Contest Season is Nigh. Get Your Bits Ready.

Posted: January 12, 2017 in Writing
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If you are a querying writer with aspirations of becoming an agented author, pitch contest season is like June for college graduates — polishing their resumé and practicing their interview face. For us writers, it is time to get our bits ready.

The “bits” to which I am referring are your 140-character Twitter pitch and your 35-word longline and your 250 to 300-word synopsis and the first 250 words of your finished manuscript.  Plus, you’ll need to have your genre worked out (pick ONE; fantasy steampunk horror romance is not a thing). Know your age group (pick ONE). Choose a couple of good, contemporary comps (NOT Harry Potter, NOT 50 Shades of Gray, and something you’ve actually read and an agent has actually heard of).

Also, you know, just know your story and your characters, because many of these contests will ask you to come up with a clever “code name” for your book, or answer a “character question” as part of your submission. Sometimes these contests will pop up out of nowhere, and you will discover you have only a day or two to get everything compiled and ready to submit during a small window.

Let’s take Sun vs. Snow, for example. This year the entry window opens on January 23. So, as I write this, there are still almost two weeks to prepare.  On the above-linked website there are very specific instructions for how to format the e-mail you will submit, including spacing, what font to use, where to bold, etc. There is a character question, so even if you have all your bits neatly organized in a folder, you still need to write a pithy (100 words or less) answer to this.  Then when the window opens at 4pm Eastern time, you have less than 5 minutes to hit send, because they only take the first 200 entries. In past years the contest filled up in four minutes.

READ THE CONTEST GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Because this really is a case where judges will be overwhelmed with entries and must whittle down to just a few who can go through. What do you win? That varies from contest to contest, but generally “winners” of dinferential stages earn close, personalized feedback from professional editors, who will help you polish your ms and query and get them ready to present to agents. These contests almost always earn someone a contract with an agent. But don’t enter if you’re not prepared to do a lot of revisions very quickly.

Getting in is hard, because these contests are fiercely competitive, but they are worth it because someone always makes it through, and the odds go up the more you participate. Not to mention you will have an opportunity to receive free, professional feedback — not only on your ms, but you can learn from the feedback others receive. There is almost always a Twitter feed you can follow to read live comments from the judges as they evaluate the (usually) anonymous entries. It’s fun (and terrifying) to imagine they they might be talking about your entry.

You have nothing to lose, so why not give it a try?

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