Another Sun vs. Snow is complete and I can’t tell you how happy I am at the results this year. Team Sun and Team Snow received a total of 120 requests! We even had a few ninja agents jump in, adding to our already incredible numbers.
Now that it’s over, I always use this time to reflect on what went right and what can be done to improve things for next year.
Yes, I’m already thinking about 2017. But see, here’s the thing, contests take a lot of work and time to plan. Hours are spent deciding logistics, dates, reaching out to readers, mentors, and agents. Not to mention actually writing the scores of emails, blog posts, and other types of communication involved.
What people see on the co-hosts’ blogs is the finished product, but it’s taken a lot of time to get to that point. So today, I want to share an insider’s view on what goes into making a contest a reality.
Starting in late fall, Michelle and I start to discuss timing. We usually pick a date in early January, but things can vary depending on what else we have going on, other writing commitments, etc.
Once we nail down a date for the actual contest, we work backwards filling in the timeframe for what needs to happen. This includes checking to make sure no other contests are happening at the same time. We’ve had problems with this in the past and it’s important that there is not any overlap. This is also critical for reaching out to agents. Many times agents are overwhelmed with requests and they don’t want to spend all their time reading contest entries.
Once we decide on a date, we begin writing the emails – and there are A TON!
First, we reach out to our potential list of agents. This can take any where from a few days to a week, because again, research is involved. We have to look at things like who’s open to queries, who reps a variety of categories, but we also need to consider that whoever we choose is going to want/request from a wide range of entries.
When the emails are sent, we then wait on the responses. They can come within minutes, hours, or days. I must confess though, Michelle and I have been very lucky. The agents we’ve reached out to in the past have been great about wanting to participate in spite of their busy schedules.
While we wait on agent replies, we next need to consider who our mentors will be. Again, this involves quite a bit of planning. For me, I consider who I think will be open with working with a writer and has the time for it in their schedule. Even if I know and have a good relationship with a writer, I may not ask them if I know they are on deadline or have a book coming out soon. There also needs to be consideration of what category and genre they write in. We never know what entries we will pick, but Michelle and I need to have all our bases covered.
After a date is selected, it’s time to think about the announcement. Together, Michelle and I formulate a blog post, as well as discuss social media plans. Once we have things in order, we coordinate a time when we will both post. Sometimes this is not always easy as we live in two different time zones.
Social Media Blitz
Because there are so many contests out there now, Michelle and I want to make sure Sun vs. Snow stands out. In order for this to happen, we need to make sure we have exposure. Starting early on, we discuss how we will announce, where, and then the follow-up. One of the new things we did this year was include a series of two Twitter chats. Coordination is key because not only do we need to make sure we are available on a certain day, but our mentors are too.
When we announce both the mentors and agents it’s not as simple as posting it on Twitter. After a flurry of emails (again), we have to cull photos, bios, and social media links for both our agents and mentors. The information then has to be set into a specific blog post which includes adding text, importing images, and placing links. This year it took me close to two days to build the mentor post, and about three days to get the agent post correct. This is critical to our process because we know potential entrants are going to want to know who they might be working with and who will see their work. It’s critical for Michelle and I to make sure we have this all aligned so writers feel comfortable entering the contest.
The Submission Window
This is always an exciting day. It’s filled with a lot of scurrying around as we make sure our posts go up on time and that the rules are clear. It may seem arbitrary, but there are specific reasons why all writers must follow the rules. If the formatting is off, or we don’t know your category/genre, or word count it skews how we view your entry. Michelle and I want to make sure every writer is on even ground when entering Sun vs. Snow. Yes, there have been times when people have not followed the rules, but I’m glad to say those examples are rare.
Why Only 200 Entries?
This year we had to close the submission window after three minutes. You may ask, “why do you only take 200 entries?” The answer is simple: time. Michelle and I are very dedicated to this contest, but we both work, as well as write. We read each and every entry, and we find that 200 is a manageable number. It’s important to us that everyone who enters has a fair shot at getting picked.
