This month here on Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking pitching. Make sure you stay tuned for our best pitch info and advice coming all throughout the month.
There are a lot of different types of competition authors can look at as a way to give their work industry attention, but today I’m talking pitching contests. Two of the biggest pitching contests that come around every year — which you may have heard of if you have a Twitter account and follow any authors at all — are Pitch Madness and Pitch Wars. The latter is on right now.
Both of these are organised by contest queen Brenda Drake. The ultimate goal is to have your pitch and/or manuscript chosen, polished, and put in front of participating agents for consideration. To do this, you need to first be selected by one of a number of mentors, who are generally editors, published or agented authors, or others with publishing experience but who aren’t actually publishers or agents themselves.
My experience: the positives
I am not an expert on the inner workings of either of these particular competitions. For that, you’ll have to ask Sharon, who is an experienced Pitch Wars mentor. But I have participated from the other side.
When I first joined Twitter back in 2012 I didn’t have any experienced critique partners. The only people who’d read my manuscript at that point were friends, who were enthusiastic but either didn’t see problems with the story as it stood or were too kind to tell me.
Pitch Wars was on about a month later, so I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t win, or even get picked for the final three by my mentors, although apparently I made some shortlists. It turned out that my query letter blew chunks. Several kinds, in new and interesting colours. Disheartening, much? But there were some definite positives from the experience.
- I received some lovely compliments back on my writing. Yay, validation!
- I got some specific, constructive feedback on the query and opening pages — all of which ultimately led to me improving both and selling that manuscript to a small publishing house.
- I befriended many other entrants and a few of the mentors. I wouldn’t be an Aussie Owned and Read co-blogger now if it weren’t for that first Pitch Wars, and that’s how I met my critique partners.
My experience: the negatives
Of course, there are also a couple of big downsides to these sorts of contests.
They are yet another way to experience rejection, and some people will be disheartened to the point where they give up altogether. (Julie Hutchings, an author I adore, posted a rant last week that touched on exactly that; it’s worth a read if you want the other perspective.) I remember how gutted I was, receiving those “no thanks” emails after my first Pitch Wars. I’d never received a real, non-form rejection letter before, and it hurt — though I believe it’s better to have received that email from a fellow author than from an agent.
The other downside to these contests is that the mentors, as wonderful and giving as they are, are third parties. I can see that some authors, even those who don’t necessarily need the feedback anymore, might use pitching contests as yet another procrastination tool. If you have a query-ready manuscript that has been beta read and critiqued and edited, and you have a polished query letter all ready to go, do you really need to take a month or two out before querying in order to enter a contest? Why not hit up MSWL (Manuscript Wish List, my favourite agent-finding site) and put that baby out there all by yourself?
Are pitching contests right for you?
I’ve haven’t entered a pitching contest in a couple of years now. (I do love an enthusiastic Twitter pitch party, though!) There are a few reasons for that, but primarily it boils down to the fact that I have those awesome, experienced critique partners now, and I’m comfortable with the idea of querying directly to agents and publishing houses rather than going through what is essentially another set of gatekeepers. (I mean that in the nicest possible way!)
I’ve also been a mentor-equivalent in other, smaller contests — NestPitch and Pitcharama — so I’ve seen the slush pile from the other side. I’m not so arrogant as to suggest that I wouldn’t benefit from the insight of the current contest mentors, but I also know I don’t need that help as badly as I did in 2012. Back then I didn’t even know where to find a list of agents to query!
Ultimately, my advice is this: see what the contest is offering you. Not just the ultimate reward of an offer from an agent or publishing house, but all the other benefits, which are potentially available regardless of whether you’re selected. Pitching contests can be an excellent way to receive another perspective on your work from someone other than your bestie or your mother. They can teach you how to research a mentor’s preferences (a skill that will be invaluable when querying agents). And they can introduce you to a new circle of writers, who — if you’re as lucky as I was — might become an invaluable support network.
Whatever you decide to do, may the odds be ever in your favour.