Monday, September 2, 2013

All The Feels: Why--Win or Lose--Blog Contests Rock

This is an edited repost from my personal blog. I felt it was timely, what with #PitchMadness underway and The Baker's Dozen right around the corner.(How is that even possible? Where has the year gone?!)

It seems like my Twitter timeline has been inundated lately with blog contests for unpublished writers looking to get the attention of agents. I entered  and  won a few of these myself in the last year as I've been seeking a home for Imperfectly Fine, and I have to say that--for me--they've been AMAZEBALLS. Here are just a few reasons why I think every writer looking to get published needs to stick their neck out there in a blog contest at least once.

1. You learn more by losing than winning
Really and truly. It's good to know what you're doing right when honing your query or pitch or first 250 words of your mss, but it's more important to learn what you're doing wrong. At some point during these contests, you'll get feedback, either from other unagented writers, the agented writers hosting the contests, or even agents themselves. This feedback is priceless because every critique gets you one step closer to getting it right. You don't get better by winning. You get better by falling down and picking yourself back up to try again. Even if that feedback is limited to "not winning", you can learn something.

2. Free networking opportunity
Every year I shell out nearly $300 on my state SCBWI conference. The most face time you can hope for is a 10 minute critique from an agent, which may or may not land you with an offer to send more pages for further review. The sessions are helpful, networking extremely useful moving forward, and the keynotes are often inspiring. But it's a lot of money. It's worth it, don't get me wrong, but that's a lot to invest when you're not selling books yet. I'm fortunate enough to live in the city where our state conference is hosted so I don't have to pay for a hotel or airfare, but the national conferences in New York and LA? Forget it. That's above my paygrade right now. So, if you're like me and you need to get some feedback, inspiration, and networking under your belt but don't have a lot of cash to throw around, blog contests are a good start.

3. Meet new CPs and beta readers
I thoroughly dried up my well of beta readers with my last manuscript. I'd been working on it for over a year, so it went through about four solid, thorough revisions in the ten months prior to contracting with my awesome agent, and each of those times I needed a fresh set of eyes. That can be hard to come by after the first one or two rounds. Blog contests are a good way to meet new readers. Another writer may read your pitch and comment on it in a meaningful way and you might connect on twitter or via blog or email and keep reading for each other post-contest. If you're lucky, agented and experienced writers hosting the contests may offer to beta read for you. And if you're really lucky, you'll land bad ass readers like these gals  who turn out to be pretty awesomesauce as people, too. (These two I'm keeping forever.) ;)

4. Your name becomes familiar in the writing community
Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising. People see you tweeting about a blog contest and follow you. They read your entry and check out your blog. This all can and does matter if an agent scopes you out via google. Got 1000+ followers on Twitter? That's a built-in audience for your book. So long as the name you're making for yourself is a respectable one, that is. Being NICE in the face of failure is another blog post altogether.

5. Blog contests are a good opportunity to see what else is sloshing around the slush pile
If there are 18 people pitching Time Travel to the Zombie Apocalypse manuscripts in a single contest, that's a good sign that maybe the novel you're pitching isn't as original as you thought. It's good to know who you're up against and where your manuscript falls within the spectrum of competition.

6. It's about the journey, right?
I feel like I can comfortably say that in the last year I have learned more about myself, my writing, and my path toward publication from blog contests than I have anywhere else. You won't know what you'll gain from a contest unless you enter one yourself. Put yourself out there. Be brave. Expect to fail and to learn from it. Because the most valuable part of participating in a blog contest isn't winning. It's becoming a better writer.

7. Oh and maybe, just maybe, you'll land your dream agent. 
When I wrote the original version of this post, I didn't have an agent yet. I still stand by absolutely everything I said above, and not just because I found my agent through a blog contest. But I did, and she is fantabulous. I try not to think about the 60+ queries I sent out that I never needed to send at all because Thao found me before I ever had a chance to query her. So, yeah, there's that whole actually getting an agent thing to think about, too.

Some blog contests you should think about entering: 

Brenda Drake--the Goddess and Guru behind Pitch Wars, Trick or Treat with Agents and Pitch Madness. Subscribe to her blog for a chance to get your words in front of a whole mess of authors and agents. Contests throughout the year.

Miss Snark's First Victim--Secret Agent: Do not pass go, do not collect $300 until you have entered one of MSFV's Secret Agent contests. You will learn loads. Promise. I've gotten my ass handed to me twice in the past couple years. No regrets.

Cupid's Literary Connection--I have not personally entered any of Cupid's contests, but I've heard such good things. See for yourself and let me know what you think!

Operation Awesome--monthly mystery agent contests and other helpful hints for surviving the writerly world.

What are some blog contests you've entered that we should be keeping an eye on? What have you learned from the contests you've entered so far?

Dannie Morin is an author, blogger, and freelance editor. She's currently contemplating seeking help for her social media addiction. In the meantime, you can find her on Blogger, Facebook, Goodreads, & Twitter. If you've got suggestions for a future All the Feels post, contact Dannie via the contact form on her blog. She is repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.


  1. Thank you for that post. You have some really helpful advice. I totally agree with your comments about contests and about beta readers and critique partners.
    MSFV contests are awesome, as is Brenda Drake's. With MSFV, you get instant feedback on your 1st 250. Very useful, indeed. You do learn more by losing, actually. You learn to be specific, avoid over-writing, passive writing, and telling, and so on and so on.
    The tweets on pitch madness has helped a lot. It helped me figure out what my main plot was in 35 words and how to make it unique. Of course, I figured that out after I sent in my entry. So...
    Thanks again for the post. I loved it.

    1. There are always more contests, where you can apply what you learned this time, Suja! In fact, Brenda has a couple things in store for the next couple months. Stay tuned!

  2. The only one listed I haven't entered is the Cupid's Literary Connection. My favorite has been the MSFV's SA contests, though the feedback can be frustrating. A lot of times comments end up piggy backing the previous ones, and sometimes people get caught up on non-issues because one person mentioned it. I've seen that happen frequently on people entries (not just mine). And some comments leave you rolling your eyes and wondering where they got such a bizarre idea (like the mc is pregnant. Um, no. Or the house is about to explode. Um, wrong again.) The agent's feedback is the best, though.

    1. Perception is one-hundred percent reality, right? I usually use a three-strikes rule on the feedback I receive. If three people say the same thing, it's usually true. Though, I agree on the piggybacking phenomenon. My favorite is when someone gives me feedback that I never would have thought of on my own.