Hey! So I’m going to try and write weekly blog posts again. We’ll see how that works out.
Anyway, today’s topic is a hot one in the writing community right now: Twitter Contests. For those of you who don’t know what these are, they’re contests put on twitter by authors, agents, and sometimes publishers to help writers get noticed more by agents and publishing houses. This is a really great idea and I’ve participated in many, including PitchWars, PitMad, AgentMatch, and so on. It’s been a great experience, truly.
Buuuut, like with anything, there are some issues, and to me, those issues are glaring.
First, all of the same people enter. Not even kidding. I see the same faces and names in every single contest that I know them all and all of their stories by heart. Why is this a problem? I mean, I enter a lot of contests too. Well, the problem is a lot of these people are the ones who win. A lot. There is one girl who has gotten attention or into the final round of almost every single contest I’ve participated in, but has never gotten an agent for her story. I’ve seen this multiple times. But them entering means that a lot of people who’ve never had the chance to shine or have their MS read, even if it’s just as deserving, don’t get the chance. It’s always taken by the same people.
Now, a lot of that does have to do with the current tastes of the agents. I see a lot about diversity in books, but when I read through the winners, what I see is a lot of the same stuff with different spins on.
“But Linnea,” you might cry, “aren’t you just bitter that you haven’t won anything or gotten any real attention?”
Why yes, yes I am. But I’m bitter at myself for not being able to sell my book, not at the writing community. This problem has to do with what people are willing to read, and what agents think will sell. That has to do with the market, and some personal taste, and it’s nothing that I or anyone else can really control. It does pose an issue, however, when it comes to trying to get a book published, especially if you don’t write commercial novels. Like me.
However, there is a bigger, and more glaring issue that no one seems to be addressing, and that’s the insane focus on the first page. The first 250 words. The first 500 words. The 30 word blurb. The query. The synopsis. While all of these things are important, it’s frustrating to me who doesn’t have an amazing fantastic lovely wonderful hook. I’ve written and rewritten the opening of The First Nine so many times that I don’t feel any connection to it anymore. Why have I rewritten it? Because someone in a contest told me that I should start it somewhere else. Another time. Another place. Another issue. I’ve gotten to the point where if I never have to see the opening again, I won’t cry.
But that’s another problem, because agents, particularly the ones who participate in these contests, HATE HATE HATE prologues. I’ve talked a lot about prologues on my blog before, and my issues with the dislike of it are pretty clear, but it poses an even bigger problem for me because I do have a prologue.
One of the biggest comments I get on the first 250 words of my manuscript is that I should show the magic in the world. Even if it’s subtle. The First Nine is either Urban Fantasy, or Paranormal (don’t know which really) and they want to see that from page one. The problem? Mia, who is the narrator of chapter one, knows nothing about magic. As far as she’s concerned, it doesn’t exist. Make it to chapter two and you do see the magic through Cody’s eyes. It’s quite clear that there’s something going on. But that’s also part of what I use the prologue for. I know that the first chapter has no magic, and so I use a scene from the past to show not only the demon queen, but also that there is something abnormal in the world.
So that’s frustrating. But back to the original point about the obsession with the first 250 words: I don’t know any reader, true reader, who judges a book based on the first 250 words. All of my friends try the first chapter. Sometimes the first three before they decide if they don’t like the book. So what you get with these contest goers are people who revise and revise and revise again this one section of their book to make it so perfect and spotless, but then the rest of the book gets ignored. I’ve had my first page read so many times I want to cry. But the rest of the book? Two people. A friend and my boyfriend. Why? Well for one thing, I can’t find CPs or beta readers to save my life. For another, the people who win these contests and get their stuff read are better at selling than I am, and better at making their first 250 words sound exciting and hooking. They don’t have a prologue.
When you have a group of people who always do the same type of contests with the same type of requirements, they never know what’s wrong with their manuscript, especially if there’s no feedback. For instance, I have no idea if my manuscript keeps getting looked over because they don’t like the idea, because my pitch is bad, because they don’t like the writing, the first 250 words…I honestly have no idea. So I can’t go back and fix it. I’m left guessing as to what they want me to do.
This brings up the final issue I have: the sheer number of participants. While I get that they want as many people as possible to join, I think it would be better if they cut down on the number of participants allowed to join. So, instead of 300 with only 30 slots open to get looked at by agents, maybe keep the window open for an hour. Cut down the number of entries to the first 100. That gives people more of a chance to get their work read, possibly even get feedback from the mentors or slush readers. While getting rejected over and over is fun (not), what’s even more fun is learning why. I get why agents don’t give feedback. They get hundreds of pitches a day. But these contests don’t have to mimic what an agent goes through. We can get feedback. We don’t have to be one of a couple hundred.
Overall, I do like twitter contests. I’ve entered many and will continue to enter more as time goes on. But I think it’s time for twitter contests to change a bit. Time for them to morph and become something greater. Instead of creating the same, “send your pitch and your first 250 words,” give us something new. Cut down the amount of participants so they can get some feedback. Don’t ask for the same words over and over. Half the time, I open to a random page in the book to see if the writing is up to par. I don’t judge on the first 250. It’s the beginning of the book. It’s important, but it’s not the only important thing.