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.



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