Thursday, June 24, 2010

Naked and Vulnerable

I'm sure I'll regret the title of today's post once I start getting clicks from odd google searches. No matter. The title is apropos.

You see, I (almost) never enter online writing contests. Sometimes it's because the prize isn't something I really need, such as a query critique by an agent who has already asked for my full. Sometimes it's because the prize isn't something I really want, like a goody bag filled with romance novels (not my cup of tea). And sometimes it's because I don't want to throw my work into that particular public venue.

And then Christine Nguyen hogtied and dragged me into a wee contest that has had me in knots ever since.

(It's okay. She knows I love her anyway.)

Honestly? It's not a big deal sort of contest. It's clever and fun, but not earthshattering. So I didn't think I was putting a whole lot on the line when I succumbed to Christine's (mild) pressure.

And then the waiting began. And I started to experience regular stomach droppage. So silly.

I mean, really.

So here is what I've realized about online contests vs. actual querying: The latter is a business decision, couched in professional terms and not open to public viewing. The former is, well, a contest, couched in lottery terms and open for the hungry eyes of everyone who participates.

Querying makes me a serious writer who has taken the scary-at-first step of throwing my work out there. Contesting makes me nauseous.

So says the woman who runs regular contests on her blog! And since the Secret Agent contests began in 2008, I have entered twice. Both times, it was simply a matter of things working out that way, since I made the decision early on to not "steal" a spot in the contest from my readers. Most recently, I entered because I messed up and ended up with an empty slot. The contest was closed, the alternates used up, and there sat the glaring blank spot. That would have meant certain mutiny, so I filled it at the last minute with my own work. And was duly uptight along with the other 49 entrants.

All that to say--I'm feeling naked and vulnerable. All because of THIS CONTEST.

Christine and I both made the first cut. Well, ONE of my entries made it. And since this particular opening isn't a flash-bang-rip-your-heart-out kind of scene, I don't expect to make it much further. Honestly? It's fun and not too threatening. My Dream Agent isn't sitting at the other end dangling a full manuscript critique. (I'd be catatonic by now if that were the case.)

I find, however, that I am now questioning my own definition of "fun." This is like an online reality show, with 25 fewer people left to play each week. Absolute torture. At least the Secret Agent contests are over in a week. Slightly less torturous. Yes?

Anyway. Contests can be great fun and they can help us develop nerves of kryptonite. But in the end? I'm going to focus my energy and time (and nerves) into querying agents. And NOT refreshing contest pages in between revisions. A million times.


What about contests and you? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Run 'em?? Share!


  1. I don't usually participate in contests for the same reason as you. The prize isn't something I want or need. But sometimes they can be fun. You know, for those times I don't have something else to bite my nails about.

    (Sometimes it seems like if I'm not worrying about publishing, I'm doing something wrong. Why did we choose this again?)

  2. Because you're crazy. (And by you, I mean we. And by we, I mean me. :P)

    I've done the Secret Agent contest more than once, and I debated doing the contest in question, but it didn't happen. I've entered a few others, but not many. I stress enough about querying LOL.

  3. *grumble* and this whole multiple-personality thing is irritating. I can't be signed into my new email without being signed in as "her" for blog posting too. *sigh*

  4. I've never entered a contest before (I will soon), but two weeks ago I did enter my first short story for an anthology. (And didn't get in.)

    The week and a half it took for the decision to come in, was nerve-wrecking, with me checking my e-mail desperately.

    But on a personal high note, I was rejected for suitability rather than rubbishness, so I am very proud of my rejection. It came with an editor-in-chief critique and she just advised me to work on the opening. The rest was comment-less...

    Whichever form submissions take, nail-biting madness, I call it !

  5. I don't enter many blog contests, and the main reason is that so often you have to be a follower to enter. I'd much rather follow a blog because the writer has a great voice and interesting posts than because I wanted to enter a one-time contest.

  6. Good point, Krista. I don't like the "tweet this, follow me, link to it in your blog, get points, enter the contest" contests. The contests that truly interest me are about the writing.

