I was a 2016 contestant in Query Kombat (Go, Team #WriteyMcWriterFace!), and I really only entered for one reason: to improve my query. I was thrilled to get into the contest, and after getting knocked out in Round 3, I was even more thrilled with my query. It was tight, to the point, and I had gotten great feedback from people who knew what they were talking about.
But you know what surprised me? A killer query was not the best thing I got out of Query Kombat. Don’t get me wrong, a great query was an amazing benefit. But there were unexpected benefits that I had never imagined, some of which were much more important to my writing career than my query letter.
Number One: It helped me develop a thick skin. I went through three rounds, which meant I got dozens of comments about everything that was wrong with my query and first 250. Most people were encouraging and supportive, but they still told me what I was doing wrong. I needed them to tell me what I was doing wrong. As much as I wanted the feedback, I still had to steel myself up for it every day. Soon I was able to read it, understand it, and apply it. Query Kombat taught me how to embrace critique, and that is an essential part of surviving and thriving in the world of publishing.
Side note (we’ll call it Number One-A): Query Kombat also taught me how to filter critique so I knew what would work for my query and manuscript, and what wouldn’t. Spoiler alert: if you get into Query Kombat, you’re going to get conflicting feedback! Some of it will fit with your vision for your story, and some of it won’t. Sifting through all that feedback and figuring out what resonates (and what doesn’t) is a skill that needs to be practiced. The further you go in the contest, the more practice you’re going to get.
Number Two: The QK Community. If you’re not active on the #QueryKombat hashtag yet, you are missing out. Connecting with a community of writers who are at a similar stage in their careers is truly invaluable. I met some great writing friends just by being active on the hashtag. That’s something you can take advantage of whether you are chosen to be an official Kombatant or not.
This year they’ve made the community even more amazing with the addition of the Query Kombat Forums. You can give and receive feedback on your query and first page, and you can put up ads looking for critique partners and beta readers. If you haven’t taken advantage of the forums yet, you’ll find them here: http://querykombat.boards.net/
Number Three: I learned how to give critique. Every contestant is expected to critique a number of other entries in every round. That meant I analyzed almost two dozen queries and first pages, and I got to see how other people analyzed them as well. I probably learned more about writing a great query from giving critiques than I did from just reading the comments on my own.
Giving critique is another benefit you can take advantage of whether you are an official Kombatant or not. If you don’t get into the contest, don’t disappear. Read the other queries in your genre, analyze them, and analyze the comments on them. This process will help you enormously when it comes time to revise your own work.
Writing contests like Query Kombat are not just about winning a prize at the end. They’re about actively engaging in a community of writers and making each other better. The more you put into the community, the more you’ll get out of it, whether you’re an official contestant or not.
Julia Nobel is a writing coach and middle grade/young adult author. Her childhood obsession with The Babysitters Club turned into a lifelong passion for reading and writing children’s literature. She offers writing masterclasses and courses for writers in all genres, and is a 2017 Pitch Wars Mentor. Her 3-year-old daughter likes to help her write by throwing apple sauce at the keyboard and pressing the escape key.