Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Yog's Law

How do you feel about the recent practice of "query contest hosts" requesting donations with entries? To me, it feels like it is coming dangerously close to a pay-to-play scenario. Is it right for hosts to profit off of these contests, when the agents participating are the ones adding value? The following is from the Query Kombat website:

Contests are very time-consuming, and in order to continue hosting each year, we’re asking contestants to give a $5-$10 donation when making their entries. Asking for donations is one way to ensure we’re able to give you the time needed to carefully consider every entry. Chosen Kontestants receive feedback from up to 27 agented/published writers on their query and first page, plus the ability to query agents they otherwise may not have connected with. Some agents even read requested contest entries before the rest of the slush pile! All Kontestants, chosen are not, receive free slush tips from the hosts and the camaraderie that develops from entering contests together. Many writers find lifelong critique partners and good friends from these contests (I did).


Donating this year is strictly voluntary. Giving a donation does not increase your chances of being picked. Giving less than $5 or more than $10 will also have no impact on your chances. Donating will not affect how many rounds a person makes it through if chosen. People who are not able to donate will not be disqualified.

Maybe it's because I'm a volunteer that this rubs me the wrong way. I understand that hours can add up when you're coordinating hosting an event, I've planned many myself. But while I might ask for donations to Girl Guides of Canada or the Red Cross, I would never ask someone to compensate me for my time.

And these hosts already benefit in other ways. There's networking, increased traffic to their websites, and name recognition.

What are your feelings on query contest hosts soliciting donations?
Pretty simple; it violates Yog's Law which is money flows TOWARD the writer.

I also note with some acerbity that whoever wrote that explanation really doesn't know how to pitch for shit.

Anyone who think an effective pitch is "send money, but it won't get you anything", or worse "send money cause it's helpful to me but not beneficial to you" is delusional.

These nice, well-intentioned people are not flim-flam artists (versus for example these lovely folks),
they're just trying to monetize something they like to do. It certainly isn't illegal or a scam. It's not even shady. They're upfront about the money and who gets it and who pays it.


That said: money should flow toward the writer. That's the best rule of thumb to remember when considering anything of this sort.


Lennon Faris asked in the comment column

Yog bothers me. It feels inconsistent. I'm not clever enough to be a Devil's advocate, but I'm genuinely confuzzled.

People almost always have to pay money for a service they want (barring Query Shark in which you pay with blood). I can see why you would never pay someone to be an agent ("agent") for your novel, but a service is a service. Writers pay for conferences, pitch time at conferences, and critiques all the time. If you use your brains and reviews, you can generally spot a scam. This isn't the initial premise of the post, but I would consider a good critique money well spent.

So what's up, Yog??


This is a good question. The difference here is you are not paying for a service. What you get  depends entirely on whether you're chosen (Chosen Kontestants). The organizers say the money doesn't affect that, and I believe them, but it still means you're sending money to people for an unspecified result.

I'm not saying don't do this.
I'm saying that when you see something like this, remember that money should flow TOWARD the writer, and evaluate the merits of an offer based on that. In this same vein are submission fees for magazines or journals, contest entry fees, prize entry fees etc.

It might also help you to know that they can't set up a pay for query critique service with agents if the agents are members of AAR. The AAR Canon of Ethics is VERY clear on that (it's #8 on the list)


35 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"...money should flow toward the writer."

I always thought that 'stuff' ran downhill.
Very encouraging.

Em Davey said...

I'm anxious just reading this. I can imagine desperate writers dipping into grocery money for this kind of hoo-hah (oh, and spending way too much time wondering if two bucks more might up their odds, even if the organizers have promised it won't). This whole "pitch" stains the good volunteers in the writing community, hmmm.

kathy joyce said...

I like Yog.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Go Yog. Great rule of thumb.

Lennon Faris said...

Yog bothers me. It feels inconsistent. I'm not clever enough to be a Devil's advocate, but I'm genuinely confuzzled.

People almost always have to pay money for a service they want (barring Query Shark in which you pay with blood). I can see why you would never pay someone to be an agent ("agent") for your novel, but a service is a service. Writers pay for conferences, pitch time at conferences, and critiques all the time. If you use your brains and reviews, you can generally spot a scam. This isn't the initial premise of the post, but I would consider a good critique money well spent.

So what's up, Yog??

Lennon Faris said...

And OT - for anyone who hasn't read through it, Query Shark is incredible. I am copy-pasting bits into a Word Doc just for laughs (and info) later.

Colin Smith said...

"Yog"? Have I missed a cultural reference... AGAIN? Or am I being slow this morning? Somebody please explain to this poor, uncultured, Brit-born, know-nuthin. :)

Lennon: The difference between donating toward a contest and paying for a pitch session is guaranteed result. With the contest, you give money, but you have no assurance you'll get anything out of it. With a pitch session, you pay to have time with an agent, and you get time with an agent.

