What to Consider before Entering a Writing Contest

Twitter-based writing contests have become a staple of the online publishing scene. Running the gamut from long-term mentorships to day-long pitch contests, they can be a golden opportunity for agent-seeking writers to meet people, polish their work, and get their pitches in front of agents.

But there are so MANY, and in such a variety of styles. Should you be entering them? Are you missing out? What is going on??

In this post, I’m going to break down a few of the most reputable opportunities, plus advice on whether contests are for you.

What Great Contests Do

Most writers find their agent through a cold query.

Yes. Even writers who get into contests. Contests are not a magic bullet.

So, if the slush works, what is the point of entering a contest? Oh, friend, there are SO many benefits.

They are an opportunity to improve your work alongside a reputable, experienced mentor who has been where you are going. They are an opportunity to craft and test that all-important pitch (elevator or Twitter). They are a chance to meet other writers at the same stage as you. They are a platform for underrepresented voices to be uplifted and heard. With their submission windows, rejections, feedback and waiting, they are tiny models of the publishing world.

Contests, when organized well, are the most beautiful, community-building training wheels that a new writer can find. I love that they exist. They’ve been a big part of how I built my own writing family.

How to Tell If a Contest Is Good

Contests vary widely in quality, particularly in the Twittersphere. Before participating, always do your research so you don’t get burned.

First, look up the organizers, mentors, and judges. What experience do they have with mentoring, publishing, editing, and writing? Does it seem credible? Have they been where you are trying to go?

Look up past winners. What are their careers like now? Are they signing with agents you’d like to sign with? Have they found book deals? Are they still saying good things about the contest and their mentor?

Look up participating agents. Do they make deals with reputable publishers? Are they looking for your genre and age category? Are they agents you otherwise couldn’t pitch to, because they are closed to submissions?

If a contest is new, be extra diligent with your research. New doesn’t mean bad (I got into AMM when it was new!), but it does mean there will be less information. It might not be clear yet if it has been a successful and uplifting opportunity for other writers. There are a few roundups of all available contests floating around, to get you started.

Should You Enter?

Contests are all the rage, but that doesn’t mean you need to participate! First, consider whether contests will actually help you reach your writing goals.

Are you still building your writing community?

Contests are like writer college. For a few weeks, a group of writers who are all at the same stage as you will congregate on contest hashtags and Facebook groups, looking for someone to talk to, play writing games with, and commiserate alongside. There is no faster way to befriend other people writing in your genre. You might even nab some new CPs!

Are you okay with posting your work publicly?

Most revision/pitch contests involve posting portions of your work publicly for critique or agent review. Twitter pitch contests involve publicly posting short pitches for your work. Some people find this process extremely stressful and anxiety-inducing, and the cost of that might outweigh the benefit. Public posting is not as common for mentorships, so those programs could be a better fit.

Does this contest’s structure suit your working style?

Contests with showcases often have tight revision periods. You’ll be expected to accept and incorporate feedback in a matter of weeks. If you do not like to work that quickly, this may result in burnout, fatigue, or undue stress. Before entering any contest or mentorship, consider whether its parameters suit your style–it’s okay if they don’t, even if the contest is very popular! You need to do what’s best for you.

Do you know your long-term publishing goals?

Before entering any contest, take some time to outline what you want from your writing and publishing experience. (You should do this before querying, too.)

First, think big picture. Where are you trying to go with your writing? Is this about one book only? Is seeing your work in print the most important thing? Or are you picturing a long-term career, full of many stories? Do you want to work with small presses, or large ones? Do you plan to write in other genres, categories, or forms someday? Whatever you come up with is valid!

Now, look at your short term/concrete goals. Do you need to network and make writer friends? Are you trying to put your work in front of particular agents? Do you feel you’ve hit a wall in revisions, and need outside insight to help you grow?

Write all of this down. Put it on your mirror. And then, when a contest comes across your feed, compare it to your personal goals. Will the contest help you achieve these? If so, great! If not, don’t let FOMO get to you. Your time is best spent on other things.

With all this out of the way, let’s talk about some great contests you should bookmark!

Great Pitch Contests

DVPit is a semiannual Twitter pitch contest run by agent Beth Phelan. It is open to marginalized creators only. Participants tweet 140-character pitches of their query-ready projects for agents to request via likes. DVPit has led to some AMAZING success stories and matches, and is always a joy!

PitMad is a quarterly Twitter pitch contest run by author Brenda Drake. It is open to all writers. Participants tweet 140-character pitches of their query-ready projects for agents to request via likes. PitMad is one of the original pitch contests, and Brenda’s the contest queen. This one is a staple of the online pitching world!

Great Revision & Pitch Contests

PitchWars, run by Brenda Drake, is the mother contest! Entrants submit a query and first chapter for consideration by mentors, who will select one writer to work with over a two-month window, revising that person’s entire manuscript. The winning mentees then participate in a pitch/first page showcase where agents request additional material from their favorite entries. The contest has resulted in many, many success stories and is well-respected.

PitchSlam, run by L.L. McKinney, and PitchMadness, run by Brenda Drake, involve entering and revising a short section of your work and a pitch, to be included in a showcase where agents may request more material. Both contests have been around for a few years and have a number of success stories.

Query Kombat, run by Michelle Hauck, is a bracket-style query competition where queries in similar categories are pitted against each other in elimination rounds, competing for the champion spot. Agents may request more material from queries that make it into later rounds. I love this competition’s fun twist on the pitch contest format, and it has also led to writers signing with some very reputable agents.

Great Mentorships

Author Mentor Match, founded by Alexa Donne and Heather Kaczynski, is a mentorship program open to MG and YA writers seeking traditional publication. Mentors, who are agented/traditionally published authors, work with their mentees to prepare manuscripts for publication and navigate the publishing and querying trenches. The program opens to applications semiannually.

Writing In The Margins is a mentorship program open to marginalized writers. Mentors, who are experienced editors or traditionally published authors, work with mentees to prepare their manuscript for publication. The program opens to applications semiannually.

 

Thanks for sticking with me through a long post. I love contests, and I’ve had really good experiences with them. But I also know some people don’t get that lucky, so I hope this information can help you make the most informed decisions possible, so that you, too, can have a wonderful time participating in contests.

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