I never expected to receive over a hundred responses to last week's Friday Fricassee. Honestly, I was simply trying to assess whether or not I needed to reduce the number of Secret Agent contests I hold each year.
Anyway, thank you all for your comments! In culling through them, I've come up with a bunch of Stuff To Address, so allow me to do so now (in no particular order):
1. I DIDN'T MEAN TO GIVE THE IMPRESSION THAT I WAS GOING TO END THE SECRET AGENT CONTESTS.
Many of you begged, "Please don't stop!" I wasn't planning on it; I just wanted to determine whether interest was high enough to continue doing 9 a year. I'm sorry if you got the wrong impression!
2. THE NEED TO ANNOUNCE THE OPENING OF SUBMISSIONS
Mea culpa! In times past, I was definitely in the habit of announcing submissions on the blog. After a while, it started to feel unnecessary, so I stopped. Clearly this was not
a good move. It's a simple fix, though. From now on, I will announce submissions early on the morning of the day they open.
3. THE NEED TO POST CRITIQUING GUIDELINES THE DAY OF A CONTEST
Again, this is something I clearly should have been doing, and is an easy fix. I've mentioned in the past that I sometimes forget that we have a constant influx of new readers. From now on, I will post the critique guidelines immediately after the excerpts go live. This way, the guidelines will be at the top of the page during the contest, and highly visible.
(There is also a "CONTEST" tab at the top of the blog that you can read any time to brush up on Secret Agent etiquette.)
4. MAY IS A BUSY MONTH
This is apparently true for many people. May 2010, though, had 60 entries (and I'm not even sure why). It may truly have been a combination of real-life busyness and extra online opportunities this year.
One comment I found particularly offensive, though, was one that inferred that our readership is all "stay-at-home moms writing YA". Not only is that a slam to those among us who actually ARE stay-at-home moms writing YA (or anything else, for that matter), but it blatantly ignores the fact that May is also busy for teachers, professors, performers (dance and music recitals), students, and extended family members, as well as for parents. It also ignores the fact that May is busy not only for women, but for men as well. (I am heartily tired of the male vs. female argument, so let's let that one die, please.)
I haven't been experiencing "May busyness", so I'm thankful that so many of you took the time to point that out to me.
5. THE SIX-MONTH WAITING PERIOD
I'm thrilled that so many of you take this seriously! Grateful, too. And honestly? Agents have mentioned this to me--that it's nice to not see constant repeats on my site. (It's not just good for the readers, though. It's good for YOU. A few minor tweaks does not a revision make, and that's what I'm trying to foster here: serious edits/revision. For your sake.)
I am considering shortening this to four months. I want to give this a lot of thought, since parameters like this are, I believe, one of the things that keeps the quality higher during our contests. I will let you know when I figure out what the wisest course of action is!
6. THE CHEERLEADING ISSUE
I addressed this issue very pointedly in THIS POST FROM FEBRUARY, 2012
. (Seriously--if cheerleading concerns you, please read this post, which details my reasons for not supporting it.)
Ultimately, I am not responsible for the way people critique. I will certainly delete anything nasty--but cheerleading is not nasty, so I have no reason to delete it.
Cheerleading is, however, useless in a forum that exists for CRITIQUE. Receiving "Yay, you're awesome!" comments on a contest entry is no better than letting your mom and dad read your manuscripts and tell you how fabulous they are.
I understand that there are other contests online that encourage cheerleading. THIS IS THEIR PREROGATIVE. I support their right to run contests as they choose, and I support your right to choose which contests you wish to enter/support. In short--go for it!
But I choose NOT to pit writers against each other. I choose NOT to encourage my readers to "Cheer for your favorite entry!" I never have; I never will.
Because I don't want the atmosphere here to be "me against them" for anyone who chooses to participate. NOT EVER. For five years, I have attempted to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and support among aspiring authors, coupled with effective critique. This is largely what we have here, and it's been wonderful.
So, please. Keep your pompoms at home. Making positive comments is an important part of critiquing the work of your peers (because, hey--if something is good, then we should say so!), but if all you're doing is "Rah! Rah!", then this isn't the place for it.
Nobody grows as a writer with nothing but "Rah! Rah!" in their comment boxes.
