Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some Thoughts On Our Contest -- Add Yours

I've already gushed, so I'll restrain myself. May I just say -- you have impressed and humbled me.

Certain things stand out. The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that some of you waded through every single entry in order to leave feedback. And here's the best part: Some of you hadn't entered something yourselves. That is passion and selflessness at its finest.

Some of you are very young -- as in, teenagers. (If nothing else, I am a good sleuth.) Post 34 (senior in high school) and Post 113 (age 14) are two examples. Kudos to you for your bravery and maturity.

(And this supports my decision to keep this site rated PG. 'Nuff said.)

Some of you have shared on your own blogs that, despite a lot of "ripping apart" of your entry, you feel encouraged, supported, ready to tear into your work to make it ever better, ever stronger.

If that isn't an indomitable spirit, I don't know what is.

Now, looking ahead. There are bound to be a few snags the first time through anything. I find that my biggest "snag" was not enough parameters. Our next Secret Agent contest will have more clearly delineated guidelines; for example, nothing younger than a middle grade novel. And my submissions window? Ay yi yi! It was way too big. If I could express to you what it feels like to think you're catching up, only to discover a fresh batch of submissions at the top of the inbox...

Oh, wait a minute. I sounded like an agent just then, didn't I?

Anyway, I'd like to hear your input, please. I already know that the vast majority of you appreciated the feedback on your writing. What, in your opinion, would make the next round run even more smoothly? What would streamline it? Make it better?

Would you like to see contests run for specific genres? Contests on query letters? Contests exactly like the one we just had?

And yes, I've already got another Secret Agent lined up. So keep working, keep polishing, and keep reading this blog. We're off to a roaring start and we're not going to stop now!


  1. I thought this was a great contest, and would be delighted to see others just like it.

    I think you should tighten the submission window to 24-hours. ;)

    As far as other contests go, I do think genre-specific contest have benefits... they could be tailored to whatever a specific agent was looking for, and those participating would automatically be familiar with the genre they were critiquing.

    I do think pitch blurb contests could be interesting, too. And the dialog contest that Nathan Bransford ran was a lot of fun.

    I am up for pretty much any contest, really. snort

  2. I second the vote for genre-specific. It would make it easier all around.

  3. Where to start? This contest was such a unique and challenging experience -- and quite a lot of fun. I found that offering helpful comments on genres I never read was more difficult than I imagined, though I tried to be openminded and diplomatic. I'm a SF&F girl, so delving into picture books, Westerns, and Literary novels was a new experience. I bet other people had the same problem.

    I think the wide range of genres and age groups were both a challenge and a good learning tool.

    As for future contests, another like this one would be great. I'd also love to see ones tailored to specific genres, ones for specific age groups, and some for queries or blurbs. Defining smaller groups for some of the contests would be beneficial for writers working in specific genres and the agents representing those sorts of stories.

    After browsing through some of the archives here, the antagonist submissions a few weeks ago looked awesome. Not sure how that would work with a Secret Agent, but I'd participate whether an agent is involved or not.

    I want to give a huge applause to the people who critiqued entries but didn't put their own work in the contest. Thanks for taking the time and being so gracious.

    All in all, I think the contest was an enormous success. :)

  4. I think you did a wonderful job, Authoress. I didn't manage to read all the submissions (96 of 115) but there was wonderful writing and I think there are tons of promising authors out there.

    I think the shorter entry window might help, but might not. People will always waffel to the last minute whether it's 3 days or 3 hours. Maybe if we could have a full week to read all the entries? A Submit Friday and everything is up form Monday to Friday? I'm pretty sure blogger can be set up so that you can post at a later time. I think that might be easier for you.

    I would be interested in genre specific contests as well. I loved that Holly was willing to look at genres that she doesn't represent, her advice was wonderful and encouraging, but I think being able to pitch a certain genre is always good.

