Monday, 30 September 2013

Dear Crabbit: why no agent contests in the UK?

This question came from Elizabeth for Dear Crabbit:
Agent contests are fantastic things for writers - so why aren't there any in the UK targeted at UK agents?
I've been doing the rounds of them in America. Even if you don't win, the feedback you get and the chance to make contact with other writers is amazing. Only your blog in the UK has ever come close to giving me that same feeling.
In the UK there's Undiscovered Voices which is wonderful and very prestigious. But it doesn't have the same feel of community and rabble rousing as ones done on personal blogs. Brit YA writer Ruth L. Stevens did Christmas in July for the second time this year but those hoping for some UK representation were disappointed. Her critique partner is American (or Canadian?) and all the agents, bar one I think, were from the US.
My only thought is - UNFAIR. I asked one of my Brit critique partners if she'd like to help me (fledgling writer as I am) organise a contest.I do believe I threw out your name (!) as one who might support us. She said - "No I don't want to help you. You must be bonkers.You'd have to have contacts and an agent yourself first." Maybe she's right? I'd like to think not. 
OK, disclosure: I have no experience, even indirectly, of agent contests. I didn't quite know how they worked, though I could guess somewhat. So, I went to look at Christmas in July and immediately had the answer to Elizabeth's question: because it would take a colossal, I mean colossal, amount of time and I cannot imagine how a writer like me could possibly find time. I am in awe of the bloggers who organised it. It would take way, way more time than the pitch pitches and synopsis spotlights I used to do, or any of the competitions I've run.

I'm generous but I'm not stupid! (Not suggesting that the bloggers who did it are stupid, but I would be stupid if I did it.)

But it also raises some other points:
  1. I would not be able to find (nor would I dream of asking) enough agents to give up their time to do this. In the UK, agents are flooded with submissions, can only take on a tiny number of new writers each year and generally find the number the need in the normal way, through their submission process. (I know US agents are also flooded, but perhaps there are so many more of them that one could find enough to make this work?)
  2. I'm not saying none (in the UK) would do it if asked, but I'm quaking at the thought of how many I'd have to approach and how long it would take me to find a way to ask them nicely and explain what I wanted.
  3. The agents here in the UK also go to writing conferences such as the one I was speaking at recently. That is a generous thing to do, as they spend a lot of time helping writers even though most of them won't be signed up, and is another reason why I wouldn't feel able to ask them to participate in an agents' contest. (I know US agents go to conferences, too, but, for whatever reason, UK agents seem not to need to look further than their inbox to find what they are looking for. I actually talked about this to a UK agent last weekend.)
  4. When Elizabeth asked one of her crit partners to consider helping her organise a contest, she was told, "You must be bonkers. You'd have to have contacts and an agent yourself first." Elizabeth's friend is right, in my view - not that she's bonkers (!) but that she'd need to have contacts and probably an agent first. This is at least partly because the agents would need to be convinced of E's ability to run the contest well and to select genuinely worthwhile MSS.
  5. I think the Christmas in July experience (where all bar one of the agents were American) indicates that while this might work in the US it probably would be tougher here. This is partly volume, partly what we're used to. And I just get the impression that UK agents prefer to find their gems in the usual way. They find enough like that and don't have the time or need to get out there in any other way. You know, if it ain't broke, etc. (And this is seeing it from the agents' POV, not the writers', of course.) It might mean they miss something, but that's just life. They have to focus on existing clients and, if they are getting enough new ones via the normal process, why would they do otherwise?
Sorry to dampen your enthusiasm, Elizabeth, but I'm afraid I'm not your woman! I may well do Pitch Pitches and Synopsis Spotlights again, and I'm sure I'll have competitions, but not involving agents. You have got me thinking, though, and I'll see if any bright idea comes to me. But NOT if it is going to take masses of time. I already spend too much time blogging :)

1 comment:

Imran Siddiq said...

I can see how many agents that put a lot of time to talks, festivals, let alone dealing with inundated inboxes/mail would struggle.

I'd love to see one happen, but realistically it's a low a chance.

Occasionally they do offer 1-2-1 meetings as prizes, but it is rare.