Queries, Critiques and Agents: Contests, Thoughts and Getting Out There

I’m sure they’ve always been there, but in the past six months I’ve found a number of places online where I can get my query/first page critiqued and/or in front of an agent. Just this week there are, and have been already (and it’s only Tuesday!) a lot of opportunities.

First, a BIG, HUGE CAVEAT. It’s very important that you are able to a) take criticism, since many of these contests have a open posting forum where others can comment on your work and b) have a strong sense of your voice so that you are able to pick out what suggestions work for you and not end up with an over processed / lifeless piece of writing which tries to please too many people at once and reads like a text book. OTOH, when you have several people comment ‘I didn’t get/don’t understand/didn’t like’ a particular part you need to be able to step back and revise it and not, as I’ve seen, keep it in there because you thought it was a clever turn of phrase indicative of your voice. Unless you want your voice to appear muddled, get over it. Mini-rant over.

Back to what’s out there right now. Brenda Drake  is having a workshop on queries (contest ends midnight Thursday!). It’s time for another workshop. This one is for the dreaded query letter. I’ve gathered some talented writers and editors to help me critique forty query letters. All genres and finished or not quite finished manuscripts welcomed. We’ll choose forty names from the Rafflecopter, and critique two a day for five days on our blogs. Ms. Drake and her other blog hosts mostly write YA, something which may or may not affect your desire to enter.

Over at Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog there’s a ‘Dear Lucky Agent’ contest for MG writers open until Aug 27. Welcome to the 11th (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This is a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category or two. So if you’re writing middle grade fiction (see exactly what this term means below) novel, this 11th contest is for you! (The contest is live through Aug. 27, 2012.)

The annual WriteonCon for writes of YA, MG and PB (picture books) is going on right now. While some of the contests are closed, there are still a couple coming down the pike AND there’s forums where you can post your query, first page and first five pages. Why? Well apparently there are Ninja Agents who like to lurk about the boards and read them. 🙂 All you have to do is use our forums the same way you should be using them anyway (because they’re AWESOME) and you could have a super-cool Ninja-Agent critique your work. And even if they don’t comment on your work (they promise they will try to comment/critique on as many as they can) you can learn SO much from the comments they leave for others. Because really, the best part about the forum is that you can go read the feedback whenever your schedule allows. They actually have hour time slots scheduled for agents, so there’s still opportunity to get out there! PLUS, they have a great area to find critique partners, but more on that later.

Already passed but places to keep an eye on going forward:

Miss Snark’s First Victim – Always a good site for getting out in front of agents there’s (mostly) monthly Secret Agent contest and other goodies which pop up during the year. For instance last week she had a ‘first line grabber’ contest. Her entry window for the August secret agent was yesterday – I got in at #11. Fingers crossed, it’s my first time attempting. And will be, for secret agent at least, for another six months – she’s placed an understandable restriction given the popularity of her blog.

Mother. Write. (Repeat). has a number of different contests throughout the year. Yesterday’s Agent Inbox was full within twenty minutes of opening. Set up to show the thought process of an agent I’d love to get in the next one. Please keep in mind that THIS CONTEST ISN’T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. I’ve encouraged The Agent to treat the entries exactly as he or she would a normal batch of queries. Essentially, The Agent will be answering the question, “How much of the entry did you read, and if you didn’t read it all, why did you stop?” I think this process will be instructive for all of us, but if you enter, you need to be prepared to hear exactly what The Agent thinks of your query and first page.

Cupid’s Literary Connection had a number of fantastic events this past spring (Writers Voice!!), mostly geared for YA writers but some which were open to all. They’ve taken the summer off and are gearing up for an event this fall. Can’t wait!

Last, but not least, there’s Query Shark. Not a contest, per se, but a site you can submit your query to for feedback. Query Shark critiques fiction queries. You have to send a query to the shark for it to be considered. There is a checklist for how to do that on the post labeled “If You Want Your Query Posted, Read and FOLLOW These Directions” Queries are acknowledged IF THEY FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. This can take several days if the QueryShark is swimming about in the Sea of Writing Conferences. If you have not followed the directions, or if it’s immediately clear you have not read the archives your query is discarded. Not for the faint of heart, but then much of this business isn’t.

Oh, shoot, I was going to go into opportunities to find beta readers/ critique partners, but I guess I’ll save that for another post. So, go out there! Dip in the pool and get your toes wet. The water may be shocking at first, but you’ll get used to it soon and it’ll make you a better swimmer in the end.

If you know of more contest, leave a comment and I’ll add them to the end. I kinda feel like I’m missing a biggie 😉 . Plus, I seem to have gotten in a loop with many YA contests. I wonder if there are SFF ones or Horror ones too? Hmm…


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