Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Query Contest

I've been calling it the #querytrenchblues because the query process feels intimidating and sometimes a little dark. It can be a brain-melting loop of edits to sharpen and shine your ms, especially the first 10, along with endless attempts to encapsulate your brilliant novel in that one-page-come-hither flirtatious wink that is the query letter.

Of course, there comes a time when you have to just swallow hard and submit. Whether you're offering up the 4th or 5th or 20th revision, the act of hitting "send" feels like mustering the courage to fall in love again after your heart's been broken.

And this is why query contests rock -- because there's so much support here to help you find the courage to try again and - bonus! - provide crowd-sourced wisdom to help you make this next effort the one that will work.

A month ago, I never thought I would enter any contests because I felt nervous about sharing my work - even a query - with such a big group of people. I mean, betas, definitely, CP's, yes! But the WHOLE TWITTERVERSE???? Then I dipped my toe into  #Pitmad and discovered something wonderful. The online writing community and the amazing authors who host these contests are SO GREAT!!!!

I come from a gloves-off, casual-cruelty-is-the-norm business, so this kind of earnest, sincere support actually, literally brings tears of relief to my eyes. It's so civilized here in this world!! #Happy.

So for those of you still on the fence about trying one, like I was,  I wanted to tell you, go! go! go! Try one!! To make my point more elegantly, I am thrilled to share with you some comments from the hosts of #sunvssnow, Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood.

 Heather: How did Sun vs Snow come about?  

I couldn't help noticing the contrast between the weather where I live in Indiana and the warmth of my friend Amy Trueblood's area of the country, Arizona. I wanted to do something to liven up the bleh of winter and a query contest taking advantage of the different winter weathers seemed perfect! Agents said yes and the rest is history.  :-)


The contest is actually the brain child of Michelle Hauck. She approached me in late October, 2013 and asked if I'd be interested in hosting a contest with her. Michelle and I have known each other for a while and I respected what she did with both Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, so agreeing to host was a "no-brainer" for me!
Heather: What are the benefits of participating in Sun vs Snow or any of the other query contests out there?

Querying is a daunting business. I mean even successful querying results in 80 percent rejection. Besides the expected benefit of getting some writers requests from agents, anything to add fun to the grim business is very welcome to my mind. Plus, contests help create a sense of writing community by bringing people together. That's a benefit that can last long after the contest is over. And Sun versus Snow in particular has the advantage of mentors helping writers improve their queries and first pages for the long haul.
There are three benefits I think:

1) Getting great feedback from seasoned writers who can help you refine your work.

2) Networking within the writing community. Before Michelle and I even put up the submission details, there was already a group swapping queries and pages and working on their entries together. It's really cool to get to bring people together like that!

3) Getting the opportunity to stand apart from the slush pile which can be very helpful!
 Heather: What was the best  "learning moment"  for you that came out of this contest? 
There are always learning moments. Reading so many queries (212 this time) certainly teaches me what works and what doesn't stand out so much in a query and first page. It also gives me a taste of what agents experience on a daily basis and gives me that much more respect for them. 

First, I love this question. Second, I think that all work is subjective. One person may LOVE your work, while another may not be so enthused. The key is to look at the feedback as a whole and decide what makes the most sense for your characters and plot.
Heather: Is there a "season" for query contests, or are they held year round?
They've pretty much become year round. I try to space mine out in order to draw new material with each contest.  I co-host Query Kombat in May/June, Nightmare on Query Street in October, and now Sun versus Snow in January/February

I'd say most contests are year round. And there are some great ones out there:

Cupid's Blind Speed Dating
Writer's Voice

Just to name a few.
 Heather: Any quick bits of advice for aspiring writers?  
Don't be afraid to try things out of your comfort zone. Don't hesitate to interact with your fellow writers and form friendships that will help you forever. Never quit.
Don't send out your work until you've had it vetted by other writers in your category and genre. Another set of eyes can help you see where your plot is failing or where your voice is inconsistent. Nothing can replace having a great stable of beta readers and critique partners to help you polish your work.

Heather: Last question - do you plan to publish the "Alternates" that didn't make the teams?  
Actually Amy and I have permission from our two alternates to post their queries right after Sun versus Snow ends. Which opens a Critique Workshop opportunity for anyone who entered Sun versus Snow. They can comment with feedback on the alternates' posts and in return I'll post as many of their entries as I can manage. The success of the Critique Workshop will really depend on writers leaving feedback for each other. I'm sure I can depend on that. I've found that writers love to help other writers! 

Yes. At the conclusion of the contest, Michelle and I are going to post our alternates and work with them on feedback.

Thanks so much, Michelle and Amy, for your time and for paying it forward by sharing your expertise with the rest of the community.
If you participated in #SunvsSnow and want to take part in the Critique Workshop, keep following the Twitter hashtag #sunvvssnow.
To get some great advice on what does and doesn't work in a query, I really recommend you read through the queries that have been mentored and are now being critiqued by agents on both Michelle's (#TeamSnow) and Amy's blogs (#TeamSun). And even if you're burned out on queries for now, read the blogs anyway. They each feature helpful agent and author interviews plus other great writerly thoughts.

 Also note that the ubiquitous Michelle is a Bouncer on the Cupid's Blind Speed Dating Contest, which is open for entries until tonight!

Good luck, everyone, and as always, 
Be Brilliant.