Friday, March 8, 2013

How to Know if a Contest is Right For You - Dahlia Adler




Please welcome the fantastic Dahlia Adler to the blog! She's been doing some great posts on her own blog so I asked her to guest post here. After a little bugging, she agreed! Thank you, Dahlia!

The reason I love Dahlia's posts is because she writes about things that pertain to so many of us and she says it straight. No fluff. Just the good stuff. Basically, all the things many of us are thinking but too afraid to say. 

I gave her the option of choosing her topic, and I'd say the one she chose is just perfect. Over the last several months, there has been a bit of a contest explosion in the blog-o-sphere, which is great in many ways. But there are some things we should keep in mind. 

Take it away Dahlia...

Hey guys, and thank you, Cupid, for having me! When Cupid first asked me to write a guest post, I drew a total blank as to what to write about, because I usually end up blogging off the cuff as I see issues come up. Then I realized that there actually was something I've been thinking about for a while, and there was no better time (right before Pitch Madness) or place (on the blog that hosted the contest that got me my agent) to write about it.

That subject of course, is contests, and more specifically, how to know if a certain contest is the right one for you.

I am quite the advocate of contests - I've met tons of people through them, I found my agent through one, and I've gotten to read a whole bunch of fabulous manuscripts. How can I not love them?

BUT.

Not all contests are for everyone. And not all contests should be entered by everyone. Sound counter-intuitive? It might have to me too, at first. But now that I've watched about a zillion of them go down, and have participated as an entrant, a mentor, a judge, and am about to participate as a slush reader, I have some Thoughts on how you know whether a contest is really right for you, and what to take into consideration before you polish up that pitch and hit Send.

1. Is your manuscript actually finished?

This is one of those things some writers just can't seem to get down. You see a contest opening, you're alllllmost there, and sure! You'll have time to fix the fact that your character who died on page 4 gives birth on page 78, and rewrite your dual-POV as a single, and tack on that epilogue. NO BIGS. How can you pass up the contest opportunity that's right there?

By reminding yourself that there are people working really hard on the other end of this 
expecting to see your best work. By reminding yourself that you owe it to yourself to provide your best work. By reminding yourself that it is unprofessional to get a request from an agent and then make them wait for weeks or months for a manuscript you never should have entered in the first place.

Do not enter a manuscript in a contest that you would not query to your dream agent as is. (Unless that is specifically the point of the contest, which is rare.) That doesn't mean your manuscript will never require any revision, but when you query, and when you enter contests, you must be submitting your work in what you genuinely consider to be its final version (as you are capable of producing after multiple rounds of revision). To do anything less will never end up being in your best interest.

2. Just how many of these have you entered this same manuscript in?
Nobody can or should be a bigger advocate of your manuscript in the querying stage than you, and as such, of course you should take advantage of opportunities to get your work in front of agents as often as possible.

BUT.

You know how you hear a joke and it is hi-LAR-ious, and maybe the next time you hear it, in a different crowd, you still chuckle, but then you're in the same group and the same guy makes the same joke and you're like "WTF? Dude, that's not gonna still be funny. Get new material or a new audience!"

Sooo... yeah.

This doesn't mean I think that just because a manuscript has been through a few contests, it's bad or undesirable or not going to get an agent. I think none of those things. However, it's important to be realistic about a few things:

•    Contests are very often judged by the same agents. It's a fact. They're the ones most interested in participating, who also possess social media savvy, and who are also actively looking to sign new clients. It's fantastic and generous that they do this, and they're certainly not taking opportunities away from other agents, but it doesn't really help you to go in front of the same people on multiple occasions. Unless you're making significant revisions to the entry (making significant revisions to the manuscript will not help; they have no way of knowing you've done this if your entry is the same), sit out contests where most of the judges have already seen you.

So, you're probably thinking, "Why? What about the three participating judges who haven't already? I want a crack at them too! What have I got to lose?"

Here's what:

•    People get tired of seeing the same entries and over. Readers, agents, editors - everybody. You don't want to possess the first 250 that makes people's eyes glaze over. You don't want to have the title people can swear they've now seen a thousand times. Your entry is good - that's why it keeps making it in to the winning round. That part isn't a question. But if for some reason it's just not clicking with agents once they're read past your entry, putting the stuff that does work out there for public consumption isn't going to help. Revising your ms as a whole or writing something new - that's what's gonna push you forward.



•    It draws attention to how long your manuscript has been available. Which in turn makes it seem like there's probably a reason it is. Don't mistake me here - the fact that you've been querying the same manuscript for three months, or six months, or nine, or whatever, doesn't mean that manuscript won't get you an agent. It's perfectly feasible that you could get an agent on query #100, provided you've actually been getting requests for material up until that point. (And if you haven't, stop and work on your query!) Agents have no way of knowing how many others have passed on your work as long as you don't tell them (or the entire world, using social media), and all it takes is one to click with your work and make an offer. However, if your work keeps going out in public, publicly getting requests, and then still publicly being available, it can start to feel to agents like your work is basically being screened for them and they shouldn't bother.

