I don’t have an agent and recently, writing colleagues have been suggesting that now might be a good time to get one.

But that’s just a small part of why I enter competitions like the online Secret Agent contest which is run regularly at Miss Snark’s  First Victim blog for aspiring authors http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/

On competition day, I wake at 1.45 am to the bleat of my alarm clock and as I sit perfectly poised to press ‘send’ at the exact moment my computer clock ticks over to 2.00am, I have to admit that that my heart races. Will my ambling satellite broadband lift its pace and deliver my entry in time?

But for me, it’s not about the adrenaline rush of competing, or even getting that elusive email advising that my entry has been accepted (although that does bring woops of joy).

It’s all about the process and how it helps me become a better writer.

The Secret Agent contest requires me to submit the first 250 words of my manuscript and this motivates me to hone, pare and shape those 250 words until they are so much more perfect than the rest of the story. When I see the improvement that this close scrutiny makes, it gives me the means and the inspiration to go and apply the same principles to the entire manuscript.

Making every word count on the first page has taught me to apply that same rigorous editing to all of my writing.

Submitting the first 250 words of a novel for public scrutiny is a bit like combing your kid’s hair and washing their ears before presenting them to relatives for the first time.

The Secret Agent competition and others like it are a rehearsal for submitting work to agents and publishers. I look upon it as my practice chance to get it right.

As writers we constantly submit our work and don’t always get feedback. Understandably, publishers and agents just don’t have the time to personally respond to the thousands of submissions they receive.

But feedback is something we crave and that’s why I find contests like Secret Agent so valuable . It’s an opportunity for writers I have not met from all over the world to comment on my entry, providing vital objective feedback, pointing out things that my intimacy with my story precludes me from seeing.

And Secret Agent is not the only one. There are writing festivals all over the country that hold writing competitions of various length and complexity. And some competitions like CYA www.cyaconference.com/ offer detailed judge’s feedback for every contestant. Your local writer’s centre and organisations like SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) will be able to help you out with information about competitions that might suit you.

And some of them offer great prizes including appraisals, pitch sessions and all sorts of opportunities to have your work critiqued by industry experts.

So here’s why I suggest you go in writing contests if you have the chance:

  • They get your work out there in the public eye (and if you’re lucky enough and talented enough, you might be ‘discovered’)
  • They force you to write to guidelines and deadlines
  • Actually entering a contest is an attainable goal
  • They provide feedback from industry professionals
  • They force you to hone your writing skills and edit your work to a high standard that you can then apply to the rest of your manuscript.
  • They are a practice chance to get it right before you submit it for ‘real’. And if you’re lucky enough to pick up an agent or publisher from such a competition, well that’s even better.

I never enter a competition with any expectations of placing or having my work placed. I enter for the chance to ‘experiment’ with my writing, to get my work out there and hone my skills as a writer.

Happy submitting and good luck:-)


P.S. I didn’t win the July Secret Agent contest, but I am one of the entries (number 10 – The Secret Life of Mindy Palmer) that the Secret Agent has requested more of.

I’m very pleased to say that my good writerly friend, Sheryl Gwyther won a Silver Medal for her piece, Singing the Wires (number 40).

I have already taken Secret Agent’s comments into account and spent time revising my story.


  1. Amen, from another SA participant (#21-Fried Liver). My work has improved greatly through these type of contests, and i received a partial request from another SA contest with a different MS.

    Well said!

  2. Hey, excellent article, Dee!

    There is nothing quite like focussing on the first 250 words of your manuscript. It forces you to make every word count – to make sure the story grabs from the very first sentence, and that the reader gets an idea of what the story holds within.

    When I entered the July Secret Agent comp with seconds to spare, I actually messed up my first few lines. Thankfully, the agent, Danielle Chiotti read on and liked my style of writing.

    So yes, do as Dee suggests, enter writing competitions, hone your writing skills, you never know what might be around the corner! Maybe even an invite to send your complete manuscript to a wonderful US literary agent! 🙂
    Good luck and happy writing.

  3. Great advice, Dee. Thanks for posting this on your blog. Getting our work out there is what it’s all about, and competitions are the best way to be recognised. Good luck with your future entries 🙂

  4. Thanks Michelle.

    And congratulations on your story – loved the mutt and the humour – and Secret Agent said she would definitely read more of yours – so good luck with the 20 pages you send her – hope she requests more:-)


  5. Thanks, Karen,

    I have entered SA a couple of times, getting up at 2.00am (it’s 12 noon over there). They have now included a second intake at 9.00am our time, but there have been a few glitches with that so I prefer to enter the 2.00am one and if I miss out then I have another chance at 9.00am:-) I enjoy a challenge:-)


  6. As usual, an inspiring and useful writing tip. Congrats on the agent wanting to see more – that’s half the battle.

    Concidentally, one of the speakers at our North Texas SCBWI meeting last week also suggested contests as a way to get one’s work out, etc. Trouble is, it’s not easy finding ligitimate ones. I know you made some suggestions, but I wish there was a website devoted to such things. Anyone know of any?

  7. Hey Dee

    Another great post.

    From the other side of the competition playing field:
    As someone who runs the CYA Conference writing and illustrating competition , it is always so gratifying to see the success after the competition, see the people who take the advise from the judges on board and run with it – and get their books published.

    As you mentioned, feedback in competitions is important to the aspiring writer, illustrator and published author, and I think if you are going to enter a competition, it makes the entry money worth it if you have the feedback – so that you can learn from it, take what you need from it – and improve.

    Bye 4 now

  8. The CYA competition is great for writers. The feedbacks sheets are very helpful. I entered for the first time last year and won! It blew me away. I entered so that I could get some feedback on my writing. I got more than I bargained for!
    Happy writing
    Pam 🙂

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