Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Fricassee

And so another Baker's Dozen draws to a close.

The one-week exclusive for winning agents began yesterday.  Next Thursday, I will begin sending out agent requests for the Things They Didn't Win.  I will also send out requests from Skulking Agents.  (That is, agents who poked around the contest, saw things they liked, and asked me to send requests.)

So even though it SEEMS like it's over, the Baker's Dozen keeps zipping along behind the scenes.

I can't thank everyone enough--truly.  Everyone who entered, everyone who critiqued, everyone who cheered.  And, of course, I appreciate the bravery of the 60 winners.  (Yes, bravery.  It's like standing in the grocery store naked.  Or something.)

Agents...editors...published authors.  Thank you all.

Yes, I'm planning on doing this again next year.  Absolutely.  Beyond that, though, I can't say.  For the last two years, blog hits on the day of the auction have DECREASED.  This means that, although I'm getting the same amount of interest in actually entering the contest, the auction itself is losing its audience.

It might be this:  "Well, I didn't enter, and I'm not really interested."

It might be this:  "Well, I entered, but I didn't get chosen, so I'm outta here.  This is too painful."

It might be this:  "Well, I entered, but I didn't get chosen, so I'm on to the next exciting online event."

Here's the thing.  When I started this blog, there was almost nothing like it out there.  Now, five years later, there are all sorts of author contests.  So many, in fact, that agents have complained about it.  Overkill.  Same-entries-everywhere-on-the-web.

I hear that.  And I lament it.

I don't lament that there are lots of exciting choices for writers out there.  WRITERS NEED THINGS TO HELP THEM CONNECT TO THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY.  But I do lament that there's so much hoopla that it's wearying the agents and spreading the writers thin.

There's a certain "high" about being in an online contest (you know it's true).  And my concern is that some aspiring authors are jumping from high to high instead of buckling down to the important-but-hated task of querying.  YES, people win contests and go on to receive representation--and even book deals.  But QUERYING IS STILL THE NUMBER ONE WAY TO GET AN AGENT.

My initial vision for this blog was to create a place where authors could critique each other's work.  A place to work on quality of writing.  In short order, I conceived the Secret Agent concept, and it took off with great gusto.  I kept it simple, though, and still do--one agent, 50 entries, focus on critique.  Many of the contests out there are so convoluted that I can't even understand how they work.  (Yeah, okay--that might just be me.  If I have to read too many instructions, I lose interest.  It's the whole divergent brain thing.)

For most writers, though, the "high" remains.  And regardless of how great the contests are and how many success stories they ultimately lead to, I fear that, for some writers, it's like eating too much candy.

Not so good for you.

(And think about it:  If you're jumping from contest to contest with your novel, then when, exactly, are you sitting down and seriously revising it?)

So, yes, I'm cutting down on the number of Secret Agent contests I do next year.  I will publish the schedule at the end of this month, so you will know what to expect.  I want to continue to offer high quality contests and critique on this blog, and I'm confident that we will continue to have success stories here.  But I don't want to be a part of the too-much-noise problem online.

As for the Baker's Dozen?  Like I said, I'm planning to do it again next year.  But it's disheartening, to say the least, to work so hard on something and then lose the audience to the next promise of candy out there.  (And, hey.  You can eat as much candy as you want--I'm not your mama!  But someone's got to do something about the overkill, right?)

Choose your contests carefully.  You don't need to hit them all.  Give yourself time to JUST SIT THERE AND WORK YOUR BUTT OFF ON YOUR NOVEL.  Because that's what's going to sell it.  Not feeling all the sparkles from the every-other-month contests you're entering.  Not throwing it out there over and over again without making it better first.

Be SMART about how you get your work out there.

(And, for what it's worth, I didn't land my agent through a contest.  I, yanno, queried him.  And he is one of the best things that's ever happened to my career.  Without a single contest sparkle.)

Love you all!  May your weekend be refreshing, and may words tumble effortlessly from your fingers.


