MUSINGS: writing contests and weblog promotions

Wow . . . everyone’s having one of those blog-comment contests, it seems! The “Gather” website, various literary agencies, and several published authors keep having contests so that we can post our opening lines, first paragraphs, queries, hooks, and whatever you can imagine. It’s fun to participate (and very illuminating to read the other submissions), but I’m not sure quite what it leads to in most cases. Often, even if you win a critique, you won’t know much more than you knew before. It can be fairly frustrating, and can give you a false sense of making progress (you’re submitting your work! No, not really.)

I enter a lot of these things. Always slide by without anyone noticing. The “really exciting” openings always catch the prizes and are gushed over by the other participants. I usually don’t like the ones that win, though. A matter of taste.

For fun, I entered a couple of partials in a new agent’s blog contest.

[EDIT: NOT any of the agents I have ever mentioned here! This is a person listed as OK by “Predators and Editors” (I cannot bring myself to misspell “predators,” even though THEY do, for effect, as wordplay) and NOT a person I have ever talked about on my journal. A very new person to agenting.]

To my surprise, my work was held over for a critique. I poked around a bit and couldn’t find out too much about the agent, except that the agent had been to a few conventions. It disturbed me that there were so many misused words and typographical errors and even apostrophe disease (“it’s” for “its,” “writer’s” for “writers,” even “her’s” for “hers,” and so forth) on the agent’s blog and website, but I figured what the hey. Couldn’t hurt.

Well, the first partial was e-rejected. The critique consisted of a couple of sentences–that the heroine seemed wise beyond her years (I do tend to write precocious teens, but then I was one, and my niece is one, and I know of others–especially when the teen is being raised by one parent or grandparent in an affluent family–so what I need to do is find a non-wordy way to signal that this is what we have here), and that such-and-such a detail bugged the agent. Sure, fine, okay. BUT! The ultimate reason that the partial “wasn’t ready for prime time”?

“Too many typos and misspellings! There’s a huge editing job ahead for you!”


I immediately went back to the file I had prepared for sending in to this contest (it wasn’t my original .doc file, per the rules), thinking that I’d see some kind of translation error or something big–superscripted numerals instead of quotation marks, the Declaration of Independence sneaked into the middle of chapter four, or the like.

Nothing. File looks fine. There are never any misspellings (*yes*, I know how dangerous that claim is to make–so perhaps let’s say VERY FEW) in my submitted manuscripts. (Ha, the keyboard just typed “manuscritps” to punish me for arrogance. This sort of thing will continue until the arrogance flag is lowered and the crisis passes.) Seriously, I can’t find any typos, misspellings, or howlers (that I can see) in that file.

Perhaps the judge is going by what MS-Word says when it opens that document. It sees all the invented place names (Ladenia and Marwell), invented character names (the usual fantasy crew, plus Daddoo), deliberately quaint phrasings, and so forth, and announces, “There are too many spelling and grammar [sic] errors to mark.” That’s because if you don’t have the specialized dictionary open, it won’t recognize “yesternight” and “middlemoon.” (Even though those are legitimate archaic terms in English. The book is a fantasy set in an imaginary Colonial America, after all.)

* [“grammar” here should be “grammatical.” Spelling errors, grammatical errors. Dumb MS-Word.]

Still, most professionals in the business would be able to figure out after a few pages that there aren’t a bunch of typos in the manuscript. (This agent claimed to have read the first five chapters through.) This gave me pause.

Naturally, I wanted to know where this typo stuff might lurk. But I don’t want to ask, because it could not lead anywhere but into the dustbin. (The agent doesn’t remember, but “they’re all over the place, all obvious,” or the agent DOES remember and cites several perfectly correct words: no possible face-saving way out for either of us there.) I decided to forget about it, as I don’t want to “get into it” with anybody. Sent the thing in on a lark, anyway.

But the dilemma arose when the agent LIKED the second partial I sent and is “thinking about offering representation.” (Yes, I know, haven’t we heard THAT before?) The e-mail came today. This is very flattering. Certainly it’s nice to hear. Um . . . and the dilemma is?

“But you’d have to do a lot of editting [sic]” is the next line of the e-mail message.

* [You writters [sic] should be able to tell whattz [sic] wrong.]

The second partial is similarly without mistakes that I can tell–certainly not on every page as is being implied here. This one is an urban fantasy set in the present, so it can’t be that the invented place names and words are setting off MS-Word. This has to be something the agent is “seeing.” I wouldn’t want to have to tell someone that it ain’t me who is using “whose” and “who’s” alwrong [sic]. . . .

So my dilemma is that I don’t want to get mixed up with someone who is going to continue telling me that my spelling and/or usage is incorrect when it isn’t . . . with someone whose online presence is infested with typos or misuses . . . with someone who might write cover letters containing such illiteracies (*ouch*, but that’s what they’re called) to editors.

There’s gotta be a nice way to say no if an offer comes about. You may think I’m being foolish to plan ahead to turn an agent down (!!!) when I rave constantly about wanting to get representation, but I need to be able to trust that my agent is up there at a pro level as far as the mechanics of the language. I don’t want to raise an issue about it. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve found other representation, either. I’ll probably just say I’ve started a major revision and will get back to the agency.

Anyway . . . the point here is possibly that an author can fritter away an awful lot of time/effort on these contests and may STILL not get anywhere in the search for representation. Perhaps the contests aren’t very productive, except to generate traffic for these blogs and websites. (Ya THINK?) I suppose most critiques are about as helpful as the ones I’ve gotten. The most interesting part is scrolling through all those other entries. I can see how different my work actually is from the rest of the stack when I read the openings. Many of the mystery openings seem to be wham-blam grossout openings. (“Blood poured down the wall as villagers screamed.” “I could smell the blood when I opened the door.” “Blood had splattered up the walls like spiderwebs to the ceiling.” Yuck! Not my kind of recreational readin’.)

On the OTHER hand, BookEnds is running a similar series of “opening 100 words” contests, and THEY are definitely an established agency. I’ve never seen Kim (Lionetti) or Jessica (Faust) misuse a word on that blog, and I feel confident that their critiques would be worth hearing. (The comments might not HELP me any in that they wouldn’t say how to fix whatever it is they don’t like. But it’d be interesting to hear what they’d say.)

I never learn, do I? I think I’ll enter their contests. I certainly wouldn’t have a dilemma if they offered me representation! (Although instead they’ll probably just say they aren’t in love with my work, yadda yadda. As usual.)

I missed the deadline for the mystery contest. I misread it as “9 PM” and submitted after 7 PM on contest day. However, I’ll try again with their paranormal romance contest, which is coming up within the next few days.

Check in over at their weblog for details.

Here’s the opening I posted (too late for their contest), just for fun.

Jacquidon Carroll could’ve killed her boss.

Yancey Neisskopf stared down at the papers on the conference table. “Due to a mandatory reduction in the size of my staff, you are being terminated from CSD Enterprises. Effective today.” When Jacquidon didn’t answer right away, he looked up. “Jacquidon? Are you listening?”

She slid her glasses off. “Yancey, this isn’t funny. I’m snowed under with work. Let’s skip it, and you can still tell everyone how successful this prank was.”

Yancey loved practical jokes. Last time it’d been a fake crack across her computer monitor’s screen.

This time he looked profoundly serious.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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