Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview with Krista Van Dolzer

Today I am interviewing Krista Van Dolzer. She blogs at Mother.Write.(Repeat.) and is represented by Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary. Krista runs the contest "An Agent's Inbox" and was a co-host of the recent "The Writer's Voice" contest as well as "The Writer's Voice" Twitter Pitch Party. My interview with Krista focuses on the contest portion of her blog. I am new to the writing community and find the whole "road to publication" process fascinating (naive right... later I will find it infuriating and mildly depressing, with a litle bit of pulling-my-hair-out thrown in for good measure.) When I stumble across contests like the ones Krista hosts, I just think how cool it would be to land an agent via an on-line blog contest!

And here is the interview!

1. Krista, when did you start blogging and what was your initial purpose/reason?

I started blogging in September of 2009. The main reason I started blogging was because I wanted to connect with other writers. Specifically, I wanted to find a few critique partners to help me hone my manuscripts. I found all that and more:)

2. Why did you decide to start having writing contests? Was this before or after you found your agent?

I hosted my first regular writing contest in June of last year, so almost a full year before I found my agent. (Well, I was already well aware of Kate; she just hadn’t quite decided that she wanted to represent me:) ) I’d been interviewing agents for a while, and I wanted to up the ante. You have to keep blog contest fresh if you want people to keep coming back.

3. Was your blog already popular, and how did you promote the contests?

I’d say my blog was already reasonably popular. Like I mentioned before, I’d already established it as a place to come for agent interviews, so making the jump to contests felt pretty natural.

I promoted the contests the same way I promoted my interviews—by leaving messages on popular writing forums and websites like Absolute Write and QueryTracker. If you host it, they will come.

4. How do you approach/connect with the agents you wish to include in the contests?

I ask nicely:)

I think a lot of writers have this idea that agents are crazy-busy people who have no time for the little folk, but I’ve found that most agents, though crazy-busy, still want to connect with and help writers. Of course, some agents have to say no because they don’t have the time or inclination to judge contests, but you’d be surprised at how many say yes. (Hint: the vast majority.)

5. Have you ever run into any problems or disgruntled contestants, and how do you handle this?

I’m racking my brains, trying to remember if I’ve ever had any problems with “An Agent’s Inbox,” the monthly contest I host with revolving agents, but to be honest, nothing comes to mind. I’m sure I’ve disgruntled people, but they’ve been gracious enough to keep their disgruntlement to themselves:)

We did have a few problems with various elements of “The Writer’s Voice,” but then, most things look messier from the inside than the out. And everything turned out fine, so all’s well that ends well.

6. Are there any liability issues when running contests?

Gosh, I hope not.

7. How fast do the 20 slots fill up? I imagine it would depend on the agent and the genres the agent represents. "The Writer's Voice" seemed to fill up immediately but the "An Agent's Inbox" contests have slots still open hours later?

The slots for “An Agent’s Inbox” fill up at varying speeds. Sometimes they fill up within an hour or two, but sometimes it takes a day. And like you guessed, it does depend on the genres/categories The Agent represents. The rounds involving agents who represent YA and MG always fill up fastest.

8. Is it easier to run a contest on your own, or with a group of other bloggers as in the current “The Writer’s Voice” contest?

Great question, and the answer is…it depends. Some aspects of hosting contests are easier on my own; some are easier with a group. I really appreciated bouncing ideas off of the other coaches in “The Writer’s Voice,” and I was glad I could rely on their expertise in certain areas where I wasn’t as knowledgeable or experienced. But making decisions as a foursome was a lot harder than making decisions by myself.

9. On the recent "The Writer's Voice" contest you made a point of asking for cheerleading comments only. In your "An Agent's Inbox" contests the entries are open for critiques. Why the difference?

“An Agent’s Inbox” is all about feedback. The Agent comments on every entry so that the entrants—and the rest of us—can get some insight into what an agent’s thinking as she goes through a batch of queries, so I actually require all the entrants to critique each other's entries.

“The Writer’s Voice,” on the other hand, was all about the votes. The critiquing happened behind the scenes, when we coaches worked with our team members to whip their entries into shape, so we didn’t want them to feel inundated with other feedback. (Plus, we didn’t want to look bad when everybody else’s advice was so much better than our own:) )

10. You have recently started revealing the name of the agent before the contest starts. What do you think are the pros/con of revealing vs. keeping the identity of the agent a secret?

Initially, I kept The Agent’s identity a secret because that’s what Authoress of Miss Snark’s First Victim does:) But then a reader pointed out that it could be really helpful to get The Agent’s feedback on the personalization in the queries, so I decided to try a round in which we knew The Agent’s identity upfront. (That round was back in October with Kate Schafer Testerman, who, of course, is now my agent.) Now I just let The Agent decide at what point she wants me to reveal her identity.

Revealing The Agent’s identity upfront allows writers to really tailor their entries, but some agents prefer the anonymity while they’re leaving their feedback, so there are pros and cons to both.

11. Contests seem like such a fun way to find an agent. How many success stories can you attribute to your blog?

I know of one specifically—Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd. signed Amber Plante last fall after critiquing her entry in July’s round of “An Agent’s Inbox” (check out this post for more details)—but I hope there will be more!

