Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interview with Operation Awesome!

For those of you who read my interview with Krista Van Dolzer, you may notice a pattern starting here. I am fascinated with on-line writing contests! And I can't even take part in them because I don't have a completed (and polished) manuscript. But it is tons of fun watching them unfold and then reading all the entries. Krista Van Dolzer has a great post on Why You Should Enter Blog Contests with a lot of great points that wouldn't even have crossed my mind.

Most of the questions I asked here were the same as the last interview and I think it is iteresting to see the the answers from another set of perspectives. Thank you to Katrinz Lantz, Lindsay Scott (who writes as Isabella Morgan,) and Michelle McLean from Operation Awesome who helped me out with this fun interview.

Operation Awesome hosts The Mystery Agent contests which run almost every month on the first of the month. They publish a "Heads Up" post the day before so there is no confusion on the specifics and all entries are done within the comments section once the contest post goes live. Read on to find out all about their "operation!"

1. When did you start blogging and what was your initial purpose/reason?

Michelle: I came in late to the party so I'll let you guys answer this one :) though I remember when I joined you guys seemed very geared toward paying it forward - sharing your journeys while trying to help other writers through theirs. Paying it forward has always been a big theme of the OA I think.

Katrina: We started the blog in September 2011. It was Kristal's idea, and I thought it'd be good for building our online presence, which we're always hearing about from agents. We also wanted to share with other writers, talk about writing and new books we love. That's been one of the most fun things for me. That and the MA contests, of course.

Lindsay: The reason we started blogging as a group was to help other writers and give back to the writing community.

2. Why did you decide to start having writing contests? 

Katrina: I'd really enjoyed similar contests at other blogs, especially the Secret Agent contests at Miss Snark's First Victim. After having some very friendly interactions with a couple awesome agents, I realized that they really are there to help writers get published, not just to mock ridiculous queries. :) Our M.A. contests give us and our readers an opportunity to get to know these nice agents, and gives the agents an opportunity to specify exactly what they're looking for so (we hope) their inboxes get flooded with the right stuff rather than the wrong stuff.

Michelle:  We’ve always loved these types of contests on other blogs (like Miss Snark’s First Victim) and since our main mission is to help writers along their journey, it seemed natural for us to help them try to connect with agents. They also give us a chance to get to know agents better.

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

Michelle: We’ve slowly built our readership over the last year or so. We don’t require contest participants to be followers, but I think the contests have helped spread the word about us. To promote, we just do the usual – tweet, blog, Facebook, etc.

Katrina: We had no followers in August before our September launch date, so it's been fun to celebrate each milestone as a group blog as we've been able to reach more writers with our contests and readers with our book love. Twitter was a very effective promotional tool for the contests, like Michelle already said. It's so easy to connect with other writers that way. It helped having six of us at once tweeting about it. We also posted about the contests at popular writing forums to spread the word even faster.

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

Michelle: We’ll often approach newer agents, because they are the ones who are actively building their lists. And we’ve asked agents we have personal experience with (one month we had my former agent, for example). We just send them an email and ask if they’d like to participate :) We’ve had a great response!

Lindsay: We usually send an email to the agent to ask if the contest is something they'd be interested in taking part. 

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

Lindsay: Not as yet. 

Michelle:  Nothing too terribly bad yet. One or two that might disagree with our definition of a one-line pitch, or people being upset about when the post goes live (we’ve tried to alleviate this by posting in advance when it will go up, but we’ve had a couple glitches, and really, you can’t make everyone happy). For the most part we haven’t had any problems.

Katrina: We're pretty accommodating when people have trouble with blogger. No system is fool proof. :)

6. Are there any liability issues when running contests?
Michelle:  Hopefully not :) Since we aren’t offering any products or guaranteed prizes and since we don’t require anything for people to enter (such as following our blog or donations, etc), there aren’t any liability issues that we are aware of. We do try to state the rules very clearly, keep things as simple as possible, and make sure everyone knows up front what is expected and what potential prizes are.

7. How fast do the contests fill up?

Lindsay: It can be anything from minutes to hours. 

Michelle:  The first 40 or so entries usually happen very quickly. The last contest we had, the first 40 went in 10 minutes. Because the comment number doesn’t always match up with how many qualifying entries we have, the last few entries tend to take a bit longer because people will see 52 comments and assume we are full. But, with our last contest we had 50 entries within about 25 minutes.

Katrina: Even the very first contest was filled within the day. Writers love contests! And we love hosting them. :)

8. The way your Mystery Agent contests are set up, contestants enter via the comments section of the blog post. This doesn't allow for any comments from other contestants/readers. Did you set it up this way for a reason?