  1. Just a thought, the reason people aren't looking at it is...
    there is no link to that web page when you say the auction is open. I tried to find it and went away disappointed, because I didn't know where to look.
    I feel a lot a people would have checked it out if it were easier to find. You might be surprised next year if that info was more accessible.

    p.s. Thanks for all you do to help authors out. Your generosity is phenomenal. Everyone should have a fairy godmother like you.

  2. I agree completely. I've observed this over the last year--I follow a lot of contests (I love critiquing!), and I've seen the same entries over and over. And several of my friends have entered alllll the contests... but not really queried. Even though I got an agent through a contest, I know it's not normal... and I still queried my butt off.

    I will be sad to see fewer contests from you (they're great!), but totally understand the idea behind it. Contest fatigue (for agents especially) is a very real thing...

  3. I like to enter about 2 contests per MS. And one is one of yours (a secret agent or BD). After that, i find, the agents are just overlaps so you don't get much traction anyway.

    But while i'm entereing contests, you'd better believe i'm querying at the same time.

  4. Honestly, this is good to hear. I started to wonder -is this how it's done now? I don't have the time and energy to keep up with umpteen contests. This is no way a knock to anyone's contest but part of me bucks against the idea of being pitted against other authors in a competitive environment. That said, I'll probably be back next year.
    And I didn't stop by because of the pain issue--just had too many rejections lately and had to take a step back, do some hard-core writing, and let the wounds heal.

  5. I haven’t followed the last few agent auctions because I’ve found it too hard to click back and forth between all the comment boxes. (I honestly don’t know how the agents do it!) I know it’s not anything you can fix, so I don’t fault you for that. It’s just that, like you said, when you don’t have a pony--or a friend’s pony--in the race, it’s easier to let the day go by and just check out the results.

    Also, perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like some of your comments were directed at one contest host in particular, and that rubbed me wrong. The contest host I’m thinking of gives and gives and gives to the online writing community without asking for ANYTHING, so even though I don’t agree with all of her methods, either, I don’t think it’s fair to call them out publicly. (Perhaps you didn’t mean to call them out, per se, but that’s the tone I picked up on in this post.)

    If anything, I’d take it as a HUGE compliment that so many other bloggers, myself included, have wanted to follow in your footsteps. As you said, you can only control what you can control, so I think it’s best to let the rest go unsaid.

  6. No, Krista, I wasn't calling anyone out. I don't even pay attention to what's going on when, because...well, there's just too much going on. So you read something in my "tone" that wasn't there. ;)

    This post is aimed at the writers, not the hosts of the contests.

  7. jkb -- You're right, I do forget to link sometimes! But I also DO link, quite a bit -- especially in the weeks leading up to the auction -- and, frankly, if people don't know by then where my blog is, I guess they're not really interested, right? :)

    (My blog is also linked right on my Twitter profile, so it's very easy to find if you simply click on my name.)

  8. Miss Snark / Authoress: Your generosity knows no bounds, and I’m deeply grateful for you and your site. I would have entered your glorious Baker’s Dozen, but two of my manuscripts have attracted the interest of (a) a big agent and (b) a major editor. I didn’t enter because I wanted other people to have a shot, and I felt that my sails were being picked up by a lucky wind.

    Whether or not I will succeed with these remains to be seen -- I keep self-sabotaging and comparing my work to others, (and haven not yet submitted to either) – I talk myself out of submitting my work because I’m convinced I’m not as good as anyone else.

    I trust your screening process (for the Baker’s Dozen) – I’ve had horrible luck with RWA chapter contests, judges can even be cruel. I’ve judged a number of contests and try to approach each entry with humility and constructive advice. But that’s all it is – advice, and my opinion. The publishing world is rife with opinion.

    Please take heart and know that you are deeply appreciated. Please do not be discouraged. There may be “contest fatigue” as everyone is noting. You do wonderful things for us. I had you critique one of my manuscripts (a third one) and your comments were very positive. Felt very blessed.

  9. I haven't even received all of the entries I bid on, including one full. If someone wants a different agent, that's certainly their prerogative, but I'm just saying, if Pam got all of her 537 she bid on, I'm gonna be pissed.

    #BakersDozen2014!!! Start prepping now.

    I support everything in this post. I'm not sure if my comment up until now made that clear.