12. I’m sure the success stories are rewarding for you, as well as the writer and agent who found each other, but what other part of hosting contests do you find most rewarding?

I love taking a peek at what other writers are working on, and I especially love finding projects that I’d take on if I were an agent. Some of my favorite entries from past rounds of “An Agent’s Inbox”—like Tara Dairman’s GLADYS GATSBY TAKES THE CAKEand Michael G-G’s SHAKESPEARE ON THE LAM—have gone on to land agents and, in Ms. Dairman’s case, book deals. I love getting the inside scoop.

13. What tips do you have for someone who would like to host contests on his/her blog?

Aim high. Don’t be afraid to ask your favorite agents and/or authors to participate. They might say no, but then again, they might say yes.

Also, once you have a great contest in the works, promote the heck out of it. Leave notes on popular sites like Absolute Write and QueryTracker, and if you can, ask more established blog contest hosts to help you get the word out.

14. Who have you asked to help get the word out?

As I mentioned before, my blog was already pretty popular when I started hosting contests, so I’ve just relied on my own ability to create buzz for “An Agent’s Inbox” (and on my fellow coaches’ promotional efforts for “The Writer’s Voice”).However, when I was first trying to promote my agent interviews, I did ask popular clients of the agent I was interviewing to blog or tweet about the interview once I posted it. (I know Kiersten White tweeted about my interview with Michelle Wolfson way back when, but that’s the only example that comes to mind.)


Thanks so much Krista! Hopefully there will be a lot of people who find this process, and your answers, as intriguing as I do! :-)


Other Blog Contests:

Here are a few other blogs I have found that run contests regularly and have a focus on the middle grade and YA market.

Opperation Awesome runs the Mystery Agent Contest, the first of each month. Which means there is a new one this Friday, June 1st.

Cupid's Literary Connection runs contests all with fun "love-themed" titles.  Her next contest will be in the Septemberish timeframe.

Brenda Drake Writes was part of "The Writer's Voice" contest - not sure when her next contest will be... guess you will have to follow her to find out!

Miss Snark's First Victim has awesome contests that include the "Secret Agent" contest which runs monthly (except for June and December), and the "Baker's Dozen" contest once each year in December. Not all contests focus on MG or YA.


  1. Great information and great links! Thanks Julie and Krista

  2. Thanks for stopping by Heather!

    Here is another contest going on right now through June 4th. Pitch Slam 2 at YALITCHAT -

  3. Great interview! I always wonder about a lot of these questions as well

  4. Thanks again for having me, Julie! You asked some great questions.

  5. Great interview! Thanks for mentioning me! I'll be having a contest with Teen Eyes editing this summer, and another Pitch Madness towards the end of August. Summer is a great time to write new stories while the agents are closed for submissions. Hopefully, we'll see some wonderful new stories! <3

  6. Thanks Sarah!

    Your welcome Krista and Brenda! Thanks for mentioning your next contests Brenda.

    Here is another pitch contest (June 7-8) on Dorothy Dreyer's blog We Do Write -

  7. Super interview--I've been interested in how all of these contests work behind the scenes myself! Great questions, Julie. =)

    And thanks for the shout-out, Krista. I so enjoyed being part of an Agent's Inbox contest and getting feedback and encouragement at your blog. It's also interesting to note that neither Michael nor I made the winners' lists the months that we entered, but we both ended up signing with agents fairly soon after that. So don't be too disheartened if one contest doesn't go your way!

  8. Julie: Thanks for this interview with one of my favorite writers/bloggers, Krista Van Dolzer. Krista has been an amazing advocate for her fellow writers and I was thrilled when she signed with Kate Shafer Testerman this year. Fingers crossed for "Steve"!

    I totally echo what Tara said above (and thanks for the mention, Krista!) It's hard not to be disheartened along the querying path, but it's true to say: "It only takes One 'Yes!'"

    Best of luck, everyone! And I'm glad I found your blog, Julie (thanks to Twitter.)

  9. Great interview with lots of information to process. I came here from Kristen Wixted's blog, and I know Michael G-G too. *waves*

    I didn't know about Krista's blog (where have I been?) until I hopped to it from here. So thanks for that too.

  10. Thanks Tara - congrats on your success! You book sounds awesome and I remember seeing it in one of the contests. Looking forward to reading it!

    Michael - Welcome and congrats to you as well. I live in WA state and remember seeing your blog awhile ago (now a member) and cheering for Pacific NW writers! :-)

    Barbara - Yay for fellow MG writers! I found writing later in life too. Just curious if you in need of a critique partner? I am on the lookout and think we might be a good fit...

  11. Awesome interview, Julie! Great questions! And great answers, Krista. :)

  12. Thanks for the great interview! Krista's blog is one of the best resources for information about agents. She also give fabulous critiques. :)

  13. This may be one of the best interviews I have read - excellent questions! I was lucky enough to be on TeamKrista for The Writer's Voice - she's been such a help, even after the contest. She and the other judges made the entire contest seem so effortless, but I know that they worked their tushes off.

  14. Thanks Amy!

    Myrna - I have Krista on my blogroll so I won't miss any of the great info she puts out!

    Jennie - thanks for stopping by, and I'm sure Krista's beaming at your kind comments!

  15. This is a really great interview! I mentioned in on my post about this week's contests here: (

    So glad I found it!