QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Score Big in Pitch Contests: Guest Post

Pitch contests are fast becoming a viable option for connecting authors with agents and publishers.

With more and more authors being signed via competitions rather than slush, your chances of gaining representation could be higher through a pitch contest than with traditional querying methods.

An advantage in entering pitch contests is you don’t have to play a guessing game on which agent to query at an agency. Your pitch is on display for agents to peruse, and if an agent doesn’t request your work, you can still query a different agent at that agency. A cheeky way to double dip without breaking submission guidelines.

The contests can vary for how to enter. The main styles include:

Open to all in a set time period.
Open to a limited number of entries with the cut off determined by when critical mass is reached.
Open to all in a set time period, however entries go through a screening process before making the final round.

If you are planning to enter pitch contests, here’s some tips to stand out from the competition (in a good way):

Be selective on which contests you enter. The publishing industry is smaller than you’d think. Not all agents participate in pitch competitions, which means that some agents participate in multiple contests. And many pitch contests hosts help out with multiple competitions. You don’t want your pitch dangled out in front of the same agents continuously. And you risk missing out of final rounds if those screening the contest have seen your pitch multiple times before.

Adhere to the rules. Don’t ‘bend’ the rules.

  • Make sure that your manuscript matches the requirements of the contest – the right category and the right genre.
  • Stick to the word limit for your pitch.
  • DON’T pitch a manuscript that isn’t ready. You’re wasting your time, the agents time, and taking away an opportunity from someone who is ready.

Edit your pitch. Pitches and queries need drafting, just like your manuscript. Often bloggers will hold pitch critiques on behalf of the contest hosts to help writers hone their entry.

Don’t be vague or cliché. Don’t use phrases like “world turned upside down”, “everything changes”, “there’ll be dire consequences”. Be specific and clear on what happens in the story.

Show your voice. Pitches for contests are often shorter than what you put in a query. You need to be able to set the tone for the story, the category, and the genre in just a few sentences, or 140 characters for Twitter pitch contests, as well as capturing your main character’s voice. This is where getting critiques on your query can help.

Highlight your point of difference. What makes your story unique? How will it stand out on the bookstore shelf? You need to hook the contest hosts, agents and editors.

Be clear of the conflict and stakes. These are what make the story interesting. A story about an ordinary person, having an ordinary life with nothing happening may have worked as a pitch for Seinfeld, but it won’t cut it in a query contest.

Polish your first 250 words. Make sure that you have gone over your first 250 words with a fine toothcomb if the contest includes an excerpt. An agent won’t expect absolute perfection on the whole, but they will for your opening. It should be perfect.

Make sure your word count is right. A lot of pitches get passed on because of extremely high, or low, word counts for their category and genre. Look at the industry standards and if your manuscript doesn’t match up then you will likely be passed on, especially if there’s limited positions in the contest.

Get it right before you enter. You need to have every aspect of your entry perfect before you send it off: all your details, the pitch and the excerpt. Pitch Contests can attract hundreds of entries and expecting organizers to wade through these entries to find your mistake is less than ideal.

These steps will improve your changes of getting selected for the final round of a contest and getting requests from a contest. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll get an offer of rep. That’s up to you to make sure that you have an amazing manuscript that’s masterfully written and highly marketable.

Sharon Johnston is an author, public relations specialist, a regular pitch contest host and a collector of shoes and cat clothing. Her debut novel Sleeper is out in December 2013. Follow her on Twitter at @S_M_Johnston

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