Do Pitch Contests Help or Hurt?

Today is the crazy Twitter pitching frenzy that is #PitMad.

I proudly claim veteran status of this writing contest, and many others like it. Now that I’m on the ‘other side’ of the query trenches–agent and book deals in hand–I’m asked by many writers if contests like this help or hurt.

Pitch contests can take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride with the hype, the excitement, the swelling hope…and the sometimes letdown.  I know writers who find this process harder than querying.  Don’t get me wrong–I think querying writers should use every opportunity to get their work in front of agents–but I’ve learned that you have to keep contests in perspective so you don’t emerge crushed (and convinced you should throw your book out the window.)

Contests can help writers if they keep a few key things in mind:

#1: Use the opportunity to HONE YOUR PITCH/HOOK/LOGLINE.  Ditto with the first 250 words.  Make them as strong and grabby as they can be and LEARN from the other writers doing the same thing…

#2 Check out the websites of any agents that request to see your manuscript. What authors do they represent? What books have they sold? Make sure they’re legit, and someone you’d want to represent you. The old adage ‘a bad agent is worse than no agent’ is entirely TRUE. On the positive side, I found contests to be a great way to discover and connect with agents.

#3 DON’T LET A PASS GET YOU DOWN (for long) It’s subjective–just like in the real query world. Find encouragement from all the other writers in your boat, then hone your pitch and let the experience springboard you back into querying. (and writing and revising!)

#4 MEET OTHER AWESOME WRITERS This is the REAL gem of contests. I’ve met some of the best critique partners this way–not to mention fellow writers who motivated and encouraged me in the query trenches. There is so much we can learn from each other and from our shared experiences.

#5 WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, WRITE THE NEXT BOOK  Is your MS drifting in an endless sea of rejection? Maybe it’s time to set it aside (for now) and dive in to that next book. Nearly every author I know has at least one “shelved” book. (It was my THIRD book that led to my agent and book deals.

So, to all the writers who bravely put themselves out on the proverbial rejection ledge, whether through contests or traditional querying–congratulations on taking risks and moving toward your goals!


For additional motivation:


Rejection Rescue #1: Keep Passes in Perspective

Weary from querying? Here’s a dose of encouragement:

We creatives are sensitive people. If you’re like me, you feel each and every “pass”—particularly the times you got further along in the process, and anticipated the fateful call of an agent offering you representation. When our hopes rise, we fall that much farther.

Take heart. Your dreams remain within reach as long as you keep putting yourself out there.

Rejection is hard, but it’s part of the process. If you’re going to get a book published, chances are, you’ll have to develop a thick skin and come to terms with rejection sooner or later. Even those who attain representation still face rejection from editors and publishers.

Just keep it in perspective. It’s all part of the process.

You’re not alone. As hard as it can be to see your name at the top of a form rejection letter, take comfort in knowing that you are not the first person in the history of query letters to receive a pass on your submission. (Hence, the form letter.)

If you read agent blogs, they will tell you how many THOUSANDS of queries they receive each year, and oftentimes, their agencies add just a few new writers to their client lists. Which means…all those other thousands of hopeful writers…in the SAME boat as you. And me. * sigh *

Feeling kinda blue about it? Here’s something that usually encourages me: Explore the websites and blogs of some authors you like and read their bios. The really cool ones share their struggles from when they were just fish in the pond like us–trying to get repped and dealing with the Big R. There’s the occasional “Cinderella story” of an author who all agents esteemed, and publishers duked it out for—(those kinda bum me out) but for the most part, you’ll find creative people who face the same challenges as us, and who struggled to dust themselves off and get back out there in the query stream, too.

Another idea: get involved on Twitter, where so many writers share their struggles and triumphs. (Sometimes really helpful insight, too!)

Remember: You. Are. Not. Alone.

Bookshelves are filled with the stories of people who persevered through this same process.