  10. I must be living under a rock because I had no idea there were a lot of other online writing contests. Yours is the only one I'm aware of, but maybe those other contests are YA? I don't write YA so I'm not in that community.

    I don't enter contests, but I do try to participate in them as a judge or with critique. I thoroughly believe in their value and used to enter them years ago before I got my agent and became published. So now I want to give back. It's very rewarding and I wish I could do more.

    I'm wondering if a declining interest in agent contests is due to the increased interest in self-publishing. Self-published authors seldom require an agent unless they need to negotiate foreign rights or film rights. So that's another possible reason behind the declining numbers.

  11. Please don't get discouraged, Authoress. You run a great blog, and I know everyone appreciates your generosity. I think(?) you may have noticed the numbers decreasing b/c you are naturally beginning to attract a smaller subset of writers whose writing appeals specifically to you and Jodi.
    To be honest, I've never been picked for your Baker's Dozen Auction (although I've tried a couple of times), AND I've submitted the same pages to agents and gotten requests for more material! So, it may just be a matter of taste. Maybe adding even a third or fourth judge to your mix would liven things up next time??
    I still totally appreciate and believe in what you do and I'll continue entering the contest (as long as you'll be kind enough to offer!), because optimally I'd write something that appeals to everyone one day!

  12. The main reason you started this blog, writers helping other writers through critiques, is working. We've seen this in the success stories. I entered an SA contest two years ago and received a lot of praise from the other writers/readers along with tips on how it could be better. The agent didn't like it, but she gave me more tips on how it could be better.

    I took those suggestions and revised and revised some more. Last month, that novel was published.

    Having the monthly SA contests works the way it's supposed to. There are some who only critique the month they're in the contest, and there are some who are always volunteering their time to help others. Of course, it doesn't have to be just contests, maybe more time could be spent on drop-the-needle and other critique projects.

  13. Well said. Though I don't enter contests (as I feel that time spent should be dedicated to writing and editing), reading this post made me feel as if you were talking directly to me. And what your words did here, they validated my understanding the value of time when it pertains to writing. Keep up the good work. I've been following you for years, and I plan to continue for as long as you exist here.

  14. I honestly didn't get to critique as much as I wanted to because it was happening so close after Thanksgiving. We had traveled to see family and typing on my phone (not to mention navigating around the entries on my phone) is just excruciating. Got home late Sunday, had to work Monday. So the window was kind of tight for me, and may have been for others.

    There may well be market saturation on the contest front (this is the only one I follow, so I have no idea) but the fact that it was so close to Thanksgiving (when many people's schedules are disrupted, anyway) may also have been a factor. So, maybe things will be different next year.

    What you have to say about querying and revision is HUGE, though, and I would hate to think that aspiring authors were ignoring the excellent feedback form things like this and not revising, or querying, or trying to improve.

    I'm very, very grateful for the commentary from the fresh eyes of my peers and the benefit of expertise from the pros who gave feedback. A contest is exciting, but it's no replacement for doing the work. *sigh* I'm going to go try to fix my query letter.

  15. I wonder how much of this could be contributed to blogging fatigue in general? (As you say, potential contestant numbers have stayed stable, it's the blog hits that have decreased.)

    The heyday of blogging was about three years ago, when I started my blog. (I am perennially uncool, so when I start something it's generally at the end of the bell curve.) Blogging takes a lot of energy and mind-power, and it seems that a lot of the early adapters have moved to Twitter, Tumblr, and whatever new platform uncool me has yet to even hear of.)

    I could be talking out of my fedora. It may be that your stats are ever increasing on all aspects of your blog, and it's just the contests which are flagging because there are now so many of them. Either way, I just have to thank you for all your hard work, and to look forward to Baker's Dozen 2014. I'll still show up with my red pen/words of critiquing wisdom--promise!

  16. There are other contests??

    Seriously, though, this sounds a little like contest fatigue to me. And why not, we readers have only an inkling of the machinations you are going through behind the scenes.

    I've followed and participated in the critiques here for some years. For me, it is an invaluable resource for learning. It also reminds me of the wide and varying tastes of readers, which gives me great hope that there is room for my own scribblings.

