I HAVE AN AGENT!!!
I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to receiving The Call. I was shaking and stuttering at her, and I pretty much squeed all down her front. But she offered me representation anyway, and long story short, I HAVE A FREAKING AGENT. I’d post a picture of me signing the agency contract, but it was late and I was covered in toddler dross, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
But this post is not about that. It’s about how I got my agent.
Enter the query contest. I’m actually not even sure that’s what it’s called, so for clarity’s sake, here’s my definition.
Query contest: An event hosted on a blog wherein the blogger requests entries from aspiring authors (usually a pitch or query and the first 100 to 250 words of the manuscript), and then pre-screens the entries for the best submissions, posts the pre-screened entries to the blog, and invites agents to make bids for the authors’ full or partial manuscripts.
If you’re still confused, see past examples of query contests here and here. Note that these particular contests are over now, so please don’t try to enter them. If you’re looking for a pitch/query contest to enter, try this one. But you’ll have to hurry, because the submission day is May 3rd.
Things to keep in mind if you plan on entering a query contest:
- The people who run these contests are doing so out of the goodness of their hearts. They do not get any money or recognition for all the hard work they put into organizing these events, so cut them some slack if your entry isn’t formatted perfectly or if they aren’t as responsive as you’d like them to be. They have day jobs and manuscripts of their own they should be working on.
- The contest judging is a subjective process, and if you don’t get picked, don’t sweat it. I entered both of the past contests listed above. I didn’t even make it past the pre-screening process in the Pitch Madness contest, but I did make it into the Surprise Agent Invasion contest, and I got not one but three offers of representation out of it.
How to make your entry a success:
- Format your entry EXACTLY as outlined in the submission guidelines. I’ve heard complaints about this recently from a few aspiring authors (not for query contests specifically, but the issue still applies), and all I have to say to that is Suck. It. Up. Keeping the entries uniform is the only fair way to judge them. And forcing the contest moderators to format it for you when they already have so much to do is just selfish. In any case, moderators will disqualify your entry if it doesn’t match the guidelines, so if you want in, pay attention to the rules.
- Be ready when the submission window opens. In the two query contests I’ve entered, there have been two or three submission windows in which to submit your entry (both of them by email). I thought I was being good by waiting a full five minutes into the submission window to make sure that I didn’t accidentally send my entry too early. Well, needless to say, I missed that submission window, as the number of entries they were taking per window were only fifty, and all the spots were taken within two minutes. Have your email queued up and ready to send with your mouse pointer hovering over the Send button for the entire minute prior to the window. Then hit send as soon as your computer clock indicates the window is open.
- Nail your submission. Okay, I probably should have put this as number one, but it’s kind of a no-brainer anyway, so I’m leaving it as number three. Once you find out from the rules entry what exactly you’re supposed to be submitting (25-word pitch, your entire query letter, first xx words of your manuscript), research the heck out of what judges/agents look for in a pitch/query/first xx words. Go to Query Shark, check out online pitch workshops, search the Writer’s Knowledge Base for blog posts on hook, synopsis, pitch, etc. Then do your best to write the pitch/query/first xx words that your entry deserves. Get feedback from your critique partners, other writers, and other readers. Then revise. Don’t settle for less than your best.
- Be ready for when the agents’ requests start rolling in. This was another mistake I made in my own query contest experience. I entered the query contest on a whim and was not as prepared as I should have been. My first three chapters still needed some revision, I hadn’t prepared a full manuscript in Word yet (I write, for the most part, in Scrivener), and I hadn’t even taken a cursory stab at a full synopsis (I didn’t even know I would need one!). So here’s what you should have prepared for when the agents start making requests: a partial (usually the first three chapters), a full (the entire manuscript, formatted in a way that won’t make agents crazy), and a full synopsis (no longer than five double-spaced pages).
- Send the agents who request materials EXACTLY what they ask for. There is no easier way to kill your chances of catching an agent than ignoring their instructions. Each agent asks for something a little different, and there are reasons they ask for what they ask for. It isn’t hard to give them what they want, so why would you shoot yourself in the foot by giving them anything less? Follow their instructions to the letter, and include a little note or write a subject of your email that reminds them you’re from the query contest and they requested your material. Even if the agent is your dream agent, try to act as professionally as possible and avoid raving fangirl squeals of rapture (I had to sit on my hands to keep from blathering in my email to my dream agent–who is now my actual agent!–about how much I adore her Twitter feed, how much I want to send her chocolate, etc. etc.).
So the moral of the story is that there is MORE THAN ONE WAY to land an agent. Submitting your query to the slush pile is still most definitely a viable option. But now, with the blogosphere ever expanding into new and creative worlds, there are targeted ways you can attack the query process. Check them out! You never know when and where an agent is lurking, just lying in wait to snap up your novel.