Sub It Club already posted a great guide to a few of the remaining writing contests for 2014, but I wanted to share some of my experiences as a newbie contester.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know you could pitch your novel as part of a contest until I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop in July. At that point, I was on the verge of having my first query-able manuscript completed and knew absolutely nothing about what it would take to try to get it published. The conference provided an amazing overview of the process thanks to two people who are fairly active in the world of online pitching contests: agent Pete J. Knapp of Park Literary Group, and writer, Summer Heacock (also known as Fizzygrrl).
During that panel discussion, I heard the two words that changed my querying strategy: Pitch Wars. Brenda Drake’s amazing contest was my first, but definitely not my last.
If you’re new to contesting, or you’ve dabbled and aren’t sure it’s for you, consider this post the post I wish I’d read back in July. And enjoy!
Top Five Reasons to Contest
- Meet other writers – I live in Finland, folks. Finding English-speaking writers here is HARD. Finding them on Twitter is easy, especially if you’re contesting. And did I mention that one particular pitching event, WriteOnCon, connected me with the amazing critique group that I’d been hoping to find for ages?
- Get immediate feedback – Let’s face it, querying takes FOREVER. Agents are overwhelmed with queries and often take 3 months or more to respond. Often, out of necessity, those responses are form rejections, not the time-intensive feedback you need to improve. That’s where the writers who participate in these contests have your back–they’ll give you all the feedback you want and, in my experience, it is honest, helpful, and kindly-delivered.
- Learn how to use social media – In today’s market, promoting your books through social media can make the difference between successful sales and obscurity. Learning to use Twitter before you’ve got a book to promote not only helps you build a following and connect you with other writers, but helps you get the newbie mistakes out of the way before you’ve got much to lose. Consider it a practice run.
- Maybe get an agent – OK, the goal of these contests is to get requests, and of course I want to find my dream agent as much as the next writer. But I’ve learned enough to make these contests worthwhile even without the six requests I’ve managed to scrape together over the past few months (a number, by the way, that is much higher than the number of requests I’ve gotten with a plain old email query). Only time will tell if any of these requests turn in to representation, but the point is, they might. And even if they don’t, I learned a ton.
- Distract yourself – Did I mention querying takes forever? Why not distract yourself with a little friendly competition?
Resources for New Contesters
Little did I know when I first started contesting that having my little query letter and manuscript in hand was not going to cut it. Since then, I have created numerous Twitter pitches, a lean, 35-word logline, and various other iterations of an elevator pitch. This stuff can be daunting, but honing in on what your book is really about helps not only your pitches/loglines, but your manuscript and your query. If you need a little help getting these things together, there are plenty of online resources (and writers on Twitter who will offer suggestions if you ask). I particularly like Dan Koboldt’s guide to Twitter pitching and Carly Watter’s guide to Twitter pitch contests for help with Twitter pitches. For loglines, check out this article on Writing a Killer Logline.