If you’re entering contests simply to snag an agent, you’re missing out on all the other things contests make possible. Whether you dive right in or cheer from the sidelines, there is A LOT you can gain from them- all things that can lead you on your path to getting an agent.
Here are five things contests are really for, in the words of your fellow writers. (Click here for five more in Part 2!)
1. Making connections.
“The cool thing is, the competition could become your new CP. I've met fabulous people through participating in contests.” – Emily @emcushi
“Making connections is, in my opinion, the greatest value of contests. I met all of my CPs either directly or indirectly through the contest that got me my agent. Think about it: You're likeminded writers in similar stages of the publication process - it's instant bonding!” –Dahlia @MissDahlELama
“I discovered some fantastic manuscripts, amazing new voices, and wonderful writers through contests. I met several CPs that way and betaed dozens of manuscripts, staying in touch with many writers. It's great to be allowed to share part of the journey.” –Marieke @mariekeyn
“I have met so many great people through contests. Some have even turned into perfect CP's because they knew my style from the beginning.” –Janet @MsVerbose
“I've met many writers in my genre and have had invaluable critiques from writers outside of my immediate writer's group.” –Karen @love8rockets
“I entered my first contest almost a year ago for a manuscript and query that, in retrospect, were awful. I actually looked back at that first entry and discovered that my first comment was from someone who has since become a good friend. While neither of us remembered that comment, it was probably the seed that started a friendship that I now value very much. I've found so many other friends and critique partners, and win or lose, it's such an affirming and positive experience to be cheered on by your competition. Contests, for me, reaffirm what a great community writers can belong to.” –Elaine @ElaineBVickers
“I stumbled upon some great people through a contest/pitch hash tag on twitter. An agent I follow mentioned to his followers to use it to pitch their book and I jumped on the bandwagon. This is how I met Summer and others. I think it's how people thought we all met because of The Writer’s Voice contest. I jumped in using the hash tag without knowing what the heck was going on.” –Jess @muchadoabout77
“What was really impactful for me was finding those queries for stories I knew I would LOVE to read. Of course I told the authors just that in the comment box, but if I could determine who those authors were, I also followed them on Twitter and struck up conversations. It wasn't long before a few of those conversations led to MS swaps.” –Jen @jenniferlmalone
“This is my favorite thing about contests. They are such an awesome opportunity to make new writer friends and connect with people you otherwise may have never interacted with before. Some of my CPs and best buddies all stemmed from me entering a writing competition. I never "won" in the competition sense, but that didn't stop me from winning new writer friends. Friends who then supported me, read my work and gave feedback, talked me through the getting an agent process, and overall kept me sane. These people ultimately helped me land my agent and I will forever be thankful for them. (I <3 you Dee!)” –Kim @kpchase817 2. Getting feedback.
“Maybe something (your query, logline, first 250 words) needs to be changed. Luckily, in some contests, you receive valuable instant feedback to let you know exactly what that change could be.” –Emily
“Let the comments sink in for a few weeks. Initially, you may disagree with them. But eventually, you’ll find nuggets of truth, and common themes that point to areas that need to be addressed in your writing. For me, looking back at feedback from a contest that took place a year ago, I can step back and see kernels of wisdom. At the time of the contest, I was defensive.” –Stefanie @stefwass
“The amount of feedback you'll get is often determined by the nature of the contest, and those that allow public critique are often the most valuable. This includes non-contest sites like theqqqe.blogspot.com, where I got the feedback that made my query so much more successful. As an added bonus, public-critique contests help you develop the thick skin that you'll need regardless of how far your writing career goes. :)” -Elaine
“The feedback that comes from contests can be tricky to parse through, because it comes from so many different sources who really don't necessarily know any better than you do. I've seen terrible advice given in contests, and it kills me. BUT, when you see that piece of advice that totally and completely resonates with you and sparks a brilliant revision idea? Priceless.” -Dahlia
“Learning what wasn't working was as, if not more, important than the confidence boost that came from the supportive comments.” –Jen
"If some entries receive a lot of requests, go ahead and dissect the query, logline, etc to see what's making it so darn appealing.” –Emily
“Analyzing what wasn’t working in others’ queries and/or opening pages often opened my eyes to similar mistakes in mine and the comments made on my entry caused me to look long and hard at what I was presenting to agents.” –Jen
“I love reading feedback for all sorts of entries. It's so interesting to see subjectivity in action, to see how different readers react differently to stories. I may not agree with all of it, but contests with live feedback are a fantastic insight in the mind of other readers/agents/editors.” -Marieke
“Reading other critiques is a great way to improve your writing. Also, studying craft: How did the writer nail the logline? What was it about his first sentence that had me hooked with just a few words?” -Stefanie
“There's a ton you can learn from contests if you really pay attention. They're often springboards for experienced betas and industry pros to teach invaluable lessons whether in comments or on Twitter.” –Dahlia
"I Learned about what writers in my genre are writing right now.” –Karen
"Again, public critique contests are a great way to learn, often by critiquing others' writing. Whether an entry worked or didn't work for you, the analysis of why can almost always be applied to your own writing. And this applies for non-critiqued contests as well. Which entries got the most requests? Was it the writing, or the hook, or a killer combination of both? What can you learn and apply from entries that were similar to yours?” –Elaine
4. Finding out about agents.
“For me, it’s interesting to compare agent feedback on the same piece of writing. It is subjective, but I can tell so much about an agent’s style, personality, and whether or not he/she would push me editorially, which for me, is something I am seeking.” –Stefanie
“I first learned of my agent through a contest. No, I didn't win that one, but I noted what interested her and that's when I added her to my list of agents to query.” -Janet
“Of course, every writer should be researching agents on his/her own, but contests can be a great way to narrow down an overwhelming list and learn real specifics from an agent's wish list.” –Dahlia5. Understanding the process.
“I quickly realized through these new connections that I didn't know bupkiss about getting published. The contest allowed me to meet critique partners and new friends I'm constantly learning from, being motivated by, and motivating in return.” –Jess
“Contests helped me realize that a full request doesn’t necessarily mean an offer of rep or a publishing contract! I now understand that this is a long, bumpy journey, with many other writers vying for the same goal.” -Stefanie
*A big thank you to the fabulous writers who contributed to the post! Go follow them on twitter. :)