    Statistically speaking, writers who rely strictly on contests to be 'discovered' are bound for disappointment. How many winners are there for any particular contest, one maybe two? Far better to do some research and target particular agents or editors and send a query. Then if a writer gets negative or no response, perhaps it means they need to revise the material, or simply stop flogging it altogether and move on. There are many examples of authors who wrote four or five novels before they wrote the one that worked.

    Thank you for all you do Authoress. Take a well deserved rest.

    Happy Holidays.

  17. I certainly hope you keep doing Bakers Dozen, but you've made some good points here. I just discovered contests this year, and I did notice that many of the same entries appeared in the two or three contests I looked at just in the past couple of months. (And one contest I took a quick peek at seemed to have rather confusing instructions, so it's not just you!)

    I think Sarah probably has the right idea with doing no more than two contests per manuscript, because they are a big commitment and can take up a lot of writing time.

    For instance, there were a lot of entries here that I really wanted to offer a critique on, and I think I just did seven or eight critiques. But I'm not someone who can quickly dash off a few remarks; I find that to take a good hard look at an entry and then carefully think of how to word the comments in a way that may be helpful can take half an hour or more per entry.

    So although I really enjoy doing them--and of course it's a good learning experience too--it quickly adds up to a lot of time. (Ten critiques could take five hours, and in that time I could have written 5000 words on my current WIP!)

    Although I do plan on running a logline critique again next year --and it was great to see some of the participants who came to my site making it into the contest with those revised loglines!:)--that's going to be a 'once a year' thing for me. That precious writing time has to be the first priority--as it should be for all the writers here.

  18. You noticed there were fewer blog hits on the DAY of the auction? Not before it, or after it?

    I can't speak for everyone here, but that was on purpose on my part. I couldn't do any critiques that day, and the last thing I want to do on a contest day is help make a website crash. (And, having just come from Nano, I won't trust the quality of my critiques again for another week or so; the quality filter has yet to rejoin my brain.)

    I spent a good hour the next day reading all the bids (and being pleased someone I exchanged a critique with got a full request).

    But I know what you mean about contests. I've entered two, including (last year) this one... they're a major high. But nothing beats querying, however much I hate it.

  19. Hi, I just discovered you and can't wait to participate. Please don't stop until after I've succeeded!

    Queried 93 and counting. I believe.

    Thanks for this opportunity.


  20. Dear Authoress,

    I'm so grateful for all you do! I look forward to being more engaged on your website & entering at least two of your contests in the months to come!!


  21. I'm gonna be honest here, I find the Baker's Dozen boring. The concept is awesome but it drags on...and on...and on...and on, all so that maybe one person can land an agent. I don't know I kind of dread it because I enjoy your blog and as soon as you mention Baker's Dozen is coming up I think uh-oh here is where the blog grinds to a halt for a month.

    The Secret Agent contests on the other hand, I love those. They are quick and zippy, informative and fun.

    I would be disappointed to see Baker's Dozen back, but LESS Secret Agent contests. Can't you do the opposite? Oh well you can't run your blog to please one reader, but I am giving you my 2 cents anyway.

  22. It's heartening to hear that you got your agent via query.

  23. Sorry I had also wanted to mention that maybe your numbers are down on Auction day because that too, is boring. Who wants to spend their time reading "5 pages! 10 Pages! Full!" It may be exciting for the participants and the agents but to me not worth a visit to the blog on those days. I can always read later who won.

    I am not trying to be a downer, I just really really hate Baker's Dozen lol.

    I love your blog though! I just think you might as well hear another perspective. : )

  24. LOL! But how do you REALLY feel, Someone Says? ;)

    Yeah, I'm sure not everyone gets excited about watching bids -- if their own work isn't in there. It's just the downtrend caught my eye. There WERE more hits, and they're going down.

    The hits definitely spike -- hugely -- during the auction. So, yeah, a lot of people ARE watching. But that number's been going down. That's all I was commenting on.