    I wouldn't mind a query contest either, even if it was without a Secret Agent. For me, queries are one of the hardest parts and I love the idea of getting feedback from people who haven't already read the book.

  5. Cool! I'm definitely interested in chipping in again - as a writer and a reader.

    As for future contests, another like this one would be great. I'd also love to see ones tailored to specific genres, ones for specific age groups, and some for queries or blurbs. Defining smaller groups for some of the contests would be beneficial for writers working in specific genres and the agents representing those sorts of stories.

    I second this. :)

    Then again, the nice thing about the general "all genre" thing about this past contest was everybody got a chance to chip in.

  6. I agree this was GREAT! It was such a wonderful learning tool, both as a writer, and reading the other submissions.

    I think a query contest would be great for feedback!

    I also agree that more time to comment and a shorter deadline to enter is something to think about.

    Thanks again Authoress and Ms. Root!

    :) Terri

  7. Hey, Authoress, viewing the contest from this side of the computer screen, it appeared pretty flawless, IMO. I thought you did a FABULOUS JOB! For the next one, maybe limit the number entries accepted to 100, that way you won't have to give it a deadline. One hundred could arrive in your inbox within an hour or a day. No surprises.

    I'd like to see a description contest. A secondary character contest. An action scene contest. An emotional scene contest. And a dozen others I haven't thought of yet, lol! 8^)

  8. I put my vote in for genre specific. There were some really well written first pages that I didn't comment on just because I don't like "that" type of story. I think it's also fairer to the agent to spend time on stuff he/she would enjoy more.

    That said, I loved being able to submit a page, even though I knew I had no way of "winning." Some of the comments I got were very helpful, not only in the first page but to help tighten up the rest of the manuscript.

    I think you should have a limit on the number of entries, instead of a time frame. Say 50 or 75 tops. I was quite overwhelmed by the number of entries and I didn't even have to sort, or read them all! We want to have you avoid burn out!!! Definitely!

    Thanks again for all your hard work and time.

  9. I'd push for genre-specific, but then the fear would be that only those that were in that genre would post for others. The thing that was so perfect about this contest was we had everything from Chapter Books to Westerns and beyond.

    I would also like a query contest. This whole thing helped me out tremendously in revising my first chapter which made it that much better. Now I'm wanting to go back through every chapter in my book and do my best to revise it and keep it moving quickly.

    Now imagine what that could do for my query . . .

  10. I too like the idea of keeping the genres to those the secret agent represents.

    As for query letters or the first 250 words? I think I like the idea of getting feedback on the first 250 words better. There are several other places on the net where query letters can be critiqued, such as Query Shark, and though we've no guarantee of getting our queries critiqued there, we can still learn much from those letters that are analysed on-line.

    Getting agent feedback on our first 250 words is unique and invaluable. But I'll happily participate in a query comp too!

    In terms of cutting down your workload, Authoress, I'd suggest a smaller time frame between calling for submissions and then closing submissions. This might reduce widespread word of mouth marketing--people may not bother to tell others if the time frame is small. It may also limit the pool to those that are truly ready, rather than giving people plenty of time to throw something together!


  11. This was awesome, just the way it was. I'm sure that it was a bit overwhelming with 115 entries, and either the smaller entry window or a cut off at a reasonable number are both good ways to handle the problem.

    I'd like to suggest a revision contest. This would let writers submit 2 versions of the same words, up to a total number of words of, say, 200. So if we're just plain stuck on "which sounds better" or getting conflicting comments from our readers, this contest will let neutral parties kick in some input. I'd suggest an editor instead of an agent for this one.

    Thanks again, Authoress. I got great comments from the other readers and the agent.


  12. Thanks for the opportunity to have my work read. I learned a lot, not just from the comments I received, but from reading the comments on other pieces of work. A genre-specific competition would be great. I have an inkling some of the negative remarks I received were because the readers didn't understand my genre. Perhaps you could also ask that people comment only if they've got something different to add.
    Thanks again for the huge amount of effort you've put into making this a success.