•    Other writers deserve a shot too. This was one of the more unpopular opinions I've ever expressed publicly, but I stand by it - yes, you have to be an advocate for your work, but there are a limited number of spots and a whole lot of writers out there who'd really like a chance to be advocates for theirs too. If you've got a manuscript that's already made it into a contest or four, congratulations - you've got a good entry, and you know it. Go forth and be confident in your pitch or query or first 250 or whatever those entries consist of. But don't take up a spot for the fifth time while hundreds of others are still trying to get noticed for their first.

3. What's this contest really about? I hope it's obvious that not all contests are the same, but in case it's not, let me state it: Not all contests are the same. And not just because some call for tagline and some call for pitches and some call for queries. And not because some stretch out for a week and others for a month.

Different contests have different purposes, and one major difference between contests is feedback. Some contests (The Writer's Voice, PitchWars) involve getting crit and revising before putting your stuff out there; some (Blind Speed Dating, Pitch Madness) do not. Going back to point #1, if you don't feel your entry is sufficiently polished without some feedback, and you don't have time to get it from betas before the contest itself, stick to the ones that specifically polish your entry. On the flip side, if you're not interested in critique, or you're not going to take it, leave the revision contests for people who are going to put those opinions to good use. The most frustrating thing for me to hear about (or see with my own eyes) after Pitch Wars was people who got extensive notes and took none of them. Contests that give crit are for people who will use that crit. If you think you're already perfect, submit to contests that expect you to be. Don't take a great opportunity away from people who really want to work.

So, what do you think?

108 comments:

  1. I think Dahlia is a genius. :)

    Well said! (All of it.)

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    1. I like you :) And thanks! Especially nice to hear from one of a writer of one of the aforementioned great manuscripts I got to read thanks to a contest! (And some stalking, obviously.)

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  2. Really thoughtful advice. Thank you, Dahlia!

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  3. Fantastically said. I'd expand on your thoughts, but I really think you covered it all very well ^_^

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  4. Can I get an Amen? Seriously, one of the best posts I've read in a long time. Nothing is more annoying (and I've heard agents say the same thing) than seeing the same entries over and over and over again in contest after contest.

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    1. Thanks! And yeah, I've heard agents say that a lot too, which is why I really, really wanted to drive the point home. I think it's fun and nice for everyone to see some new blood! I hope we'll be seeing more new agents doing these soon too!

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  5. Great post. I completely agree with all the benefits that can come from entering contests, particularly the opportunity to meet other writers. I'll add that, at least for me, contests are a huge energy drain with tons of highs and lows and nail-biting moments no matter how I fare. Unless the contest is a great fit for me and my manuscript, my energy can be put to much better use in terms of advancing my writing career (and sometimes that means moving on to the next manuscript).

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  6. Once again, Dahlia has covered all the bases on a hot topic. :-) What a great post!

    Oh, and I totally agree with Monica about the highs and lows and nail-biting--no need to do that to yourself for something that's not a good fit!

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    1. Thanks, Kip! And I definitely agree too!

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  7. I'd like to add on the other side... It's annoying seeing the same people involved in reading slush and making the decisions. And it's not fair to the people who enter, because these people always want certain types of stories, but it doesn't reflect what agents or editors are looking for. I've stopped entering contests because I'm sick of the lit clique. And because I'm sick of people taking advantage of writers (this blog CHARGING MONEY!!!!!).

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    1. Oh, yeah, it's taking craaaazy advantage of writers to charge money for entering a contest SHE DOESN'T OWE ANYONE TO ORGANIZE IN THE FIRST PLACE. You DO realize that contests are WRITERS taking advantage of organizers, right? Like, that is EXACTLY what they are. I'm also not sure why the massive amounts of success stories from contests suggests that judges aren't picking what agents or editors are looking for. But rock on with that entitlement and hiding behind "Anonymous."

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    3. Oh Dear Anonymous,

      It sounds like your mss didn't get the love you so wished it had, and instead of looking at your work and wondering how it could be improved, you've decided to blame everyone else. And I do get that it feels like the bouncers and agents skew towards certain genres.

      But here's some hard truths:
      1. These contests are run by the same people because these are the people that VOLUNTEER their time. Yes, a few charge a minimal sum to cover the costs of running these contests, donate to a good cause, and maybe earn a little compensation for all their time. That is more than fair. And if we're being honest, I'm sure you would be just fine paying if your mss had gotten requests.
      2. Don't ever use the phrase lit clique again. A clique implies a closed network, specifically working to keep newcomers out. In my experience, these people are anything but. They give freely of their time, knowledge, and humor. All you need to do is share the same. But you can't enter and expect to be adored without giving anything in return. This community wants more members, not fewer.
      3. The best part about these contests, and why I will continue to be an observer and critiquer when possible, are the people - the people you are so anonymously slamming. I've made several new friends and betas. I've gotten to beta great manuscripts. Oh, and I haven't gotten ANY requests from agents via contests. Am I having a pitty party? No, I'm still making new friends and learning about what makes good writing. If you --and let me be very clear about this, the responsibility is all yours-- want to feel like a winner after an online contest, then it isn't just getting picked by the bouncers and agents. If you do it right, you'll always come out ahead.

      So, dear anonymous, please keep that in mind. And, one upside to not knowing your identity is you can always decide to take part again, and maybe make some new writer friends along the way.

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    5. And it's not fair to the people who enter, because these people always want certain types of stories, but it doesn't reflect what agents or editors are looking for.

      I would actually argue that contest slush readers are VERY concerned with reflecting what agents or editors are looking for. All the slush readers I know look into who will be judging the contest and try to make sure that their selections reflect agent interests. It doesn't do anyone any good to choose pitches in a genre or age group that don't match up with any of the agents involved. Slush readers are subjective true - as is this entire freaking business - but they're taking the time for this contest because they want to help out other writers. That means they're looking for entries with that perfect combination: a great pitch with great writing in a genre that will catch agent interest.

      You're more than welcome to your opinion on contests and on this lit clique that you believe is aligned against you, but it seems like a waste of energy to troll them.

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  8. I'm sure many will post after this exchange, but let me just say this: we are in this to have writing careers. Let's try and inject an ounce of professionalism. You can't take this stuff back. Practice some restraint. Keep the focus on yourself. Your career. Your choices. Live and let live.

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    2. Point that finger around, while you're at it. And maybe up that professionalism to a pound instead of an ounce. Then stir and let sit for about twelve hours.

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    3. FYI, the anonymous who posted this comment is not the same anonymous above.

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    4. Are you referring to anonymus @10:59 or @11:16?

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    5. Anonymous 10:59 is not the earlier ranting Anonymous. I don't have a problem letting people close to me know my opinions/identity, but I don't want to look like I'm trying to take up the mantle on this. Sorry for the confusion, bit it led to some hysterical assumptions (maybe a little unintentional humor in this mess).

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    6. Sorry. Yeah, I went into 'overprotective mom' mode. I love Dahlia. She's always been very supportive n helpful to me.

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  9. This is why I follow your blog! I love you Dahlia!
    Your excellent advice has me wondering if I should enter Pitch Madness-- because A) I have no idea what I'll be competing for and B)two of the participating agents turned me down.
    BUT
    Ive never entered a contest of any kind.
    AND
    I did send both agents the query from hell, which has since been critiqued and fixed. I've also made significant changes to the first 250 words and all the rest of my MS.
    Advice???
    Basically, Im looking for you to give me the green light so I can blame you later. (sarcasm font)
    :') Sound good?

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    1. If you've made changes to the stuff they've seen, and never been in a contest before, and your stuff is ready, I say go for it! Two out of a lot of agents isn't very many anyway. And instructions go up soon so you'll learn everything!

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  10. Wow...just WOW.

    This kind of attitude is why the publishing world has never been and will never be a hand-holding kumbaya-like skip through the daisies, FYI. I'm sure, deep down, editors and agents all really want to help us out.

    But then, too many people lose their metaphorical sh** at the first sign of rejection, blaming the industry and the people who comprise it for everything that they think is "unfair." So yeah, thanks for propogating the stereotype of authors as unbalanced, self-involved ninnies who can't take constructive criticism.

    PS - I'm posting this as anonymous, not because I'm ashamed of calling you out for being a Crazy McCraze-face, but because, judging from your incendiary word choice and the general heat of your misdirected rage, I'm actually concerned you might come fully unhinged and target me next. And I'm not as classy as Dahlia, or as brave, apparently.

    PSS - Lol, you responded by saying "let's keep if professional?" LOL, you so cray!

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    1. Eloquently put. I wish there was a way to favorite your post.

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    2. Ha, I too would like to favorite this. I swear, people have no freaking clue how much rejection is involved in every stage of this process. If you can't take it in contests, good luck on sub. Seriously.

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  11. I can't even believe this. I'm in shock.

    Everything I do here is to help writers further their career and have some fun along the way. It is very difficult to find judges and agents to volunteer for these things and also very time consuming. I don't even know many of my Bouncers/Kissing Experts very well at all, so to assume they're in my "clique" is completely inaccurate.

    As the hostess of this blog, I do not force anyone to come here or participate, so I don't see how anyone can complain if I decide to charge a small fee to enter one of my contests/conferences. It is their choice. I offer a service and if you're willing to pay for that service, great. If not, then don't. I don't understand the problem. Do you go around where you live complaining to different places for charging you for their services. I would think not. What is the difference? Because this is on the internet? No.

    As for personally attacking my relationship with my husband, I just don't even know what to say.

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    1. Nothing. There is nothing to say and no point. You are amazing, the work you do is insanely helpful, and the amount of time you put into it is something I think no one but Brenda and a few others could possibly even imagine. Some people live to be angry and blame others for things that don't go their way; it's certainly got nothing to do with you, and you have every right to run everything you're behind exactly as you like. Like you said, there's certainly no forced participation!

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    2. Cupid, I deeply hope that when the shock clears you'll let this thread roll right off your back. Whenever someone's anger seems this out of proportion to the situation at hand, it's never really about what it claims to be about. The anger always comes from something much deeper. In this case, I think it's pretty clear that the anonymous poster's anger stems from the hurt and frustration of rejection--something many of us can empathize with. (Though, um, it appears some of us metabolize that frustration and impatience better than others...)

      And, though I have to agree that the online/twitter network of writers and agents can sometimes feel like a hard one to crack, personal attacks are utterly inexcusable. Writing is an art, but it's also a business. There's been a spate of hateful comments lately, and I would respectfully remind the posters of them (though perhaps it's all one person?) that to succeed in any business one needs to behave professionally--in moments of criticism and disappointment, most of all.

      I think this is a good time to reiterate that there is a vast and thriving publishing community OFF-line as well. Many of my real world writer friends have never heard of blog contests, and are represented by agents who don't participate in them. The online blog/twitter community is only one path. Anonymous should participate in it only if he/she finds it supportive and helpful. Which they clearly do not.

      Dahlia and Cupid, the community you help foster and the time you invest is seen and appreciated. Because so many of us do not say it often enough: THANK YOU.

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  12. Look at all the time and energy that could have been saved by being truly blunt: if you made it to the agent round of Cupid's BSD, don't enter Brenda's Pitch Madness.

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  13. Great post dahlia! You have some great advice here and contests are great places to network and meet other writers, improve your writing and get your work out there. And i agree not every contest is right for every person. Just like not every agent is right for every writer and vice verse. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

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    1. Thanks, Jamie, and I definitely agree on those points!

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  14. Right, let's get a few things out there. Somewhat off topic: I've been a contest participant, mentor, slush reader, judge, and have been part of various workshops to prepare for said contests. I've been on all sides of the fence and I've only ever found writers who actively and genuinely want other writers to succeed. There are no cliques, there are no conspiracies. Moreover, I've seen many slush readers trying to give the best--and hopefully most varied--stories a chance. The work Cupid, Dahlia, and others like them have been doing to help this community is nothing short of amazing.

    If you can't deal with that, don't deal with that. No one is forcing you. If you feel the need to be personal about it, go scream at a wall. It'll make you look a lot less ridiculous.

    On topic: This post is so helpful. I've met so many amazing people through contests and it's always a pleasure taking part in it, one way or another. But I definitely think it's very good to consider *why* you want to enter a contest, if you should enter another one, and what you want to take away from it. After all, it's in all our best interests to make sure the contests showcase the best stories and the freshest material out there. :)

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    1. Said wonderfully by someone who's got way more contest experience than I do, by the way, and who works her butt off far more than people know. So, if you don't like the way I'm phrasing things, dead readers, hopefully this'll cover it ;)

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    2. ...Dahl, I really hope you meant "dear" readers and not "dead" readers hahaha :P

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    3. Nope, totally meant what I said. (Just kidding - of course Marieke just told me, but I think I'm going to leave it, just because.)

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    4. *grin*

      Also, I love you, but I'm going to disagree with you here. ;)

      Lovelies, if you don't like the way Dahl's phrasing things and instead you lash out at people I respect and consider friends? You burn bridges. I'd rather spend my time on people who pay it forward and support each other.

      If there is a lit clique, like Maggie said, that is the only one there is.

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  15. *Puts agent hat on* As an agent 90% of the decisions I make in my inbox about a query are subjective. I have to 'LOVE' a book to spend months revising and rereading it to send it out into the world. The fact that these contests are subjective is fine with me. We all have different tastes and I found one of my latests MSs from a contest. The anon above seems like the same type of writer that emails me back after a form rejection promising to kill me and my whole family. Definitely not someone I'd ever want to work with.

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    1. I feel like a lot of writers don't get the nuance of "Yes, it matters how pleasant you come off, because someone has to work with you a lot. Not just your manuscript, but YOU."

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  16. So I have entered a few contests and learned some valuable lessons, gotten some great feedback, and met my CP's and betas (before contests I had known).

    Sometimes the contest thing can be daunting. Rule of thumb, if you feel like people are showing favorites or whatever - just don't enter. I mean no one forces you to enter a contest (and definitely not one with an entry fee). And its not like you have to enter a contest to get an agent - query like all these people are doing.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for the blog post Dahlia.


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    1. Exactly - it's like somewhere along the line, people got the idea that contests are mandatory. They're not. They're additional opportunities. But querying is ALWAYS THERE. Plenty of people query WHILE in contests. And I've known far too many people who've gotten plucked from the slush pile to listen to anyone who pretends that doesn't work.

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  17. Anonymous, if you can't handle learning how to be a better writer through each rejection, don't enter these contests. It's that simple.

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    1. Truth. I ultimately decided it should go without saying, but maybe it shouldn't have - contests put your work out there for *everyone* to see, and *everyone* can see the responses to your work. Frankly, I think it takes an even thicker skin to put yourself through them, and if you don't have that, they are so not going to be the right venue for you!

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  18. Great post, Dahl, I totally agree. And I'm so sorry the above happened, girls. I get frustrated with the whole biz sometimes too, but that's just mean and sad. :(

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    1. Thanks, hun, and of course, everyone gets frustrated - it's frustrating! And lots of crap doesn't go your way a whole lot of the time - that's true for every writer, which I think some people who are newer to all of it just don't understand. But you push through, and you try again, and you do your best to get the work you care about out there. Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe you should give her some sort of workshop.... ;)

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    2. *snort* Yeah, I'm pretty boss. ;)

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  19. I wouldn't allow a rude person in my home - I believe the same applies on someone's personal blog. I don't care to give any more attention to anonymous troll, so I'll move on. Dahlia, I really appreciate that you have the courage to state unpleasant truths. In the long run, it's far kinder.

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    1. I think you have the right idea there :) And thanks, I think so too, even if it's not always fun feeling like some sort of harbinger of doom! I swear there's good stuff too!

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  20. Anon at 10;26 & 10:50: OMG you really have NO clue. I'm hoping you get one soon. Personally attacking someone for an online contest? So immature and rude. At least you had the wit to post anon, but I hope you also have the wit to use your second chance wisely.

