I’ve entered a few contests this year, starting with #Nestpitch in the spring and finishing with #pitchslam this week. Some I was selected for, some not. Some I got requests, others I did not.
Many contests run on a roughly similar format. A pre-selection period, where you hone the required materials, pitch, query, first 250 words etc. Then the section period where you wait and bite your nails, hoping to be selected. There may be a mentoring phase, where writers and editor help improve your selected materials, and this may be a couple of days or longer. Finally, an agent round, where your materials are displayed for agents to make requests. Throughout, there is generally a hashtag for the community to build up on Twitter.
I think every contest was worth my time. Here’s why:
Reason five: Agents. It can be daunting to know where to start when you begin querying. Having agents who you know are interested in your work gives you are starting place. You should always research agents before submitting, but it gives you a much smaller pool to start with, and then you can widen your search.
Reason four: An opportunity for feedback. For contests with mentoring, this will come from those who have already been through the querying process, or who are editors who help writers get there. They know their queries inside out, and can help you get that dreaded synopsis down to a page. Even if there’s no mentoring, it’s easy to get feedback from other competitors in the pre-selection phase. A show me yours and I’ll show you mine attitude gets fresh eyes on your work and fresh friends on your list.
Reason three: It can help identify if you’re ready. It’s almost impossible to know if you’re at the right point to be querying just on your own. Getting an opportunity to see how your work compares with others, and the feedback you will get, can help you place yourself. Maybe you’ll enter and find out you’re not in the right place to publish. #Nestpitch ultimately taught me that. Maybe you’re not ready to query yet. But if you learn that in a contest, you can revise and still go on to query agents you want to work with, whereas if you’d jumped into querying, you might have lost your chance with that manuscript.
Reason two: It teaches you how to deal with rejection. You won’t get picked for all contests. And you won’t get requests from all the ones you do. We’ve all got to deal with rejection, and this is a more comfortable way of doing it. There will be lots of others who didn’t get in, and you can commiserate and console each other, then work together to build yourselves back up. And you can enter the same contest when it runs next, whereas you can’t generally re-query a rejected project to an agent.
The number one reason I think you should enter contests is for the people you meet. Writing can be a lonely, stressful business. Non-writer friends can be supportive, but they don’t necessarily have the insight other writers do. Having people who know what you’re going through is wonderful. Then there’s the opportunity to meet people who can help build up your skills. Published writers and experienced editors. Your betas and your critique partners. As mentioned in #pitchslam, these are the people who will end up in your acknowledgements when your book is published. A good CP is worth their weight in gold and not easy to come across. Contests are a great way to meet them.
Convinced? Check out this list: