Aspiring Writer’s Competition: A Word From a Ninja Agent

This is our last installment of our series ‘behind the scenes’ at WriteOnCon and our Aspiring Writers Competition blog.  By now you have met the founders of WriteOnCon and had a chance to read what it meant to K.L Gore, last year’s winner, to participate in the competition. Our last guest is Peter Knapp, one of the ‘ninja agents” who takes part in a number of forums during the annual WriteOnCon conference . We asked Peter to share with us his insights into the advantages to both the agent and the aspiring writer who participate in this kind of competition. ninja agent “This year I participated in my second WriteOnCon,” said Peter, “and, as with last year, I did so in two capacities: as Peter Knapp, an agent representing authors of young adult and middle grade projects, and as a clandestine “ninja agent”, which allowed me to comment on pitches from behind the curtain of an anonymous username. As with last year, the remarkable depth of the kid lit community’s imagination was evident in the many pitches posted on the WriteOnCon forums. I was also struck by the community’s incredible generosity. Agents are infamous for constantly lamenting that there aren’t enough hours in the day for the work we do, but we’re not insensitive to the fact that authors are also pressed for time. Their writing often happens while the kids are napping, in the early hours before going to work, in the late hours after the dishes have been done and the dogs have been walked. That writers are also taking time out of their busy lives to help out other writers—to comment on their pitches and critique their first pages—is a testament not only to their generosity but their passion. It is true that each year WriteOnCon and the Aspiring Writers’ Competition (which is kind enough to sponsor) produce a number of great ‘success’ stories with new agent–author matches, but the real success of these conferences and competitions, I think, is that they bring the kid lit community together. It’s a great chance to interact with the writers who inspire you, and to meet the writers who might become your critique partners and champions down the road. “It is true that I came to WriteOnCon as an agent looking for new talent to represent—I am always looking for writers with a knack for character-driven stories that have a strong emotional hook. But I also came to be part of the conversation. A great conversationalist is, of course, a great listener; I first heard from my own great uncle, a sharp man of eighty-some-odd years and a lifelong journalist, that the best writers must likewise be great listeners.  Of course, writing takes a sharp observational eye, but it also takes another type of listening: it demands that you hear advice, hear about your failures as a writer, and converse, essentially, about craft, and specifically about your own craft. I can imagine it’s not always an easy thing to do. But the truth is that you will always need to spend time refining your craft. This is the power of WriteOnCon: it isn’t the event where the conversation happens so much as an event where the dialogue can begin. Not only does WriteOnCon present a forum for hearing feedback, but it also allows writers to begin long and fruitful relationships with one another. The truth I have heard from writers in all stages of their careers is that you never ‘become’ a writer. It is an evolutionary process, and the sooner you begin it, the better.” Peter Knapp