  13. Perhaps limit the number of entries by genre. ie 30 Romance, 30 Sci-fi, etc.

    Perhaps have awards within genres, so the competition would be within the genre of the writer's entry.

    This was good fun, and sorry to all if I was too blunt while commenting on your piece. It was all in the spirit of all of us helping each other grow.

  14. I agree---a genre specific contest would be great. That way the agent critiquing isn't left reading stuff they don't represent.

    I can't thank you enough, Authoress! I loved doing this and I'm really looking forward to future contests. ;)

  15. This contest was awesome all around. I think making contests for specific genres would be great, for all the reasons listed above. Having an agent who actually represents the genre you write in look at your story is invaluable. However, I really liked the melting pot this contest allowed. Even though I didn't comment on all the submissions, I read most of them and got a feel for some genres I don't normally read.

    I personally don't care for a query letter contest at the moment. I think it would be more beneficial to have my actual story read and receive feedback from it, than from a query letter. Giving only the first 250 words of a query letter doesn't seem as valuable as the first 250 words of a story (or whatever theme you choose next time). Some people aren't even thinking about query letters yet, so narrowing the field to q.l.'s could limit the number of submissions (yay for you, but that also lowers the amount of feedback from other submitters).

    I'd be open to anything you'd offer, even if it is query letters. As far as making it run more smoothly, I agree that a 24 hour window would be better. Yes, people will still submit right before the end of the deadline, but you'd probably get less entries, and only the most serious ones. I like the idea of having a certain number of submissions, either overall or per genre. I think there's a lot of possiblities for you!

    Anyhow, thanks immensely for the opportunity you gave us all and I can't wait to see what you think of next!!

  16. I like the idea of narrowing genres for a few reasons. First, it will generate feedback from writers and readers of that genre. Second, a narrow focus - interesting playing field.

    Also, a shorter window will lessen the workload for you, plus make it easier for those with limited time to offer substantial feedback.

    Other than that, the setup up and delivery worked well for me. What matters here is: did it work for you? :)

  17. Well, good question! Yes, it worked for me. I pretty much kept up with submissions, pre-posting them in bunches so that when the big contest day arrived I only had 25 or so more to actually cut and paste.

    The main thing I didn't like was the too-long submissions window. Honestly, I chose the 3-day thing because, well, this is a fairly new blog, you know? And I wasn't sure how well/quickly the word would get out. I didn't want it to be a bust, which would have been frustrating for any few who may have entered.

    I couldn't have been more wrong, though! Thanks to lots of free PR from the CC bunch, as well as my being connected over on the Blue Boards, the response was astonishing.

    I had FUN. I really did!

    I just want to streamline the next time. And I've got to say no to things like PBs; not because they're not worthy (I write them myself), but because the vast majority of agents don't deal with them. So from now on it will definitely be Middle Grade on up.

    I really appreciate all the feedback and suggestions in this thread, and will continue to mull over your thoughts. Thanks, all, for taking the time to share!

    Right now I'm debating between limiting the time frame of submissions vs. limiting the number of submissions. I'm leaning toward time frame this time around, just to see what happens. (I may rue the day...)

  18. I'd love to see another first page and a query AYH contest. ;)

    Genre-specific would be nice based on the agent's preferences. While I found the feedback incredibly helpful and positive, it would be great to hear if an agent who repped a certain genre would be interested. Plus, depending on the genre, I'm sure you could find other forums or the like to post on to wrangle participants. B-)

    I'd vote for a narrower time window than a fixed number of subs. The thing is, what if you happen to limit it to, say, 100, and someone ends up sending you number 101 just a few minutes after the last one? (They could have sent it as fast as possible too, but who knows if the net was working right or if the server sent the mail quick enough, yadda yadda) :P lol

    I just think it'd kind of suck to be all prepared and put effort into your submission, and send it right away, but be disqualified due to something you can't do anything about (someone hit the send button faster). :P Maybe it's complain-y, but I think if you narrow the time window down to, say, a few specific hours, you'll still get a good turn out. I think this has won you over quite a few regular readers, Authoress! ;)

    I do have one suggestion blog-related, and that's to make the comment box stay in the main window rather than popping out. When trying to sort through so many entries, I found it highly frustrating to have quite a few open floating windows (if I forgot to close one after finishing it) and if I click away from one by accident (of the ferret runs across the keyboard), it's a pain to sort through the comment windows to try and find the corresponding one.