Slightly OT Question: Do contest winnings fall within the scope of an agent's 15%? If you were mad enough to sign me, Janet, and my best selling novel won the Nobel Prize for Literature, would you claim 15% of my winnings? Frankly, I wouldn't object since I'm sure you would have played a large part in my book's success. But I'm curious to know. :)

kathy joyce said...

Colin, there's a link to Yog in the first paragraph of JR's response. Basically, $$ should flow to the writer. Excellent question about the Nobel Prize. Given the talent pool here, it's highly germane.

DLM said...

Colin, I'm with ya - not a clue on the Yog thing. And too tired to Google it.

Found a quote that made me think of this wonderful community: "When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt." --Henry J. Kaiser (I'm too tired to Google him, too, unfortunately, but I like the idea. Not least as Janet is masterful in this.)

Good question on the winnnings, I'll be interested to see Milady's response.

Colin Smith said...

Kathy: Arg! I see it now. The link color is too close to the text color for this early in the morning... There was discussion about that last week, wasn't there? Thanks for pointing it out Kathy. I'll look harder next time. :)

Janet Reid said...

Lennon asked a good question here so I updated the post to answer it.

As for links: I made them red but then someone who was color blind couldn't see it at all so went back to blue.

Colin Smith said...

Fair dos, Janet. I just have to not be so lazy and trail my mouse over the text before I say anything in future. :)

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks for the advice and the links to more good stuff, Janet. As for the "lovely folks" from the second link, if they found "send" to be the same as "submit," I suppose they might also have taken an "all things being relative," galaxy-wide perspective and found that Maryland is practically right on top of NYC. Which means they are neighbors. So many ways people can stretch the truth. Thanks for looking out for us.

Colin Smith said...

Yeah, I know I'm violating the three-post rule, but I had to give a shout out to Em Davey. Hello! Are you new to the comments? If you are, welcome!! Lovely to have you among us. :)

Okay, I'll quit with my violatin' now. At least I kept it to under 100. ;)

DLM said...

Lennon and Janet, thank you. This post just got even more useful.

The 2010 post and discussion was a good reminder as well. And an interesting look at attitudes toward independent publishing, only seven years back.

Now catching up on all the juicy Query Sharkery I've been missing recently. The Queen has been BUSY!

Colin Smith said...

Poo--I knew there was something else. I mentioned this yesterday, but it was late in the day for most commenters, so I'll say it again:

If you want to be included on the List of Blog Readers and Their Blogs, just drop me an email (my address is linked in my Blogger profile). This list is a great way to get to know fellow commenters, and makes for a useful distraction when you hit the 20K mark in your WiP. ;)

Also, as you wade through the blog archives, please point out to me any articles you think deserve to be immortalized in the Treasure Chest. I'd love to add them.

Okay, I'll stop being a naughty boy now... :D

Elissa M said...

I think what bothers me most about this is these folks will still get plenty of entries, thus giving incentive to others to also start charging for a "chance" to have one's query seen by an agent.

I'd rather just email queries directly to agents and get my form rejections for free.

Jen said...

"I also note with some acerbity that whoever wrote that explanation really doesn't know how to pitch for shit."

LOL. Janet, thank you for this line. It made my morning, you have no idea...

Mister Furkles said...

...the ability to query agents they otherwise may not have connected with.

Is this mendacious or what? Seems to me a writer has the ability to query agents regardless of having connected with them prior to sending a query.

Most of the contributors to the blog write better than these contest organizers. And, fellow contributors, you are simply offering your comments without the benefit of reviewing the day after writing them.

Sherry Howard said...

"It might also help you to know that they can't set up a pay for query critique service with agents if the agents are members of AAR. The AAR Canon of Ethics is VERY clear on that (it's #8 on the list)"

There are a number of endeavors going on in the writing communities involving payment to agents that I've wondered about relative to payment for services, such as query and first pages critiques or career consults. A few agents have complete businesses running that revolve around these things. I don't begrudge anybody the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, but the ethics seem particularly fuzzy around some of these. Even major unnamed companies will say, SupremeAgent reserves the right to request pages, always leaving the hope that buying the service will put agent eyes on your lovely work.

Getting a dream agent seems such an uphill road that most writers are vulnerable to anything that unlocks a door, including paying even a hefty charge.

Lennon Faris said...

Thanks, Janet!

BJ Muntain said...

Interesting. I've never seen this, and I've seen a lot.

It's not unusual to charge fees to enter contests, but I will rarely enter a contest that charges fees. And I would definitely never enter a query contest that charges fees.

This line caught my attention: "Some agents even read requested contest entries before the rest of the slush pile!"

What the heck does that mean? Does that mean that these are winding up in some agents' slush anyway? Then what's the use of the contest?

As for a way to collect money to run the contests, they should crowdsource it, rather than ask contestants to pay (or not). Despite all their assurances, there will always be that doubt in the minds of those who don't get an agent out of this.

Casey Karp said...

BJ, I had the same reaction to that line about the slush pile.

