I don’t know if any of you witnessed the dust up over at Cupid’s Literary Connection on Friday, but it’s had me thinking about contests and writers all weekend long.
Some background: Cupid got trolled. She responded in a very professional manner. Unfortunately, the attacks were pretty personal, so she had to delete the most offensive comment. It’s really too bad, I sort of like giving people enough rope to hang themselves, but I can see where Cupid was coming from. Good on her for responding with the calm of a steely-eyed missile man (that’s a nerdy NASA compliment).
More background: It was a guest post by Dahlia about who should enter contests and why. Zang! She was spot on, and I have to sheepishly admit that I have violated her “If your novel isn’t ready, don’t submit it to a contest. You are just wasting our time.” (Hangs head in shame and considers littering up inboxes with apologies and thank you notes).
What was controversial about Dahlia’s statements was something I thought everyone knew: If your manuscript has been making the contest rounds, consider not entering every single contest. She rightly stated that many, many contests have all the same agent judges. They like contests; that’s how they play. Simple as that. Which means that if you get your stuff in front of the same agent more than once, they can see how your submission is (or is *not* changing), but pretty much, if they’ve seen it twice and passed both times, they really aren’t interested. Dahlia suggested that if you’d already put your manuscript out that you be considerate and not stick it out there again and again and again. She suggested that such a write might want to give someone else a chance to get their work in front of agents.
I totally understand why some people were upset about that idea. But she’s pretty much spot on.
So why would writers keep throwing out their trodden down manuscripts over and over so much that she would suggest that some people with tired manuscripts leave off for a while? As writers, we sometimes start to feel desperate about our work. “Will I ever get published?” “Why won’t an agent just read my manuscript?” “Why is this taking so long?” “Holy Krakatoa, am I going to have to trunk another novel and start this business over from scratch?????” “Please dear god of literary awesomeness, let THIS novel be the one. Pretty please.”
It’s easy for these thoughts to become the blackened vitriol of the disenfranchised. Perhaps you’ve heard a few:
“Agents never sign clients from the slush.”
“Agents never read query letters unless they already know you.”
“Agents are only interested in commercial drivel.”
“Agents are three horned devils who only wear Prada and Jimmy Choos.”
Okay, maybe that last one is on to something, but I can honestly say that the whole idea of the first three statements are utterly negated by a shred of logic.
Statement one “Agents never sign clients from the slush.”
This one is so laughable, I don’t even think it’s worth mentioning that the number of clients signed by a contest versus those who get signed from the slush? It’s not even a contest (see what I did there), it’s something ridiculous like 95% of clients signed come from the slush.
Statement two “Agents never read query letters unless they already know you.”
Then what is the point of being open to queries? I mean really, if they’re so busy that they only read queries from people they know, they have a mode for that. It’s called the “I’m closed to queries except for by referral.” Yeah, I know, it’s crazy the information you can find out about an agent by doing some research!
Statement three “Agents are only interested in commercial drivel.”
Sigh, internet, you make me so sad some days. Yes, agents want something commercial, and I understand if there are really popular books that have both massive fan followings and massive detractors (cough coughtwilightcough cough), but to insinuate that all commercial successes are drivel shows an incredible closed mindedness that should be educated by watching Phineas and Ferb Across the Second Dimension. No really, it’s a great movie, a commercial success, and aimed at children so the content isn’t too mentally challenging.
It’s also brilliant in a super nerdy way.
And there are lots of nerds in the world.
There are also a ton of screaming teenage girls in the world. That doesn’t mean that every boy band is untalented and incapable of singing a real song. It just doesn’t hurt their music that they’re cute and overproduced. Same with books.
My point is just because it’s commercial doesn’t mean it lacks emotional value.
As writers, when we fall into those desperate places, and those disenfranchised thoughts start to turn our heads inside out, it’s time to take a break. See the world not from your own corner, but take a look around you. I get that life isn’t the basket of roses Annie promised, but that doesn’t make it a pit of depravity either. Writing is very insular, and sometimes we need a moment or two away from the publishing scene to really create something that will knock the judges off their podiums.
Take a break. Recharge. Write what you love. And for the love of chocolate, don’t take your frustrations out on anyone, especially not the contest providers. Now, go watch The Kid President if you’re having a hard time, and get back to writing (it’s the only part that matters until you sign or decide to self publish).
Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going to go offer my services to some of these bloggers who are always hosting the contests I LOVE entering. What they do is above and beyond, and I’m in awe of their paying back (or forward or sideways).
p.s. I didn't talk about people charging for contests, but that's because I don't have a deep meaningful answer for that. If you feel entering a contest is worth paying the paltry fee, then do it. If you don't, then don't enter, simple as that.