    Plus, then when commenting I can see right away on the post itself if my comment is there rather than having to reload the main page to double check (as I said, comment windows get lost). ;)

    Otherwise... I think this worked fairly well and I look forward to the next one!

    ~Merc, the sleep-deprived nit picker

  19. Wow I can't believe you're already thinking about another contest!

    Honestly, I'm not sure how you could make it better- the feedback from both writers and an agent were invaluable and really appreciated. Everything seemed to run so smoothly from this side- though I'm sure you were working like crazy to make it seem so.

    Contests for specific genres as well as query pitches both sound like they would be extremely helpful, but really, any contest that would provide feedback would be awesome.

    Thanks again!

  20. I definitely vote for genre-specific contest that match the agent's background and preferences. But as a picture-book writer, I would be sad to see the PB category eliminated. It is just as important a genre as any other, because if children don't get hooked on reading when they're young, who will read our MGs and YAs?


  21. I agree with merc's two points.

    Limiting the time-frame is better because the authors will know if they made it or not (as opposed to sending it in and finding out later that they didn't make the cut).

    The comments window should open in the same page (I don't know much about blogs, is this something you can control?) It was very frustrating to have so many windows open and everytime I opened one my browser would ask about non-secure items before it finsihed loading. Multiply that by 114 entries (and however many times I went over those entries) and it's too many mouse-clicks for me.

    Otherwise, it was a blast, and I'd be up for reading/commenting on any other contests too; genre-specific, query letters, whatever. :)

  22. Yes, you can change the settings on blogger to make the comments pane open in the main window. ;)

  23. Merc, you sound like you have some sort of agenda. :D

    Yes, the separate window is an option, and I prefer it that way. However, I could always turn that feature off whenever we have a big contest. I'm sure Merc would be more than happy to remind me.

    MLF -- I love PBs and it's my newest writing venture. However, most PB writers don't seek agents -- they go directly to pubs. There are certainly some agents that represent picture books, but I can count them on one hand (unless I am sadly misinformed). So getting feedback from an agent on a PB may not ultimately be helpful.

    When we have our NON Secret Agent contests, we can be more inclusive.

    Holly was gracious in her prize of partial requests. There was no way one of our PB submissions would have been eligible for that kind of prize, since Holly doesn't rep PBs.

    I'll talk more about this in tomorrow's Friday Fricasse. I just don't want you to think that I have something against PBs. I've got one sitting on an editor's desk as we speak. I'm just choosing to focus on "the novel" as the crux of the contests, 'tis all.

  24. My comment vanished...or it didn't post....but um with the time frame would it be 1 day instead of a few hours? Some of us are across the pond in quite a different time zone! :D

  25. Hey Yuna -- It would be a 24-hour window. I always post the start/end times in the Eastern time zone (that's the east coast of the US). I think you add 6 hours to that for the UK? Something like that. You'll have to do your own math. :D

  26. Phew. That's less panicky for me.

    Maths? Maths? You want me to do Maths? I thought being a writer meant I didn't have to touch numbers????!!!! (Thank you :D Had panicked view I'd have 6 hour wiindow and be away from the net for that long..)

  27. I appreciate all the work you did. However allowing short fiction in, when the contest clearly stated completed manuscript, didn't seem fair to the entrants were sure they met that requirement.

    It was fun. Just hate it when rules are changed in mid stream.