7. A READERSHIP OF "INCREASINGLY AGENTED AUTHORS"
I wanted to address this particular comment because it doesn't take into account that we are constantly picking up new community members here. It's true that many of our long-time readers have gone on to become agented, but the assumption that nobody is stepping up to take their places among the searching-for-an-agent ranks is erroneous.
8. "FEEL-GOOD" SUCCESS STORIES AND NO PUBLISHED AUTHORS
Um. Of our more-than-50 success stories, 24 are published (so far). Really, this is no secret; they are listed alphabetically under "PUBLISHED AUTHORS" on the "SUCCESS STORY" tab at the top of the blog.
Also? There is nothing "feel-good" (in the bitter sense) about posting a success story that shares how an author nabbed his agent. If you are not encouraged by these stories, don't read them. If you are so jaded that you cannot appreciate another person's success, then I am sorry for your sake.
I know what it feels like to sometimes burst into tears when I read someone else's good news. Sometimes, somewhere along the journey, we all bottom out. It's okay.
But we've got to move past it. And if you can't seem to move past feeling negative about a colleague's rejoicing, then perhaps you need to seriously consider your own journey, and whether it's right for you.
9. NON-RESPONSIVE AGENTS
This one admittedly disturbs me. That an agent would agree to a contest, choose winners, and then never respond to the winners once they sent their requested submissions is, in my opinion, less than professional.
However. This is the norm in the world of agents, whether or not your request from an agent came from a contest or through regular querying channels. For a number of agents, no response equals no thank you.
I don't agree with this approach. If you've requested material, I think you should respond to that material, whether it's a "yes" or a "no". But my opinion on this matter doesn't change things. The truth is, SOME AGENTS WILL NEVER RESPOND. I hate it as much as you do, but you can't let it jade you. YOU'VE GOT TO KEEP ON KEEPING ON.
So if you've had this experience via a Secret Agent contest? I apologize. And I encourage you to let go of the bitterness, because it's not doing you any favors.
Recalcitrant agents are not a reflection of this blog any more than cheerleaders or trolls are. For your own sake, move past the disappointment.
(Also? If this happens to you, don't suffer in silence. Email me. If it's an agent I have a good relationship with, I might be able to find out what's gone amiss. Or, at the very least, I can talk you off the ledge.)
10. EXTENDED SUBMISSION WINDOW FOR LOTTERIES
I can't push the entire window later in the day, because folks across the Atlantic will fall asleep. But I can
extend the window past its normal 5:00 pm Eastern closing time, for the sake of the still-sleeping Pacific Time-zoners and to the west beyond. This won't help when it's not a lottery, but most of the SA contests have been lotteries lately. So this is definitely an easy change.
11. ACCUSING CRITIQUERS OF LEAVING POSITIVE FEEDBACK TO GET TRAFFIC
Normally I ignore snarky remarks, but this one was such a huge dig at the folks who give their time to these critiques that I had to address it.
I'd like to publicly proclaim my gratitude for everyone who leaves critique on this blog. It is my firm belief that those of you who have been cheerleading are doing so out of a sincere desire to cheer on your crit partners, colleagues, and friends. If there's any hidden motive in the cheering, I've been oblivious. And, frankly, I'd rather stay that way. (At any rate, I've already said that I don't like the cheerleading. So if the cheerleaders wish to stick around, I trust that they will start leaving valid critiques instead of cheering.)
Also? There are times when critiquers say positive things that aren't
cheerleading; they are simply pointing out strengths in an excerpt, which is valid. To accuse these folks of trying to pimp their own blogs via positive critiques is absurd.
These are the kinds of comments that need to be deleted before you hit "send". Seriously.
12. TO THE ANONYMOUS PUBLISHING PROFESSIONAL
- Thank you for deigning to leave your thoughts. Insight from industry professionals, particularly those with years of experience, is always appreciated.
- I absolutely agree that it is important to pay close attention to what the dissenters say. This is wise counsel.
- I disagree that most of the comments were "vacuous". I asked a simple question about the Secret Agent contests in order to ascertain its level of relevance, and most commenters answered that question. Letting me know the reasons why they didn't enter this month's round was actually quite helpful.
