Thursday, July 11, 2013

Writing and pitching contests

Friday, July 12 is a Twitter pitch contest. It's a follow-up to the main event on the PitchMas blog, and it's one of those deals where agents are peeking at the Twitter feed (hashtag #PitchMAS) throughout the day. You can get the details and rules on that blog link I posted there. (And get some Twitter-friendly pitches ready to pitch if you're an agent-seeking author with a completed manuscript!)

I have a friend who's planning to do the contest. Maybe a few other people I know are planning to do it and haven't told me. I just wanted to reflect on my experience with these sorts of contests, even though I will not be participating in this one (obviously).

I've been in a few writing contests. My first was probably the First Chapters contest on Gather. It was a complete fiasco; we were supposed to share a first chapter, and it would be voted upon. Not only could OTHER PARTICIPANTS vote on each other's work (!!!!), but we could SEE whose entries were topping the charts, which caused every single one of them to get downvoted by people who were trying to make the chances better for their own. The top entries had scores like 4/10 because of that crap. And then when the 20 people chosen to go to the next round were announced, one of them had semi-regularly written for Gather's site and been compensated for it, which was basically like giving the award to an employee. I was pretty disgusted and disillusioned by that, especially since the next round continued with the same rules despite the outcry.

Beyond that, I've entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest three times. I've never entered with the manuscript that's represented by my agent Michelle, and maybe it sounds sort of snooty, but the reason for that is that I believed Bad Fairy was my strongest manuscript and that it didn't "need" a contest. Guess I was right, huh? ^___^ Anyway, I entered my YA (which I'm now categorizing as NA) twice and made the quarter-finals both years, but Publishers Weekly hated my book both times and gave me a pretty bad review, so I never made it to the semis. And then this year I entered my science fiction romance and I didn't even make it to the quarter-finals. (Which is okay with me because I actually didn't want to win the prize; I hadn't realized until after I'd committed to the contest that the publishing contract winners get was being offered by Amazon, not by Penguin as in years past. I'm not really all that hot on an Amazon contract, even though it was going to be an imprint with mainstream distribution.)

And I've entered The Writer's Voice. That was the only blog-based contest I entered, though I saw them around here and there. I entered The Writer's Voice with my YA Finding Mulligan, and my pitch/first 250 was not chosen by any of the four hosts for their team. (The contest was run so that each would pick a team and then they'd help their contestants prepare for the next round, judged by agents who would request chapters or full manuscripts.) So I didn't even get to be on a team, and later one of the judges e-mailed me and told me how much she'd actually liked my idea but didn't pick it because she'd imagined it was too similar to a TV show I'd never heard of and she thought I might be mistaken for ripping it off so agents probably wouldn't choose me. (I looked the show up and the one similarity between my book and this TV show didn't seem at all damning to me, since they're only similar in one very vague way. So I think she was wrong, but I was glad to know I wasn't left in the dust because there was something wrong with my story or my pitching technique.)

Like PitchMas, The Writer's Voice had a follow-up Twitter pitch session. I got eight pitches together, tried them out on my friends, and attended the pitch party, tweeting with the #WVTP hashtag using the pitches that were highest voted. The silence was pretty deafening. No agents were bidding on my stuff. And then I just threw caution to the wind and tweeted the pitch that had been the LEAST popular among my friends:

"Can’t a gal and her other self have a good old-fashioned reality-crossing romance anymore?"

And I got this reply from an agent:

Eh. If she'd been seeing it all day, I wonder what kept her from requesting it? Maybe she was just on the fence. Oh well. So I got a request. Made the day worth it, at least. Goes to show you that my friends' taste is the opposite of agents' taste? I guess?

Though this agent rejected my book based on my first 50 pages some time later. Meh.

I got signed for a different book just a few months later. And shortly after getting signed I ran into a contest that needed judges--run by one of the same people who'd hosted The Writer's Voice--and they were looking for a few agented authors (first-round judges) who wrote ADULT material since they had so many YA authors in the judging panel. I volunteered and ended up getting to pick my own "team" for Come and Get It.

Seeing the other side of the fence was interesting. Out of the ten entries assigned to me, I had to pick four to go on to the next round for agent bidding. It was difficult, but oddly enough, I actually only really liked three of the four I sent through, and the fourth was just because I was supposed to pick another one, so I picked the one with the strongest writing in the sample even though the query was not up to snuff in my opinion. (I won't say which. You can see my discussion and links to my specific feedback for my first five here and my second five here, on my main website.)

Some of the pitches needed a lot of help and I was left wondering why a book this rough was being pitched to agents. Some of the pitches looked great. I ended up connecting with one of the ladies I put through to the next round and after some fun e-mails we critiqued each other's writing. We're still in touch nearly a year after the contest now. And of course there was also the unpleasant situation where an enthusiastic writer who knew I was her judge followed me on Twitter and was tweeting at me excitedly about receiving her feedback, only to silently unfollow me without comment when she saw the feedback I left her. At least that's better than getting yelled at. ^___^ One of my picks got multiple agent requests, but the others got none. Them's the breaks.

I've now helped quite a few people prepare for these sorts of contests, and I think they're a cool alternate way to get your stuff in front of agents--especially since they are the ones who choose to participate if they are looking for clients, so THEY are asking YOU for your stuff--seeking it out rather than getting queried. It's a pretty neat dynamic and I know of a few people who got signed this way. I may have ultimately secured agency representation through good old-fashioned querying, but if the cards had fallen differently, I think a contest like this could have worked out for me too if I'd been in the query trenches longer than I was.

Social media is really changing the game up. My agent recently found an editor to pitch my book to using the manuscript wish list (#MSWL) hashtag on Twitter, and I got a positive response from that (meaning the editor did request my full manuscript). I've probably only scratched the surface here, but it seems like there are tons of ways people are sharing writing with industry professionals and making connections in ways that didn't used to be possible. I think these contests are a lot of fun . . . and I hope one day I get to judge another one. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment