Join me over at the YA~NA Sisterhood blog, where I'm talking about how I get in the zone to create kid characters readers care about. Make sure you leave a comment about your favorite younger characters or share your best tips, too!
Today we're taking a break from chattering about books and giveaways and silly characters (OH MY!) to talk nerdy to the writers in the house--specifically those looking for agent representation (querying authors) or those dragging themselves along the bumpy, winding road toward publication. I've asked my friend Kathleen S. Allen to drop a little knowledge about what she's learned about writing contests, which definitely is not my area of expertise. Thanks, Kathleen, for sharing with us what you've learned along the way.
Writing Contests: A Writer's Dream Or a Writer's Nightmare?
By Kathleen S. Allen-YA author
Welcome, thank you for asking me to post a blog about writing contests. I’m a pro at entering them. It started three years ago when I entered my first ever writing contest, PitchWars, run by Brenda Drake three years ago. I entered a middle grade zombie book and was not chosen, although one of the mentors I subbed to said I was in her top five. Then I entered the same manuscript into Baker’s Dozen and didn’t get chosen. I kept querying and got some requests but no agent. Finally, I had to shelve the manuscript because zombies are a “dead” genre right now. Pun intended.
Next, I entered several more contests, The Writer’s Voice, PitchMadness, Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, PitchMAS, Secret Agent Contests on three different blogs, plus Twitter parties galore like #pitmad and #adpit and #SFFpit. This time I had a historical novel I workshopped quite a bit and did get requests but again, no agent. My next book was a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera and I thought it would garner me an agent for sure. Again, I entered it into contests, Like A Virgin in January of this past year and was chosen. I got three requests but no deal. I finally shelved it too after getting feedback on it. Was I frustrated? Yes. Did I want to quit writing? Yes, but only for a day. Would I enter another contest? NO, NEVER. Except, I did.
One of the biggest, if not the biggest, contests on the Interwebs is Brenda Drake’s PitchWars contest. She’s done it for three years in a row and I’ve entered all three years. The first year I entered the MG zombie book, the second year an urban fantasy about witches and this year a young adult dark contemporary. In this contest you get to work one-on-one with a mentor for several weeks to make your manuscript the best it can be and then submit to agents. Many people get agents from this contest but even if you’re not chosen to have a mentor, most of them will give you feedback on why you weren’t chosen, so that’s a plus. She always has a Twitter pitch party to go along with the contest too and those are always fun to see if an agent favors your pitch. This year, the pitch party is on Sept. 9th and only for those who DIDN’T get into Pitch Wars. #PitMad 8AM-8PM, EDT. In this pitch party, you write your best 140 character pitch, including your stakes for agents/editors to favor. If you see a pitch you like, you retweet it, only agents and editors are supposed to click on “favorite.” And you must change up your pitches because Twitter won’t post the same tweet twice.
Is entering a contest better than querying? No, not necessarily. It’s important to do both. The one positive aspect of entering contests is all the other writers you meet who are just as anxious as you are to get your writing noticed. It helps to find other writers who will beta read your work for you (and you do the same for them) or find your Critique Partner who will read ANYTHING you write and comment on it. Usually you learn what mentors are looking for via the hashtag #PitchWars as they go through their slush piles, what works, what doesn’t work, how to hook them and so on. It’s a treasure trove of information.
There are so many more contests now then when I started entering them. My rule is to enter three with the same manuscript (if it gets chosen) and then retire from contests. It is important to note you MUST HAVE A COMPLETED, POLISHED MANUSCRIPT TO ENTER. You can’t have an unpolished, unedited (must be edited by at least three people, not family members) first draft. So, no NaNoWriMo novels (National Novel Writing Month in November, write a 50.000 word novel in thirty days) or Works in Progress (WIPs).
My latest novel, a YA dark contemporary I’m querying and entering into contests has been in two contests so far. Operation Awesome secret agent contest, it got a partial request from an agent I’m waiting to hear back from, another full request and a partial request. I got a full request from a Twitter pitch party although that agent passed on it.
So, the bottom line is this: enter contests, get feedback, apply the feedback if it feels right, keep querying too (unless the contest forbids it) and keep going. You’ll never achieve your dreams if you quit!
Here’s a list of contests and months they’re going on:
· PITCHWARS-August, 2014 see Brenda Drake’s blog for more info: www.brenda-drake.com. #PitMad on Sept. 9th, 2014.
· PITCHPLUS5-August, 2014, run by Adventures in YA Publishing. The contest info is here: http://adventuresinyacontests.blogspot.com
· NIGHTMARE ON QUERY STREET-October, 2014 see Michelle Hauck’s website: www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com
· BAKER’S DOZEN: www.misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com This one has an entry fee of $10.00. Authoress also runs monthly secret agent contests except for June and December that are free and does blog critiques.
· SUN VS. SNOW-January, 2015, this is another one run by Michelle Hauck at www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com
· LIKE A VIRGIN-January, 2015, see this for more info: http://likeavirgin.kristinaperez.com/
· THE WRITER’S VOICE-Feb./March, 2015, this one is co-hosted by Brenda Drake and others on this blog: www.monibw.blogspot.com
· QUERY KOMBAT in May, run by www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com
· AN AGENT’S INBOX-run by Krista Van Dolzer, see her blog for more info: www.kristavandolzer.com
· OPERATION AWESOME-They do monthly secret agent contests. See their blog for more info: www.operationawesome6.blogspot.com
· ADVENTURES IN YA, run several including a workshop and first lines contest: http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/p/contests-workshops.html
· WRITE ON CON, this is an online conference in August, 2014 but there are agents who swing by and might request pages. http://www.writeoncon.com
And I’m probably missing some but keep an eye on Twitter for upcoming contests. Follow these contest people on Twitter: @brendadrake, @michelle4laughs, @OpAwesome6, @AuthoressAnon, @KristaVanDolzer, @martinaAboone, @FeakySnucker, @RhiannWynnNolet
So, is entering a writing contest a dream or a nightmare? Tell me in the comments your experiences with writing contests.
And even though:
Kathleen has published two murder mysteries If It’s Monday, It Must be Murder and If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Trouble, along with a YA contemporary, How To Be Almost Famous in Ten Days with Gypsy Shadow Publishing and two YA fantasy novels,Lore of Fei and War of Fei with Muse It Up Publishing. She has a Master’s in Children’s Literature with an emphasis in creative writing for YA.
Connect with Kathleen
It sounds like the boys are going to bust through the floor of the upstairs bedroom and land in my room, in a cloud of drywall dust and splinters. I check the clock on my laptop, which I've been staring at for at least an hour trying and failing to eek out my usual 400 words per day.
"What are they doing? It's almost midnight," I groan. "I can't concentrate with them making all of that noise."
It's common knowledge that I struggle to write when I'm in a noisy environment, especially my house. Usually I have to hide in a room in my basement to make any serious headway on a manuscript, but it's difficult to do that when my presence is needed to maintain world peace. At a coffeehouse, the noise belongs to other people. The kids bawling their heads off and the high-pitched whir of the coffee grinder have nothing to do with me. When it's my kids screaming and boring a hole through the floorboards one body-slam at a time, well, I should probably look into that.
My husband shakes his head. "You're crazy for trying to write a book during the summer, you know that?"
Yeah, I know that. I mean, call me crazy (and he did), but I think it's not such an outlandish idea for my children to maybe, possibly, potentially adhere to a bedtime. And I'll give you a hint, it's not midnight. Lately, it's been playplayplay until they drop from sheer exhaustion. Thank goodness there's three of them, or else they'd expect me to be part of that nonsense. But I digress.
Here's the thing: I can't wait. I just can't.
To date, I've written four novels and a novella. I'm currently smack-dab in the middle of my second. And guess what? Half of my books have been written during the summer, amidst the usual craziness of kids and horses. The other books were written during November, with holidays and two ever-present children. It's not a great idea, but when I look at my options--writing when my house is empty (which never happens), leaving the house to write (also rare, plus, babysitters. Cha-ching!), writing with WWIII happening all around me, or not writing at all--there really aren't any that make sense. So I grit my teeth and press on with a small goal that keeps me in the writing game without my house crumbling to the foundation.
Something will always be there to distract me. A more exciting opportunity will always pop its little head out of the bushes and whisper, "Psssst! C'mere! You can write later!" You all know what I'm talking about.
It's like that quote: If I wait for conditions to be perfect, I'll get nothing done. You know the one. I'm sure you've seen it, as I have, splattered all over Facebook and Pinterest and wherever else people post that stuff.
Unless I am willing to sleep in till noon (I am) so I can stay up till the wee-est hours of the morning (my favorite time of day, wee-est), I'll rarely wind up with a house quiet enough to let the creative wheels in my brain start, and stay, in motion. It's just not gonna happen.
Isn't it the same with everything we do, or want to do? Life isn't going to bend over backwards to make sure we're able to pursue the things we're interested in. That includes our hobbies, sports or exercise, keeping up with loved ones, and basically ALL THE THINGS.
I'll give you an example. Last July, I took up running. I don't even know why I did it, I just felt like running.
By the time December rolled around, I was up to six-mile runs and hooked. Well, maybe not hooked. That's kind of a strong word to use. I was running, anyway, and then the Polar Vortex came to visit and overstayed its welcome by a few months. Wind chills kept my little corner of Michigan frozen in the sub-zeros. Two days in a row, I recall running four miles in greater than -11 wind chills. Was -11 ideal running weather? Not hardly. But running was the only thing getting me out of the house and keeping me sane, so I did it anyway. Every run day, it took me half an hour to squeeze myself into 50 kajillion layers of clothing to keep my skin from falling off my body and cleats designed for running so I wouldn't pull a Bambi on the icy back roads.
When I look back, I don't regret a single moment I spent with chapped lips or frozen badonkadonk. Those moments proved I was stronger than I thought I was, and that I could do anything I put my mind to.
Stars rarely align. If you're waiting for sunny and 70 degrees before you throw a saddle on that horse or lace up your running shoes, well, then you've got a good chance of sitting on the couch forever (especially in Michigan). If you're waiting for a quiet house and you've got four kids, you'll be waiting for 18 years. Longer, if your man-child is also waiting for the perfect conditions to land their dream job and move out of your basement. Like Nike has been telling us for decades, we need to "Just Do It".
The following is a list of simple ideas I've used to help form my daily habit with writing. Maybe you're struggling with getting the ball rolling with writing as well. Or maybe you need help in other areas of your life. This list, specifically, might not help you there, but you're a smart cookie. I'm sure some of these ideas can be adapted to give you the nudge you need. If not, give me a holler. I'll go all drill sergeant on your hiney.
Six Tips For Just Doing It
Leave a comment below sharing your best "Just Do It" tip that keeps you motivated when you just don't wanna.
I'll start this post by admitting that I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an expert on writing. If you came here looking for a secret formula or the nuts and bolts of wordsmithing, well, I'm sorry to say you've come to the wrong place. Crafting a story, and doing it well, entails a lot more than could ever fit on one lousy blog post. Rules. Punctuation. Plots. Dialogue. So much to know before you can actually write. This doesn't align with our instant-gratification world.
You should probably stop here. It's too much work.
But what if I told you that you could pick up your favorite pen--c'mon, you know you have a favorite!--or your laptop and GO? You don't have to have the perfect beginning, middle, and end. It's not likely that you'll sit down with a cup of coffee and plunk out War and Peace on that first go. What stares back at you from the page might suck, and "suck" might be the understatement of the century. But even stories sucky-beyond-all-reason can be shaped into something more. A blank page cannot, at least not until your words end up there.
Though I've always written for my own enjoyment, I never considered anything would come with it. Writing would be nothing more than a hobby. In 2011, my attitude changed. I wanted to take writing more seriously, to write books instead of rambling blog posts about coffee and kid-induced nervous breakdowns. And then came that day when I said, "Enough! I'm writing a book!" I didn't even have a story in mind, I just followed Chris Baty's advice and wrote the book I wanted to read. My first words after my attitude adjustment were,
"I'm what you would call a simple girl, a chameleon."
If you think about it, that sentence doesn't make sense at all. Simple girls have nothing in common with ever-changing chameleons. And, if we're being real, it's a bit cliche to call yourself "simple". But those flawed words led to over 200,000 more. With a lot of hard, literally hands-on work, they have grown into stronger, more flexible versions of themselves. That never would have happened if I'd let the blank screen call my bluff. I wade through the suck every time I sit down to write, and you will, too. In the end, it's not about whether the writing is excellent or cringe-worthy. It's about letting the ideas out of your head and seeing what happens. It's getting past saying, "I always wanted to write a book/story/article/whatever" to actually doing it.
I can't read through that first manuscript without feeling sick to my stomach at its sheer awfulness, but I didn't let it stop me. That sheer awfulness became the first of three books in my Hope Creek series, which gained the attention of a publisher. While that might not happen for you, you can't possibly know for sure if you don't write that first word. And then the next. And then the one after that, and so on.
My advice to you? Go forth. Write all the horrible, wrong words. Laugh at yourself, and don't give up.
That's truly all it takes to be a writer.
The random things that cross my mind go here...
All Rights Reserved, S. J. Henderson 2014