- As one of my readers recently pointed out to me, there is a huge difference between a** kissing and gratitude. Expressing enjoyment of the contest and/or a desire to see it continue is not a** kissing. I have certainly waded through my share of sycophantic comments and tweets over the years; I realize that's part of the territory and I usually roll my eyes a little bit. But Friday's comment thread? I read gratitude, plain and simple. My hope is that I will not become so jaded that I one day cannot tell the difference.
- You wrote: "You might find it leads to a very bright future if you really focused on being a serious writer's site." Actually, that's been my focus all along. Recently, I let my hair down a little bit to celebrate the blog's 5th birthday--definitely not the norm around here. But overall? My focus has always been on the craft of writing, and learning to give and to receive effective critique. I've also been a huge proponent of Take The Scary Out Of Querying, which is why I wrote my e-book. And, as the craze for writer contests has exploded around me, I have not jumped onto the bandwagon of All The Bells And Whistles. I have, in fact, stuck to my tried-and-true Secret Agent format, which is straightforward and easy to understand. My distaste for cheerleading speaks for itself, and my continued effort to encourage aspiring authors not to give up is, I hope, a hallmark of this blog. I do not for a moment claim that I've done a flawless job, and I am always open to suggestions (which is why I pose questions on the blog). But since its inception, MSFV has never been anything less than a serious writer's site. I would have no interest in its being anything else.
13. TURNED OFF BECAUSE NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE "GIVE BACK" TO THE BLOG
I'll admit that it's frustrating when contest entrants fail to give critique. But you know what? Life is like this. There are those who give and those who take, and there's nothing we can do about it. For the most part, there are a lot of people who give around here. If that weren't true, this blog would be nothing. Seriously nothing.
So while I can understand that "turned off" feeling, I do think it's a poor excuse for throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If you are giving and receiving and having an overall positive experience, why should it bother you if others are not as engaged? Why are you even keeping track?
This doesn't only apply to MSFV, but to life. All we can really do is to be sure we are giving what we can, and graciously receiving what is given to us. Beyond that, it's out of our control. It would behoove all of us to focus on the positive here. If that's too much to ask? Then, yes, it's time to move on.
14. CHOOSE YOUR CONTESTS WISELY
When MSFV was a downy fledgling, there weren't many contests and critique opportunities for writers online. Now? They're everywhere. Literally everywhere! And there's a lot of hoopla and excitement and brouhaha and what-have-you, and it's easy to start "contest hopping." I mean, it's heady! It's an adrenaline rush! PEOPLE CHEER FOR YOU!
My advice? Choose carefully which contests you enter. Ask yourself if it's a good point in your manuscript journey and in your career plans to enter each contest you're considering. Contests may be a lot more exciting than plain old querying, but in the end, it's the plain old querying that leads most writers to their agents.
I landed my agent through a query letter, not a contest. So there you have it.
Of course there are success stories! Of course good things can happen through contests! And there are some really neat people
running some of these contests. So on one level, it's all good!
But it's also easy to get swept up in it all. And I'm advising you not to let that happen. Carefully research the agents in these contests to see if they're right for you. If the agents' identities are hidden, then carefully analyze the contest itself, to see if it has the potential to actually help you. Don't participate because you somehow believe that contests are the new query. They are not.
Any contest that includes valid critique is, in my opinion, most valuable. The focus in our journey-toward-an-agent should not be, "Can I win a contest?", but rather, "Do I have a strong premise and strong writing?" and "What do I need to do to make this opening the best it can possibly be?"
So, by all means, get out there where the action is! But do so with prudence and wisdom. Remember that, in the end, fifty comments telling you how awesome you are is not going to get you a publishing contract. (It'll feel awesome for a little while, but that's about all it will do for you.)
15. AND, FINALLY, THANK YOU
For taking the time to answer my questions, for pointing out areas in which you felt I could improve the contests, for offering words of sincere support--thank you for all of it. If this blog isn't the best that it can be, then I'm selling you short, and I don't want to do that. 50+ success stories and countless writers who feel like they're moving forward is no small thing, and I want us to continue on this trajectory together.
Thank you for coming, thank you for staying. And thank you, as always, for sharing your journeys with me. In the end, we will, all of us, say, "I was never alone."
That, right there, says it all.