As the time for Sun versus Snow gets closer, I thought I'd share some of the behind the scenes planning that goes on two months out. Four+ years of running contests has made the process pretty smooth and taken out most of the kinks. Seems like you'd like an inside peek at the work involved.
The end of November and early December, Sun versus Snow begins to lurk in the back of the hosts' minds. The first thing we do after contacting each other is look at the calendar and agree on dates for submission, when the mentor rounds will happen, and days for the agent round to start. Nothing can happen until the dates are nailed down.
There's a lot to keep in mind when wiggling out the dates. The agent round pulls fewer requests when held on a weekend. Do agents have a big event happening we need to schedule around? The hosts need enough time to read all the submissions and make up their minds before the picks are announced. Too short a time between and hosts start to pull out their hair. We all have different paces on reading slush. Laura, for instance, reads very quickly, while Mike and I are slower. Amy and I are on much the same pace. We all tend to dither when it gets down to our last few spots. You have to plan for that feeling of being torn on so many great entries.
We also need to make sure there is enough time between the picks being announced and the agent round for the mentors to give their final shine without being rushed. Also it turns out that giving a longer mentor work period helps the hosts. If we give plenty of days for revision, entries tend to come back before they are due and hosts don't have to stress about getting the posts all formatted and ready to go. All the entries don't arrive back at the same time, but spread out in a manageable way. The timing of the various contest dates is incredibly important because there is a lot to do between each event. Getting it right is a must.
So, we've checked our schedules and settled on the dates. Before we can announce the contest to the world, we always proceed with caution. We need a few agents signed up before going public. That means a letter of invitation must be created. Truthfully, we've learned to save all our contest correspondence and recycle. There is just so much work to running a contest that we cut corners whenever we can. Using last year's letter with fresh dates and a few tweaks is a great time saver. I don't know about the other hosts, but I keep agent email correspondence saved in a folder so I can use the same chain of communication over and over. I'm more certain the agents will see it if I respond to a former email.
After the letter, we quickly create a Google doc or spreadsheet to log in all the agent names into a giant list. One of the most enjoyable parts of hosting is turning those names green as they say yes and plugging in the agent's email and twitter handle and wish list. Having all that information together makes it much easier to contact the agents in the future and nudge them that it's time! Also the Google doc helps make sure that Amy and I don't over invite the same agent. Contests have gotten so much easier since document sharing came along!
Now once a few of those names turn green on the spreadsheet, it's time to start spreading the word on social media and whipping up the happiness that is another writer contest and reminding people of success stories. For instance, Picture Book Party got it's very first direct book sale! One of the writers from 2015 got an agent directly from the contest and then recently got a very solid sale of the contest PB! Sharon and I were so excited and hope to share the call story soon.
Once the agent invites are out, it's time to start thinking about mentors. Like with agents, we need a good variety. You want mentors who are reliable, have plenty of experience and represent different genres, plus provide diversity. Each contest has different mentor requirements. In Sun versus Snow, Amy and I each invite our own mentors and the mentors are unique to the hostess. Amy's mentors don't help my picks, in other words. We usually pick six or seven experienced writers to give their advice on the picks.
But Query Kombat is totally different. Here we need over thirty people to judge and leave detailed feedback juggled over six rounds and an entire month. It's a scheduling nightmare and that why QK is the big daddy of all our contests! Quite a difference from little Picture Book party which doesn't include mentors. As you can see the work for managing mentors falls somewhere in the middle for Sun versus Snow, but we also have to be extra careful we can rely on the mentors as there are many fewer in this contest.
The mentors get their Google doc as well with their information carefully collected and saved for later use so we can contact them quickly. We also arrange a mentor chat on twitter to happen before the submission. It gives us a chance to spotlight the mentors and do a bit more promotion for them as they do so much for us. It's a great chance to pick the brains of experts in their genres.
Besides all those important steps, the hosts are also creating blog posts to announce the contest, nailing down the submission instructions, creating more email letters of instruction/nudges for agents and mentors, and thinking over any new inventions to add to the contest to make it bigger and better and more useful to the most writers. As the weeks get closer to the start, I'll probably do something every single day for a contest and that doesn't include answering all the questions on social media. (Never be afraid to ask questions. We're happy to help you out, though the blog posts try to cover all the questions we hear most often.) That picks up as the time gets closer as well.
So that's an early look into the planning and work of what goes on before a contest starts. A peek behind the scenes, and where Amy and I will soon be.
As always we want your opinion. What can we do or add to make the contests better? For example, this year I think we'll have a spot for writers to mark on the submission whether an entry is ownvoices. We'd love to see more of those! Also name some agents you'd really like to be on our list. We'll do our best to make that happen, and it's easier for us if we have your input. Put those down in the comments.
And don't forget there is a chat happening today at 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm under #FFchat with some experienced authors, including myself and Laura, ready to answer any query or publishing or writing questions. Hope to see you there!