    Dahlia and Cupid: please don't let the idiots stop you from doing such great work. Rest assured, far more of us appreciate you than not. And just like in kindergarten, haters gon' hate when they don't get their morning naps.

    I still can't believe I actually read someone saying those things.

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    1. I definitely appreciate the fact that for every person who thinks we suck there are about a billion I respect far more who seem pretty cool with us ;) Thank you!

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  21. Thank you, Dahlia, for the wonderful contest post. I think if we follow those rules, we'll all be happy with the outcome.

    And thanks to you, Cupid! You've done great things for many writers. Even though I've only been on the participating end of a contest, I can imagine the work all of you put in for us. Thanks again. Even if we don't make it past the first round, there's something to be learned. If we can put those lessons into our work, then we still come out on the win side. If we can't see that, then maybe we aren't ready to test the publishing waters.

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    1. My thoughts exactly! Thanks for reading!

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  22. After reading so much hate in these comments, I just wanted to say an extra big thank you to Dahlia for posting this, and to Cupid for all the work she does! Dahlia, I read your blog quite often, but I rarely comment, although I really appreciate your honesty and how much work you put into helping out other writers. I couldn't agree more with this post! And Cupid, I don't know if there's anything I can say to make up for the other ugly comments that have been posted. You don't deserve this at all, and I feel terrible that anyone would treat another person this way. Thank you for all the work you do for people you don't even know!

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    1. Thanks so much, for your kind words *and* for reading my blog in general!

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  23. I just wanted to say thank you to Cupid for running this fabulous blog that has led to so many successes for writers, and to Dahlia for giving us some reminders about what contests are (and aren't!). These two ladies, and all the other writers who give countless hours they don't have to give to organize contests, and to judge them, and to read slush and give suggestions, want nothing more than to give back to the writing community that supported us when we were new writers. (And yes, full disclosure: I am friends with a lot of writers, and have judged contests, which I suppose makes me a member of this 'savage lit clique' of writers who support each other and don't like to see unnecessarily nasty personal attacks on people we respect.)

    For anyone who has participated on either side of these contests, or who are hoping to in the future, I hope one bad Anonymous apple won't leave a bad taste in your mouth. Thankfully, this person does not reflect most of the writing community. As aerichert says above, the writing community is looking for more members, not fewer.

    [And to Anonymous: I'm not sure you understand that you are under no obligation, ever, to enter any contest. Almost all the agents who participate are open to direct queries--this is not the only way to reach them. So if you have a problem with any aspect of a contest, just don't enter! Better yet, just ignore the fact that it exists altogether if it upsets you so much you have to resort to personal attacks.

    If you're seeing the same people putting on and judging contests, it's because they are the people who have volunteered their time. Again, if this bothers you, you are certainly welcome to stop entering contests. Just to let you know, though, certain entries aren't put through over others because we're looking for "certain kinds of stories," but because they are the best entries, and the ones that are most likely to attract an agent. (And yes, the idea of "best" is subjective, as is everything in publishing, but it's also a simple truth that many of the entries we see in contests aren't ready to be seen by publishing professionals yet, and this is what makes getting feedback from these contests so great.)

    I really hope you can see past whatever is making you so angry about the writing community and take the feedback and outreach from those who want to help for what it is.]

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    1. Pretty much everything Maggie just said.

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    2. For real, I kinda just want to replace my post with this comment. <3

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  24. Dahlia, thank you for the great post. As someone who is new to contests, it definitely offers great insight! And Cupid, thank YOU for what you do here. I was in the kissing scene competition and BSD. I didn't make it to the agent round, but I received great feedback from other writers and from the kissing experts! I mean, seriously, as a total contest newb, I felt so much writerly love and support from fellow contestants. Completely the opposite of a lit clique. Maintaining a blog in general is time consuming. Organizing contests that involve SO many participants and professionals donating their time--I can't imagine the time that takes. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for reading, and glad you enjoyed and got good feeedback! That was definitely one of the more fun contests I've seen!

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  25. Normally, I don't comment to drama, but I'm so shocked at someone attacking another person's personal life. We're all entitled to our opinions (if you don't like the contests...fine, whatever. Even though I disagree...I've seen great things come from them), there's no reason to delve into and bash someone's personal relationship with her husband. First, I see no problem with these contests asking for a fee (there's a lot of time and effort put into them!), and secondly, it's wonderful that she would wants to get her husband something. To me, that sounds like a great relationship! I'd do the same in her place.
    Also, I'm new to the writing community and have never come across a clique. Everyone has been welcoming and offering of advice and help. I've learned so much. I'm thankful for it, because no one owes me that. Even if there was a clique, I'm not entitled to anyone's friendship and help, so I'd have nothing to complain about.
    If you find the contests aren't for you, feel free to not enter. It could save you a lot of drama. If you do and aren't happy, still show your fellow human some respect.
    To Cupid, thanks for the contests and to Dahlia, thank you for the post. Keep up it up and thanks for enriching the writing community.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Chrystal! And I totally agree; frankly, I'd never even think of getting my husband something out of all the time I spend away from him while working on contests, so I'm pretty damn impressed by that. And I wish I could tattoo "I'm not entitled to anyone's friendship and help" EVERYWHERE. Though I hope we'll all see you around a lot more!

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  26. Great post! I now have a new blog to follow, yay! As someone who's made most of the errors Dahlia's listed I have one thing I'd like to add to #3:
    When you look at 'what the contest is about' make sure you look at what the agents say they are looking for (i.e. if you write historical romance and NONE of the agents list historical as something they're looking for then you're only going to get rejected/frustrated).

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. YES, that is such a good point I'm actually embarrassed I didn't make it! Every writer should be researching potential agents ANYWAY before querying; do the same for contests!

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  27. I feel SO sad when I see such hatred and obviously personal issues launched against such outstanding members of the literary world as Dahlia and Cupid. They do NOTHING but try to help authors and get little in return. Snarky comments hidden behind an "anonymous" doesn't make a person "cool" or "witty." Just sad.
    Dahlia & Cupid, you are both amazing! And Cupid, your contests really helped me hone my skills, find an agent and a publishing house. So I <3 U!

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    1. Thanks, Vivi! Hooray for living proof that people damn well find the right stuff to show agents and editors ;)

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  28. Excellent post, D. I've been involved in a few contests and I can say they are extremely time consuming. Brenda, Cupid and others put SO much time into them. So when I hear about remarks, such as Anon's comment, about some clique or something, I don't get it. I believe I saw this in a comment above, the reason the same people are involved in contests are because they are the ones WILLING to volunteer for them. I know for a fact that Brenda is always looking for slush readers, hosts etc. Don't like who's involved? Do something about it. Volunteer YOUR precious time. Hey, run your OWN contest. See how much time and effort it takes. I bet you don't even know. Oh, wait, on second thought, please don't. We need positivity.

    I've entered contests where I've done well, and some where I've totally failed, and I've learned each time. I don't think anyone OWES me anything. Contest peeps take the time to volunteer to HELP WRITERS. That's why I get involved. I'd venture to say, that's why most get involved.

    Sounds like someone is bitter and needs a hug.

    I don't normally speak out like this, but come on, man. It's a subjective business, you're never going to get anywhere with an attitude like that.

    Dahlia. I love ya. You are always spot-on with your observations <33 Great post.

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    1. Agree with all of this, OBVIOUSLY. Especially the "Run Your Own" part - why people think it falls on a couple of people and then expect them to do things a certain way is beyond me. ANYONE can run a contest, and I've seen writer friends, including unagented ones, do it! Few CHOOSE to. If you wouldn't make the choice to put in that work, how on earth can you expect anyone else to, let alone have complaints about how they do it??

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  29. You are an amazing and awesome individual Dahlia. Thanks for the wonderful info.

    And to the coward that baselessly attacked you, grow up. Maybe you need to do some revisions before you enter a contest. Of course, with your attitude, I guarantee nobody is going to want you as a client. Guess that's why you refused to name yourself.

    You know what. We'll do this. Email to me at: apatterson at dyadicechoes dot com. I'll read it and give you feedback. Hell, if you want, I'll even devote a blog post to your manuscript. I will be fair and honest about what I think and I won't even be judgmental about how you treated Dahlia. Just you and your words.

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    1. I love this. But I really, really hope I don't have to identify your body next week.

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    2. LOL. I've taken years of Tae Kwon Do and can easily defend myself. Also, if they manage to find my house from my email address, I'll be impressed.

      Besides, we both know I won't get an email. :D

      Delete
  30. Anon - You're comment up above was deleted. Please feel free to share your opinion in a professional manner that is not offensive to others.

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  31. Dahlia, thanks for reinforcing some of the subtle aspects of contests for us newbies. These "rules" are just as important for us to know as those that make it in the contest blog post. :)

    Thanks to Cupid and all of the generous agents, editors and writers who make these contests possible. They are truly incredible resources for writers who are serious about publication and getting their pitches, queries and MSs into top shape. I'm truly sad to see someone post such idiotic hate as one "Anonymous" did earlier - I much prefer knowing exactly who they are so I can avoid them completely in the future.

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  32. dahl, your hair is major in that photo. love it.

    i have nothing to contribute re: contests. just thought i'd diffuse the tension by voicing my girl-crush your curls, haha.

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    1. THANK YOU. I can't even believe no one has complimented it yet. GUYS, my hair looks GREAT there, and NO ONE IS EVEN TALKING ABOUT IT. (This is 99% of why I keep you around, by the way.)

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    2. I didn't mention it because I was dying of jealousy. My pin straight hair would n e v e r.

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    3. It did not look like that even ten minutes later, or ever again. I need it immortalized in stone.

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  33. I missed out on all the drama in the comments and I'm not sorry I did. Publishing is a brutal enough industry without people adding their own particular brand of nastiness to the proceedings.

    Dahlia, this was a great post and I want to thank you for sharing it with us and Cupid for hosting this awesome blog and its contests (even if I haven't entered one . . . yet). I especially liked your point about fairness, and trying to balance being an advocate for one's own writing with being a decent human being. It can be tough and when you're passionate about something, like your MS, it can feel like you're the only writer in the world with a dream and a prayer but it's something we should definitely all strive for.

