What Not To Do During a Writing Contest

Now that Query Kombat is over (and with New Agent coming up on Wednesday), I want to explain some of things that impacted some of my votes. Hopefully, it’ll be useful for future contests and people thinking about submitting to me in Pitch Wars. Yes, I frequently picked the entry with the voice that spoke to me more, or the plot that seemed more my style. But there are also entries where I cast a vote against the losing entry rather than for the winning entry. And it’s important because many of those votes weren’t based on the writing or the concept at all.

Here are some things NOT to do during a writing contest:*

  1. Tweeting that only the judges who voted for you understood your manuscript or imply that those who voted for the other entry weren’t smart enough for your book. Here’s an interesting tidbit: The judges know how to read. So when you insinuate that people who didn’t vote for you are stupid, you’ve flat-out lost me. And there’s a good chance I’ll remember your name in future contests.
  2. Not seizing the opportunities to revise. One of the greatest things about QueryKombat is that it gives authors the opportunity to receive feedback and revise your entries. As a judge, it’s extremely disappointing to see that some people barely touched their entries. Why did you enter a contest that provides feedback you didn’t want? It’s not our job to pat you on the back and tell you how awesome you are. That’s your mom’s job. Yes, I’m aware that all feedback is subjective and it’s ultimately up to the author to decide what to implement—I’ve also rejected feedback in the past (everyone has). But when multiple people have the same comment over and over… you need to seriously stop what you’re doing and consider why we’re telling you to fix that issue. We spent a lot of time writing our comments, so it’s frustrating when they appear to be flat-out ignored.
  3. Tweeting that feedback given is wrong. If you disagree, do so privately. Always put your most professional face forward on social media. Always. Agents are watching, editors are watching, and the people who do contests are watching, too.
  4. Gloating on Twitter about votes in your favor, agent requests, or comments. It’s poor form. We can figure out which entry belongs to whom (it’s really easy, especially since I was also a slush reader). If you’re obnoxious when tweeting about the contest, it makes me really hesitant to throw votes your way.
We all love to write and that’s why we do it, but publishing is a business. Whatever you put out the public needs to be professional. Just like an agent or editor may choose not to work with someone who’s unprofessional, I want to work with professional writers. And when I’m reading slush, I’d passed over entries because of the writer’s public behavior. Yes, it’s a frustrating process, but the best place to complain is in a private forum or even better, offline.

* Some of these are things were observed in prior contests. All are things I’ve seen more than once from different people over the past year. 

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  1. Laura, is it considered bad form to enter a contest when you've already begun subbing? I'm specifically concerned about the New Agent contest. I've subbed to 10 agents, and two of them are involved in the contest–one has a partial and another an outstanding query. I'd love to join, but the last thing I want to do is step on toes!

    • No, that's not bad. There are some contests like PitchWars where it's probably better not to enter a manuscript that's been widely queried, because you're going to do a huge revision to it. But with contests like New Agent, it's fine to enter if you've been querying.

      Just look at the total number of agents who accept your genre versus the ones you've already queried. If there are only two agents who are looking for what you write, and they both already have the query or pages, it may be better to sit this one out and give someone else a chance.

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