    Well, unless someone is giving away a free lunch date with Johnny Depp. I think I'd do just about anything. :)

  7. Contests can make you crazy--but I still enter ones I think will further my writing career. But there is this point where a certain MS or query just doesn't need any more input--for sanity's sake.

    Some will disagree, I'm sure. But if you've had a few agent opinions (via contests) and pubbed writer opinions, and a ton of feedback from crit group, betas and "strangers," (via contests), that's enough, imo. Because some people will never like your writing or premise, and it's not anything you can change.

    But yeah, the queasiness, obsessive refreshing and oh, "this one hates me," whew! "that one liked me!" will make you nutz!

  8. I think it's lovely you stress about contests when you host them. But it makes your blog a safe place because we know you're rooting for us, and giving us opportunities we wouldn't have otherwise.

    Congrats on making it so far. Sorry it's making you naked and vulnerable. I keep putting myself in similar situations because I want to be tough when my someday published book is open to reviews on Amazon.

    Good luck!

  9. To clarify: by MS I mean the first lines/pages that are usually critted in contests.

    I don't mind retweeting a worthy contest (like SA!), even if it does increase the competition. But those things can get out of hand, especially if you do very many.

  10. I love contests. To me, they are a wonderful way to get feedback on your writing while waiting for a query response.

    I've gotten great ideas from the feedback I've received, but I don't enter them if the prize isn't something I'm interested in.

  11. LOL, since I read your post, I had to go refresh that contest page. Fingers crossed... I don't let it get to me too much (besides the obsession with constant refreshing). I find it a fun diversion and a way to celebrate the little things if I win -- or make it to the next stage (as in the afore mentioned contest). I also only enter if the prize is of interest.

  12. I don't often enter contests - mostly for the same reasons listed here.

    Once in a while I do, but only if I think it would be a good learning exercise for me or the prize is something that will further my writing career.

    One of the key reasons I was attracted to the Secret Agent contests was the feedback. I felt that, in and of itself, was worth entering whether I won a prize or not. And of course, the prize had the potential to further my writing career - so double bonus. ;)

    Contests can be fun, and I'd be willing to consider entering occasionally. But yeah, I could do without the anxiety, so I'll keep entry down to a minimum. ;)

  13. I haven't entered many "writing" contests. I've entered three of your critique sessions and learned a lot each time. (THANK YOU!) A friend of mine (whose book comes out in 2011) said consider everytime you query a contest...I think that's a great point. :)

    Best wishes with you contest! You deserve some contest kharma...My fingers are crossed for you.

  14. I rarely enter contests because most times the prizes aren't something I want. Every now and then I get up the nerve and enter one. Then, there's the waiting and, often, the disappointment. So, the times I enter are few and far between.

    If I'm going to be naked and vulnerable . . .


  15. I have only entered one or two and I always create something fresh. I like to use them as an opportunity to write out of my genre, or in a different POV than I am used to, or an alternate style of voice. I think it's good practice.

  16. I am a contest whore. Why? Easy. Crit junkie. Contests are the best way to get crit from people who have absolutely no vested interest in you when you have nothing to lose. It's the best way to put myself out there for nameless, faceless people to crit.

  17. 1. You have no idea how proud I am of you - and grateful! Contests are only fun if you have someone to agonize with ;-P I think I chose the best gal for the job!

    2. To me, writing contests are like Disneyland FASTPASSES. But instead of getting to cut in front of the Space Mountain line, you get to squeeze your way to top of the query pile. Another perk? You always get a yes or no with a contest. Don't have to fret over no responses! And yet another perk? Free crits.

    3. I also enter other contests (I think I entered the LINGER ARC contest 5x). I do it for the free books.

    4. Yes. Writing contests that last more than a couple days make me wake up in the middle of the night and hit the refresh button on my browser. Many times. But then again ... queries make me do the same thing.

    4. Hogtied. *giggle* *loff back*

  18. I just looked at this particular contest before I read your post. I didn't know about it and was too late to enter. But you know, I read the 75 winners and all of a sudden I realized my first line sucked. It's why I didn't enter it in your last first 25 word contest. I was so inspired by the entries that I went back and fixed my first line and now I think it's way better. So thanks to you and the others who will probably need anxiety meds since you're going to be submitting line by line for the rest of the summer. I'll be following the contest hoping for more inspiration for my own manuscript. I wish you the best of luck.