Parameters for Picks
I wish I could say Michelle and I have some elaborate algorithm for how we pick our entries but honestly, we both pick based on very simple things:
- What grabs us instinctually. Premise. Voice. Concept. And above all strong writing.
- What are the participating agents looking for? I personally look at both their websites and #MSWL on Twitter to know what they want to add to their lists.
- What’s happening in the marketplace. If we know that a certain type of genre is not selling (based on agent interviews) we may shy away from picking such a genre. This is not firm. Sometimes we come across a concept we love and include it anyway, but it is something we must consider.
Selected Entries & Mentors
Behind the scenes there is always negotiating going on. Usually it is pretty easy for Michelle and I to pick because we have very different tastes, but sometimes we come across an entry we both love and have to discuss who gets it. Because we’ve been doing this so long, it’s pretty easy for us to decide who gets the entry. That’s one of the reasons this whole things works: because Michelle and I are a great team! 🙂
Once each of us has our selected entries, major work is ahead. First, we have to decide which mentor gets each entry. Then we have to communicate with the mentors and send them their mentee’s work. And of course, we have to swear them to secrecy until the official announcement.
Like all the other big announcement posts, careful coordination has to be arranged so that posts on both blogs go off simultaneously. Again, Michelle and I not only have to take hours to format the post, but we also have to agree on a date and time when it will go live.
Ah yes, as much as you plan there are always surprises. This year we had a great little shock when one of Michelle’s picks received an offer from an agent prior to the final round. While we were all celebrating, there had to be a quick shift in things because another entry had to be selected. In addition, we needed to inform the mentor and hope they had time to work with the new entry. This year things worked out perfectly as the mentor was very flexible and willing to quickly accommodate the change.
Working on Final Entries
This year I decided to mentor two entries. The process for working with my mentees is simple: I note where I see issues, make suggested changes, and then send to my writers. Sometimes the issues are easy fixes. Others are more about asking the writer about plot points, goals, and motivations for characters so we build the strongest query and 250 possible.
Before the Final Post
While our mentors and writers are making their entries shine, we send out email reminders to our agents about the contest. Prior to the final post, we answer any last questions and prepare for the big day when we post the revised entries.
The Final Post
It may be surprising, but this is where the major amount of work for the contest is done. We have a set deadline for when the writers must return their final work. Sometimes it comes in formatted correctly (sometimes it doesn’t). When the format is off, there is a flurry of emails until the entry is fixed and returned. This may seem odd, but building that final post takes a loooong time. If the entry is even slightly off, it can mess up the entire flow.
This year it took me two and half days to build the Agent Round post. You may wonder why it takes so long, but for me there is a definitive process involved:
- I check the entry for typos and other issues – missing words, punctuation etc.
- Next, I double-check the date stamp to make sure it is the FINAL entry.
- I check the tags, the headers, as well as the spacing to make sure each entry looks the exact same way.
With a total of 16 entries this process takes a long time, but it’s worth it when that final post goes up and the agents start to request!
The Agent Round
When that final post goes live everything is pretty much out of our hands. Now it’s up to the agents to decide what they like and what they want to request. There is a tad bit of worry that everyone will show up, but every year all of our agents appear and we love them for it.
While the agents are doing their thing, the work for the co-hosts is not over. We still have to watch the feed to answer questions, announce when agents arrive, and keep the positive interactions going. We also have to work with the agents behind-the-scenes to make sure we understand how they want their requested materials sent, and ensure that our writers are following those guidelines.
At Contest’s End
This is where we take a deep sigh of relief and celebrate! Agents have been very good to us over the last three years and have made a lot of requests. Those requests is what makes all the hours of organization and work worthwhile.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and energy to put Sun vs. Snow together, but it goes beyond sharing the entries with agents. It’s about connecting the community. Helping to link people who, hopefully, will go on to support and lift one another up as they move through the ups and downs of publishing.