    You're allowed to hate it! :D

  25. (I'm thinking, by the end? I'm kind of hating it, too! :D)

  26. I think this is one of those things I knew but still needed to read. I rarely enter contests, and often feel like I'm missing out by not doing so. But this was very encouraging. I'm planning to start querying in January, and I'll remember this post if I feel like I absolutely have to enter a contest. Thanks. ^_^

  27. THANK YOU for all that you have done and all that you continue to do for writers!

  28. Hi Authoress, first of all, thank you for all the time you spend organizing these contests, creating helpful posts, etc. I've been a frequent visitor to your site since I stumbled upon it several months back.

    I entered the BD mix, and though I didn't make the cut, I eagerly tuned in on auction day to see who got bids and read some of the agent "trash talk."

    One thing I noted quickly was that it was kind of tedious trying to see who was bidding on what and finding said "trash talk." Being at work during auction hours, I tried to jump onto the site when I could spare a minute, however, it got to be too time consuming to scroll through each entry, looking for updates.

    If it could somehow be formatted more like a forum, where the newest post rises to the top and a reader can easily see who has activity, that would make the auction much more engaging to me. This is probably way too much of a technical undertaking, but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway, because I really enjoyed the BD auction (my first) and would love to see it continue. I think even hiding or clearing the critiquing comments beneath each entry on auction day would make it easier to see who's being posted on. Just another thought. :)

    Thanks again for this contest and your other postings as well - as a fairly new writer navigating the publishing waters it's all been very helpful.

  29. That precious writing time has to be the first priority--as it should be for all the writers here. Battery Led Picture Light

  30. My focus is on the SA contests, and I really don't want to see those decreased. Yes, the best way to find an agent is through querying, but agents don't give feedback on their slush pile. The reason the SA contests are so great is because of the feedback. First pages are one of the hardest things to get right, but it's difficult to know why something doesn't work without the feedback.

  31. Just wanted to add, that I've only entered two contests in the last 12 months. This was one of them.

    Access to a closed-to-submission agency for such a nominal fee? I thought you were going to run out of entry forms.

    I did notice the lack of buzz-- even on the BlueBoards. It's too bad.

    If you do run this again, I promise to do more to advertise it. Even if I don't enter.

    Thank you again for a wonderful opportunity.

  32. It's all about being a good literary citizen critiquing. And do agree with what one poster said that perhaps the timing with it being so close to Thanksgiving may have been a part of the decrease. But everything you say, Authoress, is valid as well as there are many Pitch contests out there and some overlap too much and fill up Twitter and not just blogs so it can be a bit overkill but people should follow the ones they trust and definitely REVISE, REVISE, REVISE. I've been in a contest and got helpful advice from it but sat down and revised from there before jumping to the next. It's about persistence and luck and a whole myriad of factors. But it is always good to stop by and be a good literary citizen and critique fellow writers whether you're in the contests or not.

    And, oh yes, REVISE.

  33. "I haven’t followed the last few agent auctions because I’ve found it too hard to click back and forth between all the comment boxes."

    I agree and have wondered why you don't use a forum???

    "Also, perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like some of your comments were directed at one contest host in particular, and that rubbed me wrong."

    I second this as well and even though you deny it being intentional... I remember some years back you claimed not to submit your own work into the contests and someone proved you did so...

    Anyway, used to come to the blog a lot but because (as previously mentioned) there are other similar blog contests with the same agents and free.

  34. "I haven’t followed the last few agent auctions because I’ve found it too hard to click back and forth between all the comment boxes."

    I agree and have wondered why you don't use a forum???

    "Also, perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like some of your comments were directed at one contest host in particular, and that rubbed me wrong."

    I second this as well and even though you deny it being intentional... I remember some years back you claimed not to submit your own work into the contests and someone proved you did so...

    Anyway, used to come to the blog a lot but because (as previously mentioned) there are other similar blog contests with the same agents and free.

  35. I found your website just days before the auction was scheduled and was immediately fascinated. I did show up on the 'day of' but as a newbie, I wasn't quite sure what I should be looking for. When you sent the results out, I launched into analytical mode, soaking in what constitutes a good logline, a great sample, and trying to figure out what the agents saw in each piece that intrigued them. Even as a spectator sport, I found this to be an incredible opportunity and learning experience. Thanks for hosting the event, and maybe the agents will just decide to stick with the original (you) so you can keep going. I hope so.