Today, I submitted my query letter and first chapter to the brand new FicFest contest. I’ve been hugely excited over this chance to both network with other writers and potentially skip the slush pile to get my work in front of some very attractive agents. I even won a free query critique as part of the leadup to the submission day! (See it HERE)
FicFest is the latest in a growing trend of online contests for writers who aspire to become agented and traditionally published. These contests are a fabulous resource for people like me, and they’re also interesting as a sign of the evolving publishing world.
The rules for FicFest (read them in their entirety HERE) are as follows:
- Submit your query, first chapter, and other MS vitals during a two-day window.
- Teams of volunteer writing mentors (people with considerable writing experience, often themselves agented or published) will peruse the entries, and each mentor will select one MS and writer to mentor for the next two months.
- After two months of mentor-guided revisions, the queries and sample chapters will be sent to a large panel of agents, who will request more material from writers who spark their interest.
Contests are the new gatekeepers. The fact is that because of changes in technology, leisure time, and cultural values, many, many people want to and actually do write books. Because of this surge in aspiring writers, traditional publishing is overwhelmed. And although it’s easy for writers like me to kvetch about getting a form letter rejection for an MS we’ve slaved over for years, the truth is that agents can’t do otherwise. They’re swamped. There are far fewer spots for agent clients than there are writers. And there are even fewer spot on publication lists.
Literary agents evolved because publishers needed gatekeepers–people to weed through the slush pile and find the best material before it ever reaches the editors’ desks. But now the agents need gatekeepers, too. That’s where contests come in.
What makes FicFest particularly interesting is that it’s shed most of the “contest” trappings that have characterized these events up til now. There’s no winner. There’s no prize. Instead, the gatekeeper function is at the fore, and the contest will identify and offer interested agents the 45 best manuscripts submitted. I believe that we’ll be seeing more and more of this–writers self-policing (so to speak) to aid agents in finding the work that is ready for publication, while offering some helpful feedback to those writers whose manuscripts still need work before they enter the professional arena.
What also makes FicFest interesting is the way it exemplifies the spirit of generosity that dominates the writing community. The competiton for agents and publishing contracts is incredibly fierce, and writers are putting years of work and cherished dreams on the line when they seek publication. It would be easy for the prevailing spirit to be one of cutthroat nastiness. Instead, those who succeed immediately reach back into the pool of struggling newbies and offer them a hand up. The organizers and mentors of FicFest are strictly volunteer. In most cases, they don’t have preexsiting relationships with the writers they will spend weeks mentoring. They do it because they believe in paying it forward.
And so, regardless of whether or not I get to advance to the agent round, participating in FicFest has been sheer delight.