Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Joes and Pros

The Mussel Gatherers,
Daniel Ridgway Knight (1839-1924)
oil on panel.

After agent Nathan Bransford's Essential First Page Challenge, a writer, who claimed to be a NY published pro, seemed outraged and somewhat miffed that his(her?) entry, being clearly superior (QED), did not sweep the board.

Now, after a couple of installments of the first-100-words contest held by the ladies at BookEnds LLC, a poster grumped that they thought the contest was open only to amateurs --

the clear collorary being that it was unfair/unethical for pros ( ie. already published writers with real books out there) to submit in competition with the unwashed and unannointed, and/or that pros should self-censor.

I believe the ladies responded by pointing out that pros might be between agents, changing genres, etc.

From an agent's point of view the pro-joe status of a submission to a contest must be largely irrelevant, the basic skill stuff being equal, a choice of winner(s) would depend on what strikes their fancy on that particular day.

Of course, they might recognize a name or google their top picks. Pubbed credits ( the QED) might then influence their final choices -- but that applies a significance/importance to the various contests which sounds more like writterly transference of a have-not than the mind-set of very busy agents.

I find these undercurrents, assumptions and unwritten rules quite fascinating.

What do you think of it all?


StarvingWriteNow said...

OOOHH!!! Behold my unwashed and unanointed-ness! I like that phrase, Bernita. I may have to add it to my blog title somehow.

I think that people who bitch about a public contest (read: open to ALL), or who think their writing is sooo superior that it "should" be the winner or whatever are spending WAY too much time on/with/around themselves. To which I, the unanointed goddess divine, say: Grow the F up.

Wow, I feel so compelled to blog about this. I think I will!

PS: my word verification this morning is SAPBILL. That sounds like some weird bird mutation.

Josephine Damian said...

Bernita, I did not see that particular stink over Nathan's contest choice, but I did see the sour grapes over Mark Terry being a BookEnds winner.

I also noticed griping over other choices who were not necessarily already published. Egocentricity is alive and well, not to mention petty jealousy. There will always be sore losers who will find something to complain about in a contest (as a current short story contest judge, I'm an expert on how contestants gripe). If it's not the published/agented issue, it would be something else.

And those people complaining about Mark just don't get that agented and published doesn't always mean happily agented and published. And getting your name out there for any positive reason is always a boon to any writer.

bunnygirl said...

Being published in one place doesn't mean that forever after your every submission is all things to everyone, or even any good at all. Even the world's best writers sometimes wrote crap.

Therefore, while I do like to see contests that are limited to amateurs, I don't consider it inherently unfair for the published and unpublished to compete on an equal footing, as long as it's truly equal with no names and creds put before the judge(s) to influence the decision.

Writing is subjective. What I love, you might hate. Anyone who thinks fiction writing can be quantified into right-or-wrong like algebra needs to look for a career or hobby in the sciences, not the arts.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've hearby sworn off contests because I find so little value in them for the time and angst put forth. Better to submit to a place that will cause real progress toward the ultimate goal: being published.

From an agent's point of view the pro-joe status of a submission to a contest must be largely irrelevant

Honestly, I think from an agent's POV, pro-joe status may not mean much to taking on clients. Of course someone with a nice list of pubs is handy, but most of the folks looking for agents are newbies. However, when it comes down to it, we all end up in the same editor's pile, whether we have ten books to our name or none. Everyone's competing against everyone, so the pros and newbies had all just better get used to it.

Bernita said...

Right, WriteNow, unless otherwise specified, open to all means just that.
So where's the bitch?
Genetta Low's Greek chorus of "Oh Noes?"

I forgot to mention, Josephine, that several of the chosen entries were by "anonymous," so any selection by name excuse goes out the window.
I imagine the envious would sing a different song, if their work were chosen.

"needs to look for a career or hobby in the sciences, not the arts."
Right on, Bunny!

"we all end up in the same editor's pile..."
Some don't seen to realize that, SS.
Unless I have something already done that fits, I've pretty well sworn off them too.

Charles Gramlich said...

There's a pretty fine line between pros and joes in writing. There are plenty of unpublished writers whose prose itself is superior to that of professionally published writers. But it's not just quality of prose, there are all kinds of elements that go into being published as oppossed to wanting to be published. One of these things is luck, of course, and another is that the people who buy books and stories are just as idiosyncratic as any other human. To gripe about it is fairly useless and is really to gripe about the fact that humans have free will. The complainers just need to enter another contest and keep pushing.

December/Stacia said...

