Pitch Contests: why you should get picky

Is an online pitch contest really worth your time?

Online pitch contests are huge right now. They generate a flurry of activity and excitement. Nothing is more gratifying to an aspiring novelist than the phone dinging with an “I want you,” at regular intervals. And they’re easy to enter. Most of them follow a similar format: 140 character pitch or a 35-word pitch/ first 250 for a blog, so once you have the basics you can just recycle the same material over and over for every contest. And there are so many of them. I counted six in January alone.

Why?

Because they are popular. Probably too popular. Anyone who was in last June’s #SFFpit or anything hosted by Brenda Drake will know these contests can get more chaotic than the trading floor of the NYSE. The chaos has gotten so bad that it has inspired a huge number of contests to change the rules. While has helped tame the insanity, it doesn’t solve the real issue: is Twitter really the best place to pitch your book?

While there are many people who do find their perfect match, all these pitch contests take up your precious writing time. For working writers like me getting my novel published is a dream, but ultimately, one that isn’t paying the bills. Every minute I spend glued to my Twitter feed is a minute I’m not writing articles, and not getting paid. Time is your most precious commodity. If you are going to spend it with pitch contests make sure you get something from it.

Before you enter a contest make sure you actually want to win.

If you hate monster truck rallies, you wouldn’t enter a contest to win tickets. The same goes for pitch contests. If your goal is to sign with an agent, don’t enter a publisher-only contest. Likewise, if you really want the flexibility of working with a small publisher, then agent contests will not help you get to your goal.

How do I decide whether to enter a pitch contest? Research

Every contest host does a great job of posting who will be watching the feeds. Check them out before you pitch. No matter how awesome your cozy mystery is, it won’t do well at a romance pitch contest, and you will annoy the editors who will know you didn’t do your research. Even if it’s the right genre for your novel, read through the list and make sure there are publishers/agents who you want to work with. I also recommend that you go back through your query list. If every agent/editor in the contest has already sent you a rejection, then sit this one out as well. This person has already given your MS their undivided attention, and it was not a good fit before. Unless you have made substantial changes (a new opening, moved the inciting incident, changed the voice, something more than a simple line edit) then it’s likely the project will get another rejection. Your time is precious.

When should I enter a pitch contest?

A checklist:

1.     My MS is finished. (Really. Although most requests from pitch contests are a query and a partial, there are some who want the full. You do not want to be scrambling at the last minute or lose an opportunity because your last chapter isn’t there yet.)

2.     I know what my publishing goal is: I want an agent, or I want to do small presses.

3.     This contest represents my genre.

4.     This contest matches my publishing goal: agent/direct to publisher

5.     I want to work with the agents/publishers in this list

6.     The agents/publishers have not seen/rejected my query.

What about blog contests with feedback rounds?

These are gold mines. Of all the contests happening online, these are the best for an aspiring author. This is less like a pitch contest and more like a mentoring contest. In these contests, the real prize is an editorial partner who will work with you to shine up your MS and get your submission materials in order. Many of these have pre-rounds where you can publish your materials on blogs and get instant feedback, even before you submit to the contest. I recommend entering these if your genre is allowed in the contest, especially at the beginning of your submission process. It won’t do you much good if you’ve already gotten rejections from everyone on your list.

Contest organizers want to see you get published

The online writing community is filled with generous, supportive people. Nearly everyone I have met wants to help other writers achieve their goals. Most of the editors/slush readers in these contests are volunteers. Be respectful of their time, and think about what you are trying to accomplish before you fling your next project into the pitch pile.

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3 thoughts on “Pitch Contests: why you should get picky”

  1. Really good article and I agree on almost every point, except this one as it relates to editors/agents who have already seen your work: “This person has already given your MS their undivided attention, and it was not a good fit before.”

    I have twice received full requests from editors or agents on a Twitter Pitch Contest who had previously sent me a “thanks but no thanks” letter to my query. In one case (a small publisher), they liked the submission after the Twitter Pitch Contest enough to say (after an earlier rejection on only a small piece), “We love this,” and offered a contract contingent upon two or three revisions/changes. I ended up declining because the changes (I felt) compromised the integrity of the overall story, but my point is that frequently those queries we send are not given their undivided attention…or their interests change/expand over time. Unless truly every agent on the list has passed, I’d still consider entering the contest if there were a few that interested me and I hadn’t queried. But that’s just me. Your advice isn’t wrong…just different than my own experience.

    Truly a GREAT article, and you nailed almost ever aspect! Kudos to you!

    1. I would see how that might happen if after a certain length of time had passed, or if the query and the twitter pitch were significantly different, but I think if you got the rejection in the last month or so, a second query to the same agent would likely get the same response. Though I’m glad it wasn’t in your case!

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