multi-agent contests, a feeding frenzy often ensues. I have even less hard evidence for this one, but in my gut, I think it’s true. I’ve never actually participated in one of Authoress’s Baker’s Dozen Agent Auctions, but I’ve watched both of them from the sidelines, and they’re pretty fierce. In a nutshell, the agents review a bunch of loglines and first pages, then bid against each other to win partial and full requests. The agents have a lot less information to go on when they’re placing their bids (since agents usually ask to see a query and the first five to ten pages), and yet they seem to bid on far more manuscripts than you might expect them to out of a random batch of queries.
Now Authoress does screen the entries, so the projects that make it into the auction are (probably) going to be of a much higher quality than the average slush. Still, I don’t think that accounts for all of the variation. There’s just something exciting about bidding, fighting, winning, and it’s easy to get caught up in that.
So go and compete (and hopefully win)! With all the contests around the blogosphere, you shouldn’t have a problem finding one to dip your toe into. In fact, if you know of any blogs that host regular agent-judged contests, feel free to recommend them in the comments!