Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Success Story That's "A Little Different"

In the author's own words:


Ahhhhhh- I've devoured these stories on your blog like they were candy and dreamed of the day I could send me own.  The day is here!  Only mine is a little different....

I am writing to share an indirect success story that has a traditional happy ending, in that I did sign with an unbelievable rock star agent, but instead this note addresses the other success story that came from my entering Miss Snark (alongside other online contests, I must confess.)  So this is not really a “How I Got My Agent” story, but a “How I Got My Writing Community” story and to me, both hold equal weight. 

I was like so many writers who hit send on a contest submission like Secret Agent with an equal amount of excitement and trepidation. I hoped, hoped, hoped I’d get in, but, oh God, what if no one commented/liked it/requested it and all that failure would be on display for all to see?

Well, all of those dreaded things happened to me, and I learned so much from them.  Learning what wasn't working was as, if not more, important that the confidence boost that came from the supportive comments. 

Part of entering most contests is making a commitment to comment on a certain number of other entries (and if it isn’t, writers should do it anyway out of respect). Analyzing what wasn’t working in others’ queries and/or opening pages often opened my eyes to similar mistakes in mine and the comments made on my entry caused me to look long and hard at what I was presenting to agents.
But even more impactful for me was finding those queries for stories I knew I would LOVE to read. Of course I told the authors just that in the comment box, but if I could determine who those authors were, I also followed them on Twitter and struck up conversations. It wasn't long before a few of those conversations led to MS swaps.  Swapping with someone outside of my usual CP group brought a helpful outside perspective from writers I admired and also delivered friendships with people writing the kind of stories I really connected with—who hopefully felt the same about mine.  We are now actively cheering each other along our paths to publication and, not only has my writing grown as a result of these connections, but so has my enjoyment of the whole process and the connection I feel to the larger kidlit community.

When it was finally my turn for “The Call”, one of the recently-agented writers I had connected with through a contest was invaluable in helping me navigate the offers of representation I received. I can’t imagine having gone through that dizzy, crazy week without her.  Other contest buddies reacted to my good news with an excitement almost equal to my own and made the whole breathless experience a million times more amazing.  Likewise, sharing in their good news feels very much like celebrating a success of my own and I can’t wait for the day in the not-distant future when I can pick my way along the bookstore shelves and see the names of genuine friends on the (outward-facing!) covers.

Getting honest feedback from agents is a huge bonus to entering contests, and in fact, after a Ninja Agent on WriteOnCon made one comment that caused me to add seven tiny words to my query, my request rate went from 5% to 40%.  Had I not put my work on the line, I might still be languishing in the slush pile. I don't mean to minimize that aspect of the contests and I get that the goal of everyone entering is to attract the attention of an interested agent (of course, it was mine too). But I do also want to highlight the other opportunities that contests like Secret Agent and Bakers Dozen can present.  It may be that you attract an agent you wouldn’t have otherwise known about or queried, or get an invaluable peek into an agent’s decision to request or pass on your query, but I would also consider it a success to see what isn’t working in your query (where fixing it could earn you a better request rate) or perhaps even discovering a new friend or two to share the whole journey.

I really want to thank you for all of the effort that you put into organizing and hosting these contests and hope everyone entering Baker’s Dozen finds much success, no matter what that success looks like!


Jennifer Malone


  1. So true. So very true. Congratulations Jennifer, and to everyone getting helpful critiques along the way, this is success. :)

  2. Congrats, Jennifer! And great advice to take the plunge and enter critiquing contests!

  3. Now I'm dying to know what those 7 words were!! Thanks for the advice on entering. I've been concerned that entering and failing would leave a visible record of failure that would somehow lessen my chance of success in the future. I'm going to suck it up and take the risk!

  4. I agree! I've been reading through the monthly secret agent contests for two years, although I never had an MS ready to pitch until September. I've learned a lot from reading other entries and have similarly "met" writers from other contests.

    Congrats on contracting with an agent.

  5. To Sam B -- I think our only visible record of failure is in our heads! Every Baker's Dozen and Secret Agent contest is an opportunity to hear from fellow writers and agents. Thousands of writers don't put themselves out there -- so visibility has its advantages.

    To Jennifer -- I agree about the added benefits. I, too, made friends through this community of writers.

    So, thank you, Authoress! You're a great matchmaker.

  6. It's wonderful seeing how the online interaction and not just listening to by ACTING on constructive criticism can make such superb differences in our writing journeies. Congrats!

  7. This is such a wonderful success story. Congratulations on snagging an agent, and I can't wait to find one of YOUR books facing outward at the store!

  8. A wonderful and inspiring story, Jennifer. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. Congratulations, Jennifer - this is an incredible story. Here's to finding RockStar Agents!

    Crane Hana
    w/a M.C. Hana

  10. I loved this story! I really think it's easy to think of getting an agent as the only prize out there, but I think having awesome critique partners/friends is equally, if not more valuable.

    Congratulations, Jennifer! Thanks for sharing your story!

  11. Congrats Jennifer! Great story, it's something a lot of people struggle with - nervousness about putting your work out there. But it's so important to get honest feedback.

    I remember you from writeoncon, and it's so great you got that feedback from the agent. Good luck going forward!

  12. Hello, I check your new stuff like every week. Your writing style is awesome, keep doing what you're doing!
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  13. Thanks for sharing your story, Jennifer! It may give me the guts to reach out and build my own online community.

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