There's more to tell about holds, oh yes, there is. If you haven't read the first post about holds, it might be best to go back and refresh your memory.
So, let's pick an alternate story about holds. Say you are talking to Studio-A, and they say "We'd like to put you on first hold for January." They haven't booked you, or given you a start date, they just have you on hold. Then you get a call from Studio-B, who says they'd like to put you on hold for January as well, and want to know your availability. Neither place has said they want to book you, so there is no "challenge" happening. What do you do? If you accept a hold from both places, and both places later call you up to book you for the same time, how is it decided which place gets your services?
The answer lies in what priority that hold has. Studio-A has said they want you on first hold. That means that they have first priority over your services, over any other place for the duration of that hold. So when Studio-B calls and wants you on hold, what you do is tell them you have a first hold (you can decide if you want to tell them it's for Studio-A), but am not booked for anything at this time. You can either tell them you'd be able to agree to a "2nd Hold", or wait for them to ask for a "2nd Hold" when they respond.
A "2nd Hold" does not just mean it's the second one you have. It is the priority which that place has on your services. They have 2nd priority, meaning that if Studio-A (your first hold) wants to book you, Studio-B really has no say in the matter, because they have 2nd priority. So what's the value of a 2nd Hold?
Let's say Studio-A has you on hold for a length of time, but has no work coming in to actually book you for. You're not hearing anything from them either, and the chance of employment is not great. Studio-B on the other hand has work coming in, and wants to book you. Because they have 2nd Hold, that gives them the ability to "challenge" Studio-A's first hold. (If you read the first post on holds, I talked extensively about challenges--if you're confused, just go check it out again). Since Studio-A has no work coming in, they have no choice but to release you from the hold, leaving you free to go work at Studio-B. Alternatively, if Studio-A actually has work and they want to book you, they have the first hold so you work for them. So, no matter if you'd prefer one job over the other, it all comes down to who has priority.
Priorities don't stop with the 2nd hold though. You could have a 3rd Hold, and theoretically even a 4th Hold. So, say your 3rd hold, Studio-C, wants to book you, and neither Studio-A or B has called to book you. Before you can work for Studio-C, you first have to talk to Studio-A and Studio-B because they have priority. If by some chance all 3 studios want to book you, Studio-A wins because they have First Hold, first priority.
Why have all these holds though? I mean, if a place wants to put you on hold doesn't that mean they are going to hire you? Not necessarily. A million things could happen that could keep you from getting booked. The project could fall through at the last second. The studio may have put too many people on hold, the budget may have gotten cut, who knows. Multiple holds, if you're lucky enough to get them, can help you in the event that something falls through. Giving holds priorities is really the only way to be able to handle multiple holds at once.
A couple things to add to this: If you're getting multiple holds from places, this is actually a really good thing because it means that places are busy and you're in demand. On the other hand, if you're struggling to get holds, it could mean any number of things. 1) There's not much work going on in your area at the current time or 2) You need to improve your skills, or networking, or website,etc so that you're more employable. Even if you're doing everything "right", a freelancer's life is a life of faith, because the unemployed times will happen, and there's only so much you can do to promote yourself. No amount of self-promotion or skills will help you if the jobs simply aren't there. Even if the jobs ARE there, it can be easy to get worried that the next one won't come...and the one after that...and the one after that... Just do your best, keep learning and improving, and try to have faith that the unemployment is temporary. Plan for that unemployment time, save up money to get you through it, and if you're in a stable position, try not to freak out. I'm not saying that if you badly need money you shouldn't go find a way to earn some to pay your rent. I'm not saying you shouldn't work hard. Yes, you have to learn and prepare, but patience and faith are as necessary as that demo reel, even when everything is going "right".
My dad is a farmer. Freelancing is kinda like farming. It doesn't matter if you've bought the best seed available, have the richest soil, and the best equipment. When it comes down to it the weather has to be good! And we can't control the weather can we?