Pitching a Fit (for Pitch Contests)

Pitch contests seem to be “the new black” for YA writers these days. You can’t read Twitter without scrolling into one. I’ve read many getting the call stories that begin with, “When I entered Pitch-something, I never thought I’d be picked and it would lead to an agent and a deal,” proving that pitch contests can and do launch careers.

Personally I have had some success with contests. I’m not ready to write that “When I entered…” story just yet, though. But now that I have experienced several of these contests with two different manuscripts, I feel like I’ve learned some things that I can share with you about these contests.

  1. They are predominantly filled with YA writers. Yes, you will find Adult, NA, MG and even PB in these contests, but when the age category is open to all, there will be more YA writers enter and more YA manuscripts chosen. I think that’s just because Twitter is where YA readers are, therefore that’s where YA writers are. This doesn’t mean a great adult story can’t win/won’t be picked, it just means that adult/NA/MG/PB writers should expect to compete with a lot of YA.
  2. Take a look at the “winners/chosen” for the contests. THERE is where you’ll find what agents want right now. The current trends and “no-way-not-going-to-even-consider-its” will start to show. Right now, contemporary is the LBD (Little Black Dress) of publishing. EVERYONE needs a LBD in the closet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter your High Fantasy in a contest (unless it’s a paranormal vampire dystopian romance. Might want to think twice about that one). It means that you’re going to have to really stand out among the contemporaries.
  3. I firmly believe that not all manuscripts are Tweet-friendly. Many pitch contests have a Twitter component that includes writers tweeting their MS and agents requesting pages based on those tweets. That gives you 140 characters, minus whatever hashtag the administrator of the contest is using. That’s not a lot of space to hook agents and editors. I have some great success tweeting EVERGREEN but BETWEEN SOUND AND SILENCE is very hard to whittle down because there’s a lot going on that influences the MC. If you’re considering a Twitter contest, the best piece of advice I can give you is to make sure to include something unique about your MC and make double sure to include conflict. Otherwise you’ll end up with a generic tweet that won’t grab attention.
  4. The best part of any pitch contest doesn’t have to be the “prize” at the end. Yes, it’s fantastic to receive agent/editor requests that often come at the end of these contests, but sometimes the more valuable “prize” is the feedback you get from mentors or the community that develops around these contests. It’s always great to connect with other writers and make connections that go beyond the contest date.
  5. Too many contests can be a bad thing. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but exposing the same manuscript over and over and over can actually hurt you. There is agent overlap in these types of contests, meaning some of the same agents/editors are participating in several contests. You’re wasting your time if you enter multiple contests with the same agents. Additionally, if your Twitter feed is full of unsuccessful pitch contest tweets, that could turn agents/editors off. It’s best to check the participating agents/editors beforehand and enter only those contests that have agents/editors that you have not already queried or read your material in other places.
  6. Failing to “win/be chosen” doesn’t really mean anything. That’s good news. You can still query in the traditional way. And you should. Your career does not hinge on one contest, or two or three… Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t picked. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep at it.

So, why am I talking about this today? After entering a massive (almost 1000 entries) Twitter-based pitch contest a couple months ago and failing to get picked, I entered another one. Why?  It had a fun theme, outstanding mentors whom I admired and that would be giving detailed feedback on my manuscript, and a super list of participating agents.

The contest was #Nestpitch and I was chosen for #TeamEvilBunny!

I’m thrilled to be working with the amazeballs Sharon Johnston   and her slush bunnies, E.L. Wicker and J.C. Nelson. I’m going to take their notes and suggestions and polish my manuscript for the agents. Even if no requests come from this, I’ll already have come a long way to making my manuscript better.

To read more about Team Evil Bunny and the rest of the Nestpitch teams go here.

LokiBunny

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ROAD WORK NEXT 85,000(ish) WORDS

Every time that I sit down to write, I learn more about the process of writing. Of course, there’s no “right way” to do this as long as the words get on the page. There are some things writers can do to make the words they write better.

I have a couple irons in the fire right now and I’m letting my latest Sci-Fi manuscript simmer before I take another pass at it, so I thought, why not get this idea I have in my head for a fantasy down on (virtual) paper?  And that’s what I did.

In this blog, I’ll share how my latest WIP has developed. My “Writing Trip,” If you will.

roadtripmuppets

Unfolding the Road Map

Before I wrote a single word, I had a good working premise of the story I want to tell. (Based on a really weird dream I had) Since my natural process is to let the story develop organically, I find the best way to that is have the major plot points lined out and then let the characters tell me how they want to get there.  With my inciting event, turning point, mid-point, setback, and climax in mind, I had a road map. Now I just needed to know who was driving the car.

CARPOOL LANE ONLY

This MS has a dual POV. It took me a few false starts to get the voice of each character right and more importantly, different from the other, but once I got a good grip on that, it became easier. This story has an astrological theme within it, so it was very easy for me to give the MCs a birthdate then make their personalities mirror traits from their astrological signs. I recommend doing that if you’re stuck for character personalities, even if you don’t have an astrological theme. It’s a great jumping off point when you are just discovering who you’re writing about.

Then I used their back-stories and let the culture they live in inform a lot of their personalities. We’re all products of our upbringings. I instilled a very specific set of beliefs in both of them which helps me when I have to decide how they will react to an event.

Now these two characters come from very different worlds and they each start in their own space, so in a sense, I made it harder on myself because I had to invent not one, but two worlds for them to live in.

GOOGLE 4 MI —>

Research. Boy, did I research. Every day I’m still researching. And every day I find some new juicy tidbit that sparks an idea that I can use in my MS. Frequently I will set out to research some particular fact and find myself closing the browser with some other nugget of information that I didn’t expect or even know existed. I love it when that happens.

For instance, did you know that the ancient Olmec Mayans were the first to process cacao beans and turn them into chocolate? Yep. They also put jalapeno peppers with their chocolate so you can thank them for the frosty nontraditional shake served at Sonic today!

I certainly didn’t set out to find out about Mayan chocolate, but when researching, I discovered this little nugget which will become a hilarious fish-out-of-water scene for one of my characters. How this person reacts to spicy chocolate is going to say quite a bit about the way he/she approaches new things, which shows character development.

So now I’m rocking along at almost halfway through the MS and I know where I need to end up and I know who is driving and I even have a pretty good sense of what snacks they brought for the road.  The next thing for me to determine is what their flat tire is going to be.

CAUTION SPEED BUMPS AHEAD

Conflict is the key to writing a compelling story. My MCs are each seeking different goals. They have different desires and different flaws that are inhibiting them getting what they want.  I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that their paths will cross and then they will begin to affect each other. I’m enjoying playing with the differences between them, but picking out common threads to weave them together. One of my MC needs external gratification, the other internal, but both of these have to do with their families.  One character is bolder therefore gets into some sticky situations sometimes, the other is more reserved and misses a lot because of the fear of acting.  The potholes that I choose to throw in their roads are what will determine how they grow and where they end up. I’m using things from my extensive research as the smoking engines that slow them down and force them to make tough decisions.

The things I’ve uncovered in my research have made me excited about this MS. It’s a departure from what I normally write but I think that’s what’s keeping me motivated and writing well over the speed limit.