I have a friend who's planning to do the contest. Maybe a few other people I know are planning to do it and haven't told me. I just wanted to reflect on my experience with these sorts of contests, even though I will not be participating in this one (obviously).
I've been in a few writing contests. My first was probably the First Chapters contest on Gather. It was a complete fiasco; we were supposed to share a first chapter, and it would be voted upon. Not only could OTHER PARTICIPANTS vote on each other's work (!!!!), but we could SEE whose entries were topping the charts, which caused every single one of them to get downvoted by people who were trying to make the chances better for their own. The top entries had scores like 4/10 because of that crap. And then when the 20 people chosen to go to the next round were announced, one of them had semi-regularly written for Gather's site and been compensated for it, which was basically like giving the award to an employee. I was pretty disgusted and disillusioned by that, especially since the next round continued with the same rules despite the outcry.
Like PitchMas, The Writer's Voice had a follow-up Twitter pitch session. I got eight pitches together, tried them out on my friends, and attended the pitch party, tweeting with the #WVTP hashtag using the pitches that were highest voted. The silence was pretty deafening. No agents were bidding on my stuff. And then I just threw caution to the wind and tweeted the pitch that had been the LEAST popular among my friends:
"Can’t a gal and her other self have a good old-fashioned reality-crossing romance anymore?"
And I got this reply from an agent:
Eh. If she'd been seeing it all day, I wonder what kept her from requesting it? Maybe she was just on the fence. Oh well. So I got a request. Made the day worth it, at least. Goes to show you that my friends' taste is the opposite of agents' taste? I guess?
Though this agent rejected my book based on my first 50 pages some time later. Meh.
I got signed for a different book just a few months later. And shortly after getting signed I ran into a contest that needed judges--run by one of the same people who'd hosted The Writer's Voice--and they were looking for a few agented authors (first-round judges) who wrote ADULT material since they had so many YA authors in the judging panel. I volunteered and ended up getting to pick my own "team" for Come and Get It.
Seeing the other side of the fence was interesting. Out of the ten entries assigned to me, I had to pick four to go on to the next round for agent bidding. It was difficult, but oddly enough, I actually only really liked three of the four I sent through, and the fourth was just because I was supposed to pick another one, so I picked the one with the strongest writing in the sample even though the query was not up to snuff in my opinion. (I won't say which. You can see my discussion and links to my specific feedback for my first five here and my second five here, on my main website.)
Some of the pitches needed a lot of help and I was left wondering why a book this rough was being pitched to agents. Some of the pitches looked great. I ended up connecting with one of the ladies I put through to the next round and after some fun e-mails we critiqued each other's writing. We're still in touch nearly a year after the contest now. And of course there was also the unpleasant situation where an enthusiastic writer who knew I was her judge followed me on Twitter and was tweeting at me excitedly about receiving her feedback, only to silently unfollow me without comment when she saw the feedback I left her. At least that's better than getting yelled at. ^___^ One of my picks got multiple agent requests, but the others got none. Them's the breaks.
I've now helped quite a few people prepare for these sorts of contests, and I think they're a cool alternate way to get your stuff in front of agents--especially since they are the ones who choose to participate if they are looking for clients, so THEY are asking YOU for your stuff--seeking it out rather than getting queried. It's a pretty neat dynamic and I know of a few people who got signed this way. I may have ultimately secured agency representation through good old-fashioned querying, but if the cards had fallen differently, I think a contest like this could have worked out for me too if I'd been in the query trenches longer than I was.
Social media is really changing the game up. My agent recently found an editor to pitch my book to using the manuscript wish list (#MSWL) hashtag on Twitter, and I got a positive response from that (meaning the editor did request my full manuscript). I've probably only scratched the surface here, but it seems like there are tons of ways people are sharing writing with industry professionals and making connections in ways that didn't used to be possible. I think these contests are a lot of fun . . . and I hope one day I get to judge another one. :)