Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Danger of Twitter Contests

*please see addendum at the bottom of this post*

Bear* with me. This is in some sub-genre of RANT, but also in the vein of CAUTIONARY TALE meets PROJECTION OF WOE.

Now, I'm fairly new to Twitter. I guess you could call me a Twitter noob. A twoob? I just joined in January of this year. I'm still figuring out how and what to hashtag, recently realized you could send gifs in messages, and have been taking full advantage of the variety of pitch contests Twitter offers to writers.

I've been a finalist in two Twitter contests and entered a plethora of others.

And I must say, the community surrounding these contests is amazing. The people you get to meet while perusing the hashtag are amazing. The authors that dedicate their free time and energy to these contests are AMAZING. The feedback you sometimes get is AMAZING.

But the rejection? Not so amazing.

I'd been cold querying for about a year when I discovered Twitter. And I'd gotten only rejections since I started. A full request here, a partial there, but all the same outcome. You start to build up a thicker skin when it comes to querying. Form rejections that start with "Dear Author" would tear you apart piece by piece otherwise.

But that's the nature of the publishing world. That's the nature of a business. It's a cut-throat industry and they only eat if you eat too. But the rejections start to blend together. You get used to it. It still hurts, but you really do get used to it.

And Twitter is sometimes great because it gives you somewhere to go to commiserate with writers going through the same thing. And I think that's why Twitter contests are the emotional danger that they are.

You depend on that writer's community for support. That "I've been there, I know what you're going through" mentality that offers a unique kind of camaraderie through joint suffering and fleeting dreams. So when you start getting rejected by your peers, the same people you go to for support and success stories and examples of how you can make your dreams HAPPEN, it's a tough thing to bounce back from.

Agents are a different animal. A different species. We don't expect to get feedback or condolences or a pat on the back from them. They're doing a job.

But writers, we're in this together. We have a shared experience, we're going through the same exact thing. We were all at the same place at one point in time. Each and everyone of us has had to sit down and stare at a blank page and tear our hearts from our souls to put something on it.
We expect to find sympathy and empathy and encouragement from people who have gone through that same agony and hopefulness and enthusiasm and despair.

But when those people start playing agent, when they start judging, when they start picking and choosing, when they stop being that shoulder to lean on and become the reason we need a shoulder, it can start to whittle away at you. Not only do you lose a sense of that "we're in this together"-ness, but you can feel alienated. It feels personal.

So it's extremely important to meet that subjectivity with your own objectivity. Remember that you're being judged by people who are in no way, shape, or form qualified to do the judging. Agents are subjective. But that subjectivity is also supported by years of experience, publishing know-how, an ability to identify market trends, and direct access to the statistics and insiders related to those trends.

Other writers do not have any of those things (unless they are dual agent-writer magical unicorn presidents). It is purely subjective. And it's that pure and raw subjectivity that presents the danger.

So, if you're thinking of doing Twitter pitch contests or have been doing them: you need more than thick skin. 
You need a resolution of heart and a rock-solid belief in yourself and your dreams. You need objectivity. They're a means to an end. They're some writers ways of trying to give back to the community. They are taking precious free-time away from their schedules to give someone a chance, that extra 1UP. Their intention is not to reject you. They don't mean to hurt you.

That doesn't mean you won't/can't feel rejected and hurt. Especially when they're tweeting hints or play-fighting over an entry, or drooling over one, and you hope that they're talking about yours and then you find out that they weren't. In my opinion, it's a very cruel game to play. It can feel like many of them were never in our shoes to begin with. But they were. And remind yourself: they have the best of intentions and it is NOT personal.

But it will still hurt much more to be rejected by a fellow writer than an agent.
Trust me.

So be prepared for that. Or if you're going through that hurt now, know you're not alone. You'll get over it, you'll (against your best interests) submit to another one, you'll keep taking that chance. Because there are a thousand different ways to become published.
And not taking advantage of every single one of them is only going to work against you. But at the end of the day, millions of authors got where they are by querying the old-fashioned way. Millions will continue to do so. Twitter contests are not the be all, end all of your writerly career.

Again, take solace in the fact that thousands of other people feel that same hurt and are battling the same doubt demons you are.

Stick with those people. Build each other up, and keep pushing forward. Be genuinely happy for them if they find themselves further along their path to becoming published than you are. Keep reminding yourself to be objective, that this is all subjective, and trust that you're already on a path of your own.

Also, read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Seriously. No, really. Go now. It has all the answers. Here's a quote (read it, then go get the book, GO!):





ADDENDUM:

In my quick defense of writers feeling discouraged and hopeless in the aftermath of a variety of different Twitter pitch contests held over the past few months, I failed to clarify (though I truly thought it was clear) that the point of this post was not to bash the authors giving up their time to run these contests, or to make light of the fountains of effort they put in to giving thoughtful and constructive feedback (seriously, what would that accomplish?? Especially as I'm in the final round of a wonderful one myself and every author involved has been an absolute legend. And I was in another contest where I met my literal "soul" sister, who mentored me with all her heart). 

It was to offer an angle of objectivity with which to approach being rejected by your peers and to bring some awareness to the fact that not all Twitter Contests are created equal. I hashtagged like a dumb dumb and unfortunately this post was taken as a personal attack on a specific Twitter contest.