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    1. Thanks, Melissa! I definitely agree that it's touch, and completely understand if writers don't agree with that one; if you don't push for yourself, who's going to push for you? But it really goes with the other points - you're showing the same material, and it's probably not doing you favors, so to keep doing that figuring you've got nothing to lose... well, others do! Plus, I just love seeing new stuff :)

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  34. There is a confidence curve to writing. The more I learn about the art of writing, the more I'm in awe of others works. Ignorance tends to make one overconfident.

    Thank you to this wonderful writing community.

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    1. Completely agree - thanks for commenting! I think we're all still working on that confidence thing!

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  35. Great info on contests. I tend to shy away from them just because I don't know much about them and wasn't confident about how to work them. This is great, thanks.

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    1. Thanks! Hopefully this helps with that, but if you have any more questions, ask anytime!

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  36. First and foremost, I have to acknowledge what a great post this is. I've seen agents expressing their disappointment with the lack of variety in contests, both on Twitter and on their personal blogs, and it's understandable. If they didn't choose an entry the first time, they're not going to fall in love with that same, unchanged entry in the next round (*unchanged* being the key word. Hence Dahl's advice to revise and make sure you're putting out the best material you can. It isn't rocket science.)

    Second, as someone who met her agent through a contest, I can attest that THEY WORK, and as someone who's tried to pay it forward by getting involved in the contest flip side, I can also attest that they are A LOT OF WORK and take up a huge amount of time, time that judges and hosts give up willingly to help others. If Cupid feels the need to charge for this time, it's Cupid's right. It's also her right to choose judges and readers with whom she has a rapport and/or deems trustworthy and competent.

    If anyone has a problem with either of these choices, it's their right to not enter the contest. It is NOT their right to launch insulting personal attacks that showcase the lack of intelligence in their argument. (And if you want an example of intelligence in argument, check out any one of Dahl's blog posts. She pulls no punches, sugar coats nothing. But WITHOUT being rude, insulting, or on the defensive.)

    So a huge thanks to people like Cupid and Brenda Drake, who offer up so much of their time in an effort to bring authors and agents together, and also to the authors who lend a hand because they know just how worthwhile these contests are. Keep doing what you're doing!

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    1. This is just the greatest comment ever. BRB, framing it for my wall.

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  37. What a GREAT post, and a good topic to cover. Yes contest are FABULOUS but it is good hear the practical side of entering them expressed with practical advice.

    I'd add: if the agents are not agents you would query outside the contest, don't enter. There's no point entering for the sake of getting offers if you don't feel the agents represent your point of view or would suit you or you've had a rejection from them.

    For eg, I am UK based so I might pick to enter a contest which has a UK based agent in rather than one with just US based agents in, say.

    Also if there is only one agent you are interested in, and it's (necessarily due to high volume) a 3/4 stage contest, you may find it easier just to query that one agent and not put yourself through the nerve wracking stages of a contest.

    Thank you Dahlia for your fine post and for your straight talking, and a thank you to Cupid for all the efforts and contests run.

    This all takes time, and not everyone is prepared to give it, so it's appreciated.

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    1. Yes, thank you - that's another great point! Sometimes I feel like people don't equate contests with querying, but it's so much more similar than people realize. You STILL have to be happy with the person who wants your manuscript. If you're not going to want to accept an offer from those agents, what's the point?

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  38. I unfortunately (or fortunately) missed the drama this morning due to the day job, but I just want to say that Dahlia's post is right on (as always) - I've entered and lost my own share of contests, and I've never felt anything but grateful to the people who have spent their own time to help us as writers. I've met amazing CPs, friends, and mentors, who've made this journey easier. Thank you for posting this, Dahl, and for both you and Cupid who are always trying to help writers.

    For someone to personally attack people like this is shameful and immature, and speaks volumes more about that individual than it does about anything to do with the contests or the organizers. This can be a tough business, but reading this comment stream, it occurs to me that there are so many more positive voices than negative out there. And the positive ones are going to make it.

    Keep it up guys :)

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    1. Let's go with "fortunately" ;) And yes, definitely so much more positively, from a lot of people who've had crazy kickass contest entries, which somehow makes it even better. (Present company included, obviously!)

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  39. I totally agree with you, Dahlia. I've been trying to avoid contests lately, simply because I've already participated in a few with the same MS, and I don't want to parade the same MS to the same agents with the same pitch. If a writer hasn't 'won' any, that's no excuse to trundle out the same-old, same-old. And what you said about giving other writers a chance is important! We can't spam contests just because we haven't had our 'moment' yet. Maybe our moment won't come in a contest.

    I usually think that if I only want to target one or two agents involved in a contest (because I've either queried the others or seen them in an earlier contest), I should just query them individually. It'd embarrass me to have other writers go "oh there SHE is again!" and make them so sick of seeing my story they wouldn't dream of buying it when it finally hits shelves.

    As for Anonymous (the insulting one), we all get frustrated and we all have moments where we secretly want to throttle someone on the other side of our computer screens - whether it be in contests, rejected queries or critique groups. But there's such a thing as acting mature and not burning your bridges. In this business you REALLY don't want to do that!

    It's not a slush reader's fault if your story doesn't happen to fit what certain agents want. It's not their fault if you won't take crit or revise. Take responsibility and grow a thicker skin. If you want to get published, you'll need it.