  19. I recently entered two contests and received amazingly great feedback. Even though my first chp. has been critiqued multiple times, the contest judges were looking at it with a different criteria. They picked up on a few things that no one else has mentioned. Now that I'm elbow deep in revisions, I have a much better idea of what needs to be done to catch an agent's eye. They are expensive at times so I'll stick with the contests on this website and a few others for the most part.

  20. "And since the Secret Agent contests began in 2008, I have entered twice."

    "Most recently, I entered because I messed up and ended up with an empty slot."

    = 3

    What happened to the alternates?

    I don't have time to look for it but I remember not so long ago you
    insisted adamantly you only have ever enter in house crits. You said something along the lines of "I never enter the SA contests."

    Not that three times is a big deal (I mean since 2008 there's been what 19 of these things so three times means you've entered only six percent of the competitions) but why lie about it at all?

  21. I can never resist a contest. For the same reasons that Cyndy and Christine mentioned. I'm glad you got a chance to share in the fun.

    That said, I shouldn't have entered this one. I've already gotten fantastic feedback on my opening and I feel a little bit selfish. But, like I said, I couldn't resist.

    Good luck!

  22. Well, ya see...
    I also made a conscious decision NOT to enter competitions. First of all, in those you can see what the opposition had and in some cases you feel, what the hell...
    Other cases they cost money and so that kind of turns me off because I'm a print snob - it's kind of related to self-publishing (otherwise known as vanity press). Now it is time for me to do the Seinfeld thing disclaimer...

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    It's just not me.

    Remember I said I'm a print snob so that's just my opinion and anyone who likes comps can feel I don't not admire them, perversely I am a little jealous maybe they can be comfortable with it.

    But I must say, direct query is like a good wrestle. You live or die on your own petard. You aren't being judged on anything but your own work (of course still in relation to others) but the relationship to others is already the business decision.

    But don't forget, Naked and Vulnerable still exists. It's still a psychological platform for your brain to handle.

    I considered the 25 word entry here and my mind went through what would work in that format. But it's something that can work for some - but for others it just doesn't work because sentences live in contexts of other sentences if you see what I mean.

    Example, first sentence of Pride and Prejudice:

    "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

    This is one of the best first sentences ever because it summarises the point of the whole book.

    I looked at mine and they just didn't stand on their own like this.

    So I bowed out of being naked and vulnerable. :-)


  23. I think contests are very valuable. I entered many and got great feedback. Not always great feedback..and sometimes very conflicting (like one score 99 and another 67....) --- but across a few contests, I found some common feedback. That's important. That made me take notice.

    Sure, crit groups can do that, too, but I'm thinking contest...if you by chance final or win, can get your story noticed along with the nice feedback.

    I finaled in one, didn't place, but the editor requested the full anyway! So, along with learning tons, your story can get noticed as well.

    Write on, my friend! Don't worry too much. It'll all work out in the end.

  24. Contests are just plain fun. I entered the contest, too, and made the first cut. Way fun. Also, Janet Reid had two contests this week that were loads of fun. And in your contests, great folks have pointed out things I didn't see. So I've learned and my work was better as a result. Anyway... Just need to be careful that you don't spend too much time entering contests that it eats away actual writing time. Same with social networking and a boatload of other things.

  25. I don't participate in a lot of contests - usually because I forget and the window closes before I remember. ;o) I did throw an entry into the pool over at Janet Reid's blog yesterday. I also try to enter Karin Tabke's First Line contests when she puts one up.

    Good luck with your entry. =o)

  26. I fell off my chair when I saw your name mentioned on that blog (since I was also entered in the contest). I had no idea you had entered.

    Other than the SA contests, the forementioned blog one, and the QT blog contests, I haven't entered any contests. And with the QT one, only the agent saw the entries.

    Now this isn't including the blog contests where I win YA books (lot of them, btw), query crits (yep, I wanted that prize), and a ms evaluation from Angela Ackerman (I really really wanted that prize). Those ones didn't require me to submit a portion of my work for a chance to win.