Entering the (Writer’s) Lottery

Recently a young writer with whom I’d worked some time before entered a contest that changed her life (I wrote about Natalie here). Her success brought to my attention the phenomenon of the “pitch contest,” in which unagented writers are invited to pitch a manuscript publicly, usually in a blog, sometimes on Twitter. The pitches are judged (by other writers, volunteers called mentors, who make suggestions for refinement) and a select few move to a second or third round, at which point real live literary agents get to take a look.

Isn’t the Internet a marvelous thing?

If you’ve been seeking an agent and not getting traction, this might be a great way for you to get some exposure. And exposure—just having your name floating around in the places where agents will see it—can do more than you think. Not to mention ending up as a finalist in a contest.

So I asked Natalie to recommend some pitch contests. She writes YA, so many of these feature YA and MG, while others accept adult fiction too. Have a look.

Christmas in July
Hosted from Ruth Lauren Steven’s blog, this contest happens in, well, July. :) Check in with her in June for 2014 details.

Pitch Wars
Hosted at various times throughout the year by Brenda Drake from her blog, Making Connections. Brenda also hosts Trick or Treat with Agents (October), #pitmad (check website for next date), and Pitch Madness (every March and September).

Baker’s Dozen
This contest is hosted at the Miss Snark’s First Victim website. The fourth annual contest was October 2013, so watch this blog for details as they develop.

Secret Agent
Also hosted at Miss Snark’s First Victim, these contests run every month except June and December. Details here.

Pitch+250 Contest
Operated from the Adventures in YA Publishing website, this contest runs in February and August. As you can see, they also sponsor a First Lines contest in May and October.

Cupid’s Literary Connection
This website’s sub heading is “Where an undercover cupid brings writers and agents together to form magical literary connections.” Contests are ongoing (most recent was September 2013), so you’ll need to follow the blog.

The Zebulon Fiction Contest
Sponsored by the nonprofit Pikes Peak Writers group, this is a once-a-year contest that appears to open in September and is announced in April.

Like a Virgin Pitch Contest
Hosted from the Like a Virgin website once a year, possibly midyear.

These are just a few; I’m sure you’ll find others. Twitter is a good way to discover writing contests (hint: follow agents). And I stumbled on this list and this blog by googling. As you’ve discovered, it’s a serious investment of time to track these various sites and hit the deadlines; to be frank, I can’t tell if the vagueness about some of the contests is designed to build subscribership or just a lack of organization.

No matter—they do produce results, as we’ve seen. Natalie’s experience was so great she became a Pitch Wars mentor. She tells why in a blog post she calls “Why Pitch Wars Is Not Your Last Contest”:

This time last year, I was sitting exactly where you were, chewing-my-sleeves-off anxious to hear back from the mentors I’d so carefully selected. I’d been polishing my manuscript for months. I had a query that was getting a thumbs up from everyone who critiqued it. A freelance editor had raved about my latest revision, and I had a few contests under my belt, so I knew how to prepare. I was so ready for it to be “my time.”

I was about to find out I didn’t make it. It stung, yes. Rejection always does. But I had some positive feedback from the mentors I’d subbed to and a growing feeling in my gut that this story, as much as I loved it, wasn’t “the one.”

I shelved the manuscript. I went back to an idea I’d played around with the year before. I finished it. I entered another contest. I … well, I lost that contest. But I went back and ripped my first chapter to shreds, and the next contest I entered, I won not only a place among the finalists, but my amazing agent who sold me to a Big Five dream house.

So go on—work on your pitch and get it out there. Then come back and let the rest of us know how it went! Good luck!

Tweet: The pitch contest: unagented writers are invited to pitch a MS publicly & maybe land an agent.
Tweet: Here’s a short list of pitch contests that may work for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. By You, Me, and Literary Agents on 16 February, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    […] But if yours is the third such manuscript, it’s going to be a hard sell. • You could also enter pitch contests. • The surest way to interest an agent is to write a great book. Then you polish it up and submit […]