See, I'm torn on this. On the one hand I agree it's just unsportsmanlike to complain about that stuff. And yes, there are people with pub credits out there (like, ahem, me) still looking for an agent, who might enter a contest like that.

On the other hand, I don't enter contests as a rule. Mainly because, as has been pointed out, I can enter the contest (as it were) simply by sending a query, so why bother? But also because I just feel like I shouldn't. It's why I don't enter contests for book giveaways either.

Billy said...

To use a cliche, "what Charles said." I think he's got it right. It's a strange world. Write and move on. It's not the end of the world.

Robyn said...

It's human to have a short jolt of "they chose THAT over mine?!?" But hopefully I'm smart enough to read the freaking rules before I enter the contest if I don't want to complete against the pubbed, and that I'd be adult enough to be a good loser. Plenty of pubbed authors have never entered, much less won, a contest. Instead of thinking that a contest win is a ticket to the Promised Land, these competitions should be for fun and a little bit of feedback.

BernardL said...

The tougher the competition, the better. Where's the vaunted writer's ego. Bring it on. :)

Dave F. said...

None of these "contests" are judged objectively. Nathan B and Bookends only say that they will pick the winners and (like other have said) the "winner" is subjective and based on real, human feelings.
Complaining is like saying that my taste in anything must be your taste, too. And of course, we know that isn't true.

It's instructive to learn what agents and editors find attractive and appealing. It's also instructive to compare your opening with those that won. But that's all it is. I think that saying "I lost" is a little bit immature.

spyscribbler said...

I'm generally not wise enough to know the unwritten rules in a situation.

I think the contest is fabulous, but ... um ... might they be over-inflating the importance of the contest? It's just a contest.

All you can do is use it to push yourself to do your best, or learn from it, or ... even, just do it on a lark, for fun.

The result is so subjective, and the competition so close, it's really a coin toss. A good percentage of the entries are all excellent.

And being published is not the same as being established. It's not like you have a job, just because you're published. You can't ever stop, not even the ones at the top can stop.

raine said...

I'll bet Nathan has serious regrets about that contest now, lol.

Unless the contest specifically SAID "open only to amateurs", or the contest offered preferential treatment to those already blessed by the publishing gods, I'm afraid I don't see the point of the griping. Shouldn't the winners be chosen on the quality of the writing, not their status in the publishing field? And isn't that all very subjective anyway?

Bernita said...

Charles, I suspect a lot of people don't realize how often luck and timing are deciding factors.

December, I suspect that part of the "prize" is perceived as being read by more than one agent/editor, the hope of a drive-by in the industry.

Right, Billy, it's not the Last Chance Saloon.

"a short jolt of "they chose THAT over mine?!?"
Sadly, Robyn, that reaction has never been possible anytime I've entered one of those things.

I gather, Bernard, that this sniping is a natural part of bringing it on.

"It's instructive to learn what agents and editors find attractive and appealing. It's also instructive to compare your opening with those that won."
Exactly, Dave! Applies whether you've entered or not.

I suspect that may be part of it, Natasha, an over inflation of expectations.
By the time I discover and learn any of the "unwritten rules," they've usually changed them!

Raine, whether or not, Nathan has regrets probably depends on his basic purpose for holding the contest.
Certainly, we're warned time and time again, and frequently, that agents/editors have different tastes and buttons.

The Anti-Wife said...

Sour grapes! Babies! Cheese with that whine! All those bad cliches come to mind when I read this.

Angie said...

Oh, good grief. [facepalm] That brings up a number of thoughts.

1) I'm glad I've been avoiding those contests. :P

2) Some people apparently aren't as good as they think they are, and hearing the news has triggered a hissy-fit.

3) Some people seem to think they should be able to rules-lawyer their way from a loss to a win.

4) If I were an editor or agent, I'd strongly consider noting down the throwers of the hissy-fits on my Don't Want To Work With These Asshats list, in case they should ever submit anything to me. I mean, seriously, are these folks giving any thought at all to how they're presenting themselves in a gathering of a chunk of the industry they either belong to or want to belong to?

5) Dude, it's just a contest. The prize is usually something like, having a pro agent look over your manuscript. That's really cool and all, but if your book is any good, you'll have pro agents asking to look it over anyway, and if it's not quite there then having some agent read it because they promised they would as part of a contest prize isn't going to help you. Chill out!

6) Some unpublished wannabe who doesn't think it's fair that they have to compete with published writers is going to be really shocked when they start submitting and discover that they're [gasp!] competing with published writers. Get used to it, kids. [eyeroll]

7) I'm glad I've been avoiding those contests. :P


BernardL said...

