A Word On Pitch Contests

With the pick announcement earlier this morning for the Sun vs Snow Twitter manuscript contest, I thought this was a timely idea for a blog post. For those of you who aren’t writers, and don’t know about the great things going on for writers on Twitter, let me break it down for you:

Sun vs Snow is a wonderful opportunity for writers to get their work in front of literary agents. Hosted by the fantastic Amy Trueblood and Michelle Hauck, the idea for this contest is simple: last Monday (Jan 26), participating writers sent an email to the hosts, designating by a sentence or two whether their main character would prefer the sun or the snow. This was followed by their official query letter and first 250 words of their manuscript. The catch was that submissions opened at 4pm EST, and would only stay open until 200 submissions came in.

It closed in 6 minutes.

Thankfully, I was one of the ones who obsessively formatted the email and saved as a draft a couple of hours before the submission window opened. All I had to do was to keep my phone near me and click send at 4 EST. Some people weren’t so lucky. They expected the window to stay open… well, at least an hour! We all were. So that narrowed the field considerably. I’m sure some very good writers were winnowed out just from the time issue. We’ll never know.

Out of those 200 manuscripts, 106 were young adult, the age bracket I write in. I think at one point, the odds were calculated at a 7% for any one particular author to be chosen. I can’t remember. The point is, there was a lot of great talent in this contest, and I knew it going in. When the picks were released this morning, I was hopeful, but I had no expectations (spoiler alert: SOULREADER wasn’t picked. But that’s okay! I’m still querying.)

I hear a lot of people getting very depressed and angry when they aren’t selected for contests like this, and I don’t understand it. Sure, your odds might be a little better than slogging through the querying trenches, but not really. What if you do get picked, but don’t sign with one of the agents in the agent round? (A VERY real possibility, by the way) What if your future agent is someone you reach out to in the slush pile, like most everyone else? I don’t know about you, but I would rather trudge through 100+ query submissions and be signed after sticking it out, than to only try and participate in contests, and completely abandon the idea of querying because “no one likes my book.” That’s throwing away another incredible opportunity.

I know some people have been seeking representation for YEARS, and I can understand the bitterness. I haven’t been looking nearly as long, so I’m still optimistic. Here’s my (short) story:

I finished the first draft of SOULREADER in October of 2013. I put it through four rounds of revisions before I deemed it personally read-worthy. (I tweeted during one PitMad before I really knew what it meant, but let’s not go there. Luckily I wasn’t silly enough to actually query the one agent that starred my tweet) Last September, I decided to enter my first pitch contest: Pitch Wars.

I didn’t get in.

That hurt a little bit at first, but my mentor choices sent me very nice emails back, saying what they liked about my story (one even said mine was one of the first she put in her Maybe pile, so that gave me hope!), all of which I printed out and have kept. But I’ve been brutally honest with myself since that day: my manuscript was not ready. I know that now. It was close, but my query letter was definitely not up to scratch.

But I wouldn’t let myself give up. I dove into a fifth revision, and SOULREADER is so much better for it. I also worked with an editor and my critique partners to make my query letter the best it can be. I think it’s on something like draft 10 at this point. I think I’ve finally reached what I call the Plateau Point: I can’t find anything to change or improve on my novel that I can get to myself. Same thing with my query letter. So, 2 weeks ago today, I started querying. I’ve gotten one rejection so far, but that could be for any number of reasons. I’m going to keep looking forward.

And for those of you discouraged with yourself, your writing, and/or pitch contests in general: don’t give up! Not making it into a pitch contest is not a reflection on you and your writing. Maybe you were only barely left out of it. Maybe your future agent was not on the list of agents in the contest. No matter what, you CANNOT STOP WRITING. Don’t let yourself. Not ever. If it helps, tell yourself you’re going to write a new book to show them all! Next time, you won’t be left out. If you keep working hard, and working from your heart, you’ll find an agent. No matter how that journey begins and ends.

-Jenna

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About Jenna

I am 24 years old, with a bachelor's degree in English. I am currently querying a YA fantasy about assassins and magical powers, and I'm revising another YA fantasy based on Mayan civilization!
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