Before entering a Twitter pitch contest, check for three things:
1. That the people involved are tried and true advocates for their fellow writers. That they've earned the opportunity to pass judgement on your work and are not participating in the contest just for follows and/or promotional reasons (either for their book or their own editing services, etc). Contests should ideally be run by agented or published authors, though if you yourself admire the writer-judge's own writing (agented, published, or not), they will likely have advice you'd want to heed!

2. That you check the organization of the contest to be sure that it is legitimate and that you are not wasting your time. Up-to-date blog posts, schedules, and a healthy amount of tweet enthusiasm during on AND off season are good starters to be sure of this. 

3. That they give feedback. The contests that do this are ones with every writer's best interest at heart. They want to help you grow. They want to help you whip your MS into shape! In the face of cold-querying, where feedback is a rarity, contests that make up for that lack of advice are a blessing. If they don't give feedback, make sure you're okay with never knowing specifically why you weren't chosen. 

Contests that I've found are beneficial to submit to:

#PitchWars
#SonofaPitch
#P2P16
#PitchSlam (just don't hashtag it in ambiguous blog posts, I've learned my lesson!)
#QueryKombat

and I'm sure others that I've just not personally entered.
And I hope it's clear in the post that I did not point the finger at any specific contests, but I did hashtag specific ones on Twitter to reach out to the writers most recently rejected who I felt like could use this post the most (that was maybe not the most sensible application of hastags, but I admit above and reiterate here, I am a Twitter noob).

I hope people can see my true intentions in the original post. I really do regret not paying closer attention to some of my word choices and being more sensitive to all sides of a pitch contest (and especially for not clarifying).

But I do hope that, in the future, if you disagree with someone, you will open up a dialogue about it. We're all entitled to our own opinions and it's in all our best interests to make a disagreement into a conversation that everyone can learn from--to better understand all sides and keep from jumping to conclusions or assumptions, rather than a Twitter attack in front of an entire community.

Again, if I didn't make it clear enough in the original post: the authors that dedicate their time to these contests are AMAZING. They don't owe you feedback and if they give it to you, be eternally grateful, because it absolutely took them a lot of time to do it. Time and effort they could've used on their own writing.
BUT DO be wary of the emotional effects being rejected by your peers can have AND of the Twitter contests you DO enter. Don't go submitting all willy-nilly to every contest you can find created by any Dick, Tom, and Harry with a Twitter account. 

Do your research. Be prepared for feels. And find support from your fellow writers.



                                   

8 comments:

  1. You really just cut right to the center of it all. Great post. <3

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    1. To clarify... the point of it hurting more to be rejected by your peers versus agents in the business of publishing... cut right to the center. Being rejected by a peer does hurt worse than being rejected by an agent, whether the writer is agented, highly experienced, or neither.

      I don't think anybody disrespects the generous time and effort that writers put in to support other writers. I'm not sure how this post was taken as an attack, because it wasn't. This post could be a discussion starter about an aspect of the -- amazing, supportive -- Twitter writing community that seems to be developing. It's nobody's fault and nobody is a villain.

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  3. Your first word is misspelled. Bare = naked. Bear = carry on with me.

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    1. And I suppose that should have been everyone's first hint that I am neither a good proof-reader, that my opinion is not worth much, nor am I a good checker for sensitivity!

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  4. I was a critiquer, ms chooser/(judge?) on a Twitter contest. I gave lots of time to it. I enjoyed it completely. This is your blog, your space to voice your opinions. Sometimes we let our opinions loose and someone gets upset. To add my voice here, I am okay with what you said. I am okay with you getting caught up in your emotions and saying what you felt you needed to. You're human. So am I. We're all trying to be better.

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  5. I'm not involved with this event either as contestant or judge, but I saw the link and wanted to make a couple of comments.

    First, I think it's incredibly important that writers at all levels of this crazy publishing business share their ups and downs, joys and frustrations. Sometimes writers think they are the only ones feeling frustration, anger, and all the other dark emotions. To an extent that's something we can blame on writers ourselves, because we only want to publicly discuss the good things. So I applaud you for saying, I am angry and I want to talk about it.

    That being said, I have been publishing for over 15 years, with some level of success, and wow, have I seen some crazy changes in the industry. E-books, self-publishing, social media--for the most part, none of that existed, when I started out. But the one thing that has been there is writers trying to help each other out. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don't. But I have learned more from other writers than I have learned from all of my editors and agents combined. Let me repeat, I have had some of the best editors in the industry at publishers like Harper and Shadow Mountain. My agent, Michael Bourret, is a rock star. But I have learned more from other writers.

    The people in the trenches have to stick together and work together. I learned by going to classes and reading blogs, and now I share what I have learned by teaching classes and writing blogs. Almost all of the people who put on contests like this or teach classes are doing it on their own time and getting little or no reimbursement. They do it because they love writing and they want to help other writers. The same reason, I believe, why you write this blog.

    My point is that, if you are frustrated by some aspects of the process, ask yourself what you can do to help make it better. Ask questions, give feedback, volunteer to help. Don't stop writing about your experiences and feelings, don't stop ranting. That helps too. Just try not to attack the people who are fighting the good fight with you.

    And don't worry about the misspelling thing. I still rarely complete a blog, power point stack, or even FB post with spelling something wrong. And my manuscripts are a bloodbath of red ink when they come back from the editor. :)

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    1. I've deleted my comment in favor of seconding this one instead. Well said. <3

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