Are Contests Worth It?

We all know there's more than one way to put yourself in front of an agent. Queries, conferences, and referrals are all possible doors to representation. And then there's the c-word.


Contests with agent participants vying for queries, partials and fulls from the entrants are sexier than the tried and true methods. I think it's our form of reality television, with high stakes and even higher refresh rates. Bloggers that host contests featuring high quality agents can expect a traffic boost, and a bevy of writers grateful to them for the chance to put themselves in front of an agent... but the rest of the world is watching too.

So is it worth it?

Personally, I think you have to have even thicker skin than the average querier to throw yourself into this particular ring. Some contests have anonymous entries, but if you've been around publishing long enough you know exactly how insular this community is. Writing communities are vital to most writer's success, but that also means that your anonymous entry in Contest #342 isn't so anonymous. After all, you've been flogging that book around for the last six months.

I think that's the kicker for a lot of people - public humiliation. A few years ago I had an "I Will If You Will" agreement with a CP and we both tossed our hats into the ring of a highly trafficked, much-anticipated annual contest. I walked away with eight total requests, two of them being fulls. My CP... had zero. The experience not only soured her on contests, but was a pretty rough kick in the self-confidence for her as well.

Now, I want to follow this up by saying that my apparent victories amounted to nothing. My partial requests fizzled into passes, and my fulls fell into a hole. All the requesting agents were very nice, professional people, but I ended up having to nudge them when I received an offer of representation... on a different project six months later. I don't want this to be perceived as a criticism of agents, because it's not. I have one, and I love her. However, I think we're all human, and sometimes we get caught up in a moment where excitement gets the better of us. Ask anyone who ever overpaid for something on eBay as the auction closed.

And my CP?

I gave her a bit of a prod and a pep-talk and would have resorted to flat goading and bullying if she hadn't pulled herself up off the ground and entered a contest yet again. Which she did. With a bright new ms to bolster her confidence, she threw herself headlong into the melee of the very same contest that had punched her in the brain the year before and... zero requests.

She wasn't anxious to enter another contest anytime soon, but a year after that she had a new ms with an amazing hook. Another big contest was on the horizon and she knew her concept was strong, her writing solid, and her hook... well her hook was contest fodder like manure is a fertilizer. She somewhat reluctantly entered and was accepted. Her entry was posted and shortly thereafter she received a request for a full from an agent not even participating in the contest who had been cruising the entries. She received seven full requests from participating agents, which turned into five offers of representation. Ahem. Yes, you read that right.

She's represented by Jennifer Laughran now.

My other CP is one that needs no prodding to enter a contest. She's a veritable encyclopedia of contest names, hosts, and timeframes. She's the first to tell anyone that contests are definitely worth it, and that putting yourself out there can turn into a fantastic experience. She's played the contest game to the max, receiving fourteen requests for one manuscript over the course of a few different contests, three of whom were cruising agents who contacted her through her website after seeing her entry.

Those numbers definitely sound good, but that particular ms wasn't the one that landed her in the sweet spot. She ended up shelving it and entering something new and fresh in a highly-trafficked contest from which she garnered eight full requests, two from agents who were cruising the entries and not officially involved in the contest. She was offered representation by three of these agents.

She's represented by Suzie Townsend now.

And me? I landed Adriann Ranta through the good old-fashioned query path, but I admit that contests do make my tin-can heart rattle a little faster. So I decided to host one. The PAPfest (yes, it says that) had its first run this past February, and there may be another PAP in your future (they are annual, you know). Two of our participants secured representation, one from a participating agent and one through a cruiser.

In the end, I think the question isn't "Are Contests Worth It?" but, "Are Contests Right For Me?" Contests can be nerve-wracking and downright embarrassing, but they can also bring elation, and a boost of self-confidence, even if you don't secure representation at the end of the day.