Considering how much trouble some agents seem to have with the whole concept of clearing the pile, I'd have a real problem entering any contest--regardless of whether there's a payment involved--if it's not absolutely 100% guaranteed that the contest entries are separate from the slush piles.

I mean, if I enter a contest, I certainly don't expect to wait four months for a Norman. I can do that without the contest!

Amy Schaefer said...

Colin, what the commission applies to is covered in the agency agreement. Mine specifically excludes grants, prizes and speaking fees. I'm not sure all agreements specify exclusions - it is more "the agent is entitled to a commission of x% for domestic sales, y% of subsidiary sales, z% of foreign sales" and so on.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

It seems for some of these contests, the main benefit is that you know when you'll hear back by.

The Sleepy One said...

The biggest different, IMO, between this and paying for a critique at the conference is that at a conference, you know exactly what you'll get. There are no "chosen" writers. You're signing up for all of the usual conference programming and meals, plus an optional (paid) critique of a specific number of pages. It's easy to look up who is organizing the conference and they tend to be not-for-profit writing organizations.

Conferences don't really promise anything other than if you come to learn, the programming should be insightful (and your mileage will vary depending on the conference and if it's a good fit for you--but there should a few nuggets of wisdom regardless). No "oh you might get feedback from a bunch people and maybe even a request for an agent who will read you first!"

Julie Weathers said...

I've had my head buried in the Rain Crow and I'm trying to avoid my verbosity anyway, but this strikes a nerve. I like the people who started these contests, but when they started asking for donations, I went sour. I won't enter any more.

To be clear, they aren't paying the agents. That's my understanding anyway. What they are saying is they spend a lot of time setting up these contests, so they'd like to be compensated for their time. Well, I think all the ones involved are authors. They have garnered quite a loyal following through these contests. This is pretty good advertising.

Many of the writers who volunteer to be mentors are getting some pretty valuable publicity by reading these queries. They sift through them and then send the ones they deem the best on to the agents.

If the hosts are finding this too time-consuming they should either do fewer contests or quietly set up a donation button on the web page.

I'm not paying to enter a cattle call contest.



AJ Blythe said...

Janet, I have a question about payments.

At conference this year there are a limited number of manuscript assessments available. The cost is $150 (so not cheap) and for that the editor or agent will read the first 15 pages of your submission (minimum 3 chaps) and spend 15 mins 1-on-1 with you to discuss. It's not clear where that money is going (ie to the organisation, the editor/agent or both). Alternatively you can pitch for free.

Is this normal for this sort of thing? Would payment (regardless of where the money lands) for a manuscript assessment violate AAR ethics? Interested in your take.

I remember Yog's Law from your earlier post and it has always stuck with me. I knew a writer who had submitted a ms to a "publisher" who thought it had great potential and offered to "critique" the ms for a fee... and naturally offered publishing packages to follow. No matter how much I tried to explain it was vanity publishing and she would be out of pocket she wouldn't listen. She felt I had sour grapes because I hadn't been offered a publishing deal and she had. Needless to say she spent a fortune and didn't sell a book. She disappeared from writing circles after that.

JEN Garrett said...

So if it's a gamble (i.e. you may not get anything for your money), be well aware of the risk before you pay.

It's that simple. Paying for critiques, editing, pitch opportunities, and conferences are NOT gambles. You will get a service for your money. But raffles, paid contests, and 'reader fees' are gambles. Some are worth the money - most are not.

If you truly just want to donate to a cause without expectation of reward, then gamble away!

Cheyenne said...

All Kontestants, chosen are not, receive free slush tips from the hosts and the camaraderie that develops from entering contests together.

Sooo ... I'd be paying for camaraderie? ;)

Elissa M, I shouldn't laugh but it's how I feel with contests, too ("I'd rather just email queries directly to agents and get my form rejections for free."). The thing is, many contest organisers gather success stories of entrants that scored agents afterwards, giving me the sense I'm truly missing out on a superior method of grabbing agents' attention. But from previous online contests I've entered, none have resulted in a full request that garnered more than a Norman (I still don't know what this stands for, but I know what it means!) or a form rejection with zero applicable feedback. Thus, slushpile is just as good, I suppose?

AJ Blythe said...

Cheyenne, a NORMAN stands for "no reply means a no"

Cheyenne said...

Aha! Thank you :) I've been silently wondering for ages.

BJ Muntain said...

AJ: Check the Australian equivalent of the AAR, the Australian Literary Agents' Association. It says:
4. No reading fee shall be charged to clients.
5. A one-off fee for specific advice (e.g. on a contract) may be charged on a per-hour basis. No such fee shall be charged without the client’s prior consent in writing.
10. No member may accept non-disclosed profit in connection with any transaction.

#10 means, I believe, if you pay for this up front, with your conference fee, it is most likely going to go to the conference, not the agent.

AJ Blythe said...

That makes sense. Thanks, BJ.

BJ Muntain said...

Always welcome, AJ. :)