I love writing contests. They provide so many unique opportunities. Not only do they force you to think outside the box (like trying to sum up your 70k manuscript in a single logline), but they encourage you to do the one thing I know many writers are hesitant to do: share their work.
When I first began querying I knew nothing about contests. I simply sent my emails to agents and patiently waited. Is there anything wrong with this process? Absolutely not. Many great writers have been discovered via the slush pile. Yet when I started participating in social media, I discovered a whole new world beyond traditional querying. A world where amazing writers like Brenda Drake, Authoress, Jessa Russo, Tamara Mataya, and the ladies behind Adventures in YA Publishing, as well as those behind Operation Awesome, provide a unique opportunity to pitch directly to agents. Who knew there were so many amazing ways to reach agents beyond regular querying?
Once I discovered these contests, I jumped in with one of my older manuscripts, a YA Thriller. I worked tirelessly on my pitch, my logline, my query, my first pages. I shared with my critique partners, and used their feedback to polish my words until they were beyond shiny. Then with one deep breath, I entered each and every contest.
What did I discover? Well, those polished words needed a little more work as I didn’t get selected for the first or second contest. Even though I was very discouraged, I went back to revising and set-out to enter another contest. This one I was lucky enough to get into, but didn’t make it past the first cut.
My state of mind? Crushed. Sad. Bewildered. I thought for sure what I was sharing was exactly what the contest hosts wanted. As I sent frantic emails off to my CPs, one was kind enough to add some much needed perspective. She told me that just like querying, contests are all about subjectivity. While one host may think my work is the best thing they’ve ever read, another is going to reject it. Why? Some will say “no” due to personal taste. Others might say none of the agents involved are looking for that type of MS. The truth of the matter is that just like the slush pile some people are going to like your writing and others are not.
Should you let this discourage you? Absolutely not. Here’s why: that next contest may be the right choice for you. That next contest may have a judge that will fall in love with your writing. Champion you all the way to the end until you get a full manuscript request from an agent you love. The point here is DO NOT GIVE UP. If you believe in your manuscript, keep working. Keep digging. Keep fighting. Continue to get feedback. Polish your work. Improve your craft. The ones who make it in publishing are the ones who keep trying. Continue to claw their way toward their dream.
So polish up those words and gird your loins. Dig in, do the work, and then look for the next contest opportunity. That next chance may be the key to connecting you to the right agent or publisher. All you need to do is believe.