Michelle: Yes. We aren’t running the contest so other readers can critique the pitches. The pitches are only listed as an entry for the mystery agent. It’s scary enough posting your pitch for an agent to see, let alone posting it and having a ton of people critiquing it. We just wanted to run these contests to give people an opportunity to hook up with an agent, not for critiques. Having people put them in the comments is the fastest, easiest way for people to enter.

Lindsay: I think that it just helps to keep things central to the blog. It also means that all the OA ladies can see how the contest is filling up at the same time (rather than email/spreadsheets which one person would have to keep track of). 

Katrina: It really does keep it simple, and some of our Mystery Agents like to follow along with the contest by watching the blog comments fill up. 

9. With a group blog I'm sure the workload is able to be spread out.  Does this make running the contests (almost once-a-month) more manageable?  Does each person have certain responsibilities or do you rotate who runs the contest each month?

Lindsay: We all pitch in to help. Usually there's one or two of us able to keep an eye on the blog to count the entries/check they are all following the rules. We don't rotate who runs the contest each month (since one of us is usually online with the various time zones we live in), but we do keep as organized as possible. We have a list of which OA member has contacted an agent/who it is/if the agent has agreed/the month the agent is taking part etc.

Michelle:  Whoever contacts the agent is in charge of getting the post up and handling communication with the agent regarding the entries, the reveal interview, etc. We sort of take turns doing that although it’s not really scheduled. Whoever is available that day will help keep an eye on things so we can get the contest closed down as soon as we hit our quota and to help check entries to make sure they are following the rules.

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

Katrina: Our Mystery Agents tab across the top of the blog includes success stories for those who'd like to find out which pitches really nailed it. Sometimes success meant finding an agent or selling a book, but most of the time these contests have helped winners get more requests and personal feedback.

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

Lindsay: I love the fact that, in a small way, we are helping connect other writers with agents. Contests help gain experience. Pitching is something you learn to do. Every contest you enter, winner or not, helps hone that part of the craft. And knowing we've played a tiny part in the writing journey is wonderful. 

Michelle:  We love reading all the pitches. There are some really good ones and a lot of stories we’d really love to read! Really, helping our readers with posts on pitching and reading all the pitches helps us with our own pitches.

Katrina: Ditto what Lindsay and Michelle said. Pitching takes practice, but it really helps to see successful examples. Sometimes it surprises me which pitches an agent will pick over others, but I always learn something when I'm paying close attention. I recommend our readers pay attention to these things, too. It can really help you to get a grasp for what a particular agent craves. That's why we post the contest link and reveal post on the Mystery Agents tab so you can compare the two. And, like I said earlier, I really love getting to know the agents. They're all book lovers like us! And all our M.A.'s are super nice.

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

Lindsay: Be as organized as you can. 

Don't be afraid of approaching agents to take part. 

Michelle: Make sure you have the rules very clearly spelled out. Give people a heads up at least a week in advance so they know it’s coming and they can prepare their entry (it takes time to get those entries polished!). Above all, keep it as simple as you can. Running contests can get complicated, so the easier you can make it on yourself and your followers, the better.

Katrina: I second Lindsay's comment about not being afraid to contact an agent. I've only had one bad experience contacting an agent for the contest, and that person was just a Grouchy McGrouchikins. For the most part, agents are very receptive to interviews and contests, as long as you keep it organized and make it as easy as possible for them (because choosing from all those awesome pitches can be tricky!). Make sure all they have to do is pick the winner and you handle the rest.

Thanks for having us on your blog!


  1. Yay Operation Awesome! I highly recommend their Mystery Agent contests - I always had a fantastic time participating, and you get to see so many wonderful pitches. :D

    1. Thanks for your comment... hoping to participate myself someday!

  2. I hadn't heard of this blog or the contest, so THANKS, Julie! And thank you, ladies, for the insightful answers.

  3. Thanks for having us on your blog, Julie! We're coming up on two years blogging together, so it was really fun thinking back to the beginning. Happy Flag Day, btw!

    1. And thanks again for being here! Glad to spread the word! :-)

  4. This sounds great! I think I'm going to have to check out Operate Awesome :)

    1. Glad you checked them out - I see you now an OA follower!

  5. I love the ladies at Operation Awesome...and I also love their contests. ;) This is another great interview Julie!

  6. This is great! I used to love entering contests. In fact, I miss it. It was always so exciting. :)

  7. Did you know that you can create short urls with OUO and make money from every visitor to your short urls.