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    1. This is basically exactly exactly exactly how I wish everyone thought. About everything. Ever. <3

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  40. Ah, Dahlia, you predicted that this post might cause a firestorm, but perhaps you didn't predict WHY. Sorry you are getting beat up by an anonymous twit. You deserve thanks for all the contest work you've done and for this post. Feel the love!

    You, too, Ms. Cupid!

    xoxo

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  41. This is a wonderful post, and I appreciate bloggers who use their time and talent to help writers by hosting contests. I know my agent first noticed me in a Miss Snark's First Victim contest. She didn't offer until two books later, but she did give me encouragement by requesting pages. That meant so much when I was starting out. :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Amy! And I love your story of perseverance - I feel like that's the exact kind of thing writers need to read and know happens!

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  42. First, this was a WONDERFUL post, Dahlia. All of these things might be obvious to some, but having them laid out in helpful Dahlia style is refreshing and satisfying! You really cleaned up the shades of gray so that basic contest courtesy is easy to understand.

    (Courtesy that is, obviously, not so obvious to certain folks.)

    Having entered a contest, and later decided that traditional publishing was not where I wanted to go with that particular manuscript, "knowing whether a contest is right for me" is close to home. It's a good idea to have your ducks in a row before you enter, and to know how to behave in a way that you will be remembered as a nice person. There are loads of other writers involved who usually offer great advice, and being willing to accept and use crit is vital.

    I distinctly remember the moment I hit the send button on my entry and clicked "pay now" on the little Paypal button. I was flooded with an enormous sense of just how much WORK Cupid was going through to make this happen. Ten lousy dollars? It felt like nothing. I haven't been involved in making any of them happen, but I HAVE been responsible for pulling off plenty of other events and I can tell you, there are a million little details that take over your life and threaten to EAT YOUR SOUL. The fact that Cupid and all of the slush pile readers, bouncers, bloggers, mentors, and other writers who take time out of their busy lives/day jobs/writing schedules to present these types of opportunites are serving up a slice of their lives to you, the writer, to help you get published. If you cannot respect that and be grateful, there won't be many agents eager to work with you, either.

    As to writer cliques, Cupid clearly asked writers who know the bouncers to NOT enter in their window, so. I see how there can appear to be cliques on twitter if you are watching all these friends (who have bonded over past contests, obviously), but one can only continue to be convinced of this if they haven't made an effort to be friendly. The burden is on each of us to put ourselves out there and be a contribution.

    Isn't that what an author strives to bring to the literary world anyway?

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  43. As always Dahlia, you are a goddess with words! I was going to enter a contest but now after readying your post, I am just going to help my friends with their entries. I am so not ready yet. I just think my MS isn' tready and could use improvement. I’m too harsh on myself. But with writers like you and Cupid, your advice is helping me out immensely. And I want to thank you girls for your awesomeness! I felt alone until I came across you and many other writers talking about the writing process and the ins and outs. THANK YOU! You are great. :)

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  44. After hearing about everything that's been going down over on Twitter, I HAD to come and leave a note.

    Dahlia, this (like all your posts) is so perfect, and timely, and spot on.

    Cupid, we love you.

    Before this contest, I only had a few writerly friends online. In contrast to anon's frustration with writer-cliques, I just want to say that it is precisely BECAUSE of contests like this that I've met so many fantastic new author friends over the past month. Hi friends!!! =D

    Second - I CANNOT IMAGINE how much time and energy it must take to coordinate a contest like this. I barely have enough time for my own blog posts. I SO SO appreciate the opportunity you've given all of us not only to get our work out there in front of agents, but to get great feedback and meet other writers. Thank you for all you do ... just THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

    I wish I knew who you were so I could give you a *hug* =)

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  45. Pretty much everything I wanted to say has already been said now, so I'll just offer up my thanks to Cupid for taking the time out of her own writing life to run contests like this one. It's no small thing, and I love her for it!

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  46. Great post, Dahlia!

    As for you Cupid - best 10 bucks I've ever spent. Luv ya for the opportunity and everything I've already gained from it.

    Some people have a great sense of entitlement - ignore them - they will never appreciate what others do for them and will slit their own throats every time......

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  47. Cupid - I also love Dahlia's posts for her honesty and frankness. Anyone looking for interesting posts should sign up to receive hers. I met Dahlia through a contest and have enjoyed knowing her ever since. ;) Another fabulous post Dahlia!

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  48. Seeing this just reminds me that people gonna be cray cray.
    I've been in high profile contests and i've sat some out. It all just depends on how ready my MS is, and whether i've shopped it to those agents yet (and also my mental state at the time. Contests are taxing and if i'm emotional for whatever reason, best to just sit that contest out).
    I've always very much appreciated all the hard work the organziers do to run the contests. *internet high five*

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  49. I first discovered contests two years ago and have been entering them ever since. Have I gotten in yet? Uh, no but does that deter me? Again, no. For whatever reason my MSS isn't being chosen (although one contest person said it was in her top three)and I know the writing is good. Am I burned out on contests? Nope. Trying to get my current WIP done in time to do the next one. It's an incentive to me, kind of like a deadline of sorts. I love the anticipation of waiting to see if I'm "in" or not and the interactions on Twitter. KEEP DOING CONTESTS, please. Thanks for being a resource for writers. *pats head of contest owners and give them candy*

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  51. Thanks for this post. I'm planning on entering my first contest and your points will be a tremendous help.

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