I think it's funny, Bernita. Do writers think when by some miracle their novel reaches the bookshelves the competition ends. If they're lucky, they'll be exposed next to a Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Any writer wanting the general public to buy their book better have a bring it on outlook. Contests are neat little previews of the real world unpublished authors hope to join. We should be hoping for more competition not less. :)

Scott from Oregon said...

Well, it was in regard to an ancient trade, but a favorite saying I picked up in New Zealand was "A pro is nice, but there ain't nuthin' better than an enthusiastic amatuer."

I think the diffence between the two CAN BE mostly financial.

Gabriele C. said...

Some people should remain in kindergarten for the rest of their lives. :)

Ello said...

I agree, I find human foibles incredibly fascinating, as long as it doesn't suck me in, I'm happy! But in life, there are always whiners and those who love to scream "It's not fair." From a distance I can laugh at them, dissect them, wonder at their ridiculousness. But when I have to deal with them in real life, they become truly tiresome!

Bernita said...

Yup, AW. Heat/kitchen, etc.

"Dude, it's just a contest"
Right,Angie and any bragging rights don't amount to much for long.

Bernard, I think their logic stopps operating the minute "contest' lights up in their minds.

Scott, in this business, there's an even chance that it's the amateur forking the money.

And every endeavour has its kindergarten, Gabriele!

So true, Ello.Very frustrating.
Such people are not amenable to adjustment in twenty-five words or less.

Chumplet said...

I use these little contests as learning tools. I don't expect to win and I don't feel a twinge of green envy when I read the winning entries. I remix my ingredients and adjust the spices as necessary.

Yes, I'm pubbed, but I still have a wide open road ahead of me, and an agent would really come in handy!

I think the 'pros' who think they're above the unwashed should get over themselves.

cyn said...

save the dra-ma for your mama!!

Bernita said...

"learning tools"
Their chief value as far as I'm concerned, Sandra.

Cyn, were she still alive, I know what my mama would say!

bookfraud said...

i really have no truck with contests, especially those online that attract millions of entrants. how can one possibly pick something that's "best," professional or amateur? someone who complains that an open admission contest either is unfair because of who enters or that they didn't win shouldn't be entering contests in the first place. they should be playing basketball or training for a marathon -- things that can have an objective winner, and have competitions for joes and pros both.

i love "pros versus joes." one of my (many) guilty pleasures.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Oh dear, I didn't know all this fuss was swirling about.
I'm sure not complaining especially since Jessica at Bookends LLC chose my entry to the Mystery genre as one of her top five.
It seems so petty to distinguish between pubbed or not. I imagine these competitions were created without any ulterior motives apart from finding good writing, which could lead to new clients for the agents and a great opportunity for all writers. I don't understand the bitching. Get a life!!

Bernita said...

Book, after basic skill is assessed,I suppose they pick the usual way - by taste.

Maybe I'm slow, Suzanne,and did not notice before, but I have the impression there's been more grumping lately.
Perhaps all the talk of a publishing squeeze makes people more inclined to elbow and jostle for position.

SzélsőFa said...

If the borad of juries can decide on who to give th epize at a contest, then I'd say contests should be open for professionals and amateurs alike.
A professional can just as well write crap and a no-name first writer can overwhelm everyone.

It's not the names, history, and achievements that should race, but writing.

Jennifer said...

I thought it was all in good fun and a learning experience - poor, naive me!
I have to admit I tend to take sour grapes for what they are - (Love the whine analogy, lol)

Well, off to see what all the fuss is about. I haven't been paying attention!

Bernita said...

"A professional can just as well write crap and a no-name first writer can overwhelm everyone."
Exactly, Szelsofa, depending on the day.

"I thought it was all in good fun and a learning experience"
- which it was for most of us, Jennifer.
Ignore the tiny tantrums.

Lana Gramlich said...

I think I can smell low tide oozing from that painting.

Lisa said...

I've never felt the urge to enter one of these. For me, writing and contest just aren't two words that work well together, but the skirmishes are amusing from the sidelines.

Bernita said...

Yes, Lana, and feel the mud flat under one's feet.

Lisa, the word "contest" itself seems to rouse certain instincts and results.

Steve Malley said...

Didja know Graham Greene used to enter 'write like Graham Greene' contests?

Best he ever placed was third!

Angie said...

Steve -- Oh ROFL! That's hilarious. :D


Bernita said...

Steve, that's a hoot!
There ya go.

Travis Erwin said...

I say may the best, most engaging writer win.