You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play

Just like our characters, all writers have our vices and less attractive personality flaws.

Mine (allegedly) is a tendency towards a… lets call it a healthy sense of competition and enjoyment of winning, yes?

So no surprise that shortly after I fell into the writing world, I discovered writing contests.

And there was great rejoicing in the land.

Million Words PSA Alert

One quick caveat before I extoll the joys of competition—research any potential contests. There are a hell of a lot of shady ones out there. Some are scams to get “winning” writers to invest in the sponsors pay-to-play agency or vanity publishing group. Others take lifetime rights to the piece submitted. Most of those offer either a cash prize or a publication deal, and involve a hefty entry fee.

But we’re going to concentrate on the legit online variety.

Now, Back to the regularly scheduled broadcast

Since I also write romance, Romance Writers of America is a biggie, and a fantastic model. Chapters put on yearly contests (501k non-proffits). There is a small entry fee that goes to the chapter’s running costs. But judges are trained, published writers. A score sheet and written feedback are given, which is invaluable if you’re just starting out and don’t have critique partners yet, or if you’re that hair away from query ready, and need a qualified opinion on details. Finalists are then sent to an agent or publisher/editor judge for final placement. Folks, this is a great way to get a leg up on the slush-pile.

There are many similar contests going that provide writers with feedback and exposure to editors and agents, and they cover every possible genre, from picture books to horror to those created for #OwnVoices. Blogs and Twitter are hotbeds with Query Kombat, Sun vs Snow, PitchMAS, PitchtoPage, etc.

Here’s a great roundup to get started.

From a practical point of view, contest deadlines are a terrific kick in the rear for people who need to finish a manuscript but require an outside deadline as motivation.

Out of the myriad of online contests, my favorite, and the largest, hands down, is Pitch Wars. Check Twitter under the #PitchWars and #askthementors tags.

Basically, unpublished writers submit a query and the first ten pages to four potential Mentors, experienced, published authors that offer their time and knowledge to pay it forward to the community. If chosen, the Mentee works with their mentor on everything from plot, pacing, characterization and dialogue to line edits, to polish their manuscript for an agent round. No lie—sometimes major, ground-up revisions and rewrites are required.

All in two months time.

The contest starts in August and Mentors and Mentees work through September and October.

On November first, the perfected query, logline, and pages go up for an Agents Showcase. Dozens and dozens of the best agents in the biz go through and (hopefully) request pages or fulls.

Pitch Wars and Brenda Drake, the creator, have a great reputation in the industry. Many writers have gotten agents and deals from Pitch Wars. Many, many more have improved their writing skills, and found their CPs and on-line writer’s home. The online community is vast, active, and welcoming.

Cue the waffling.

I can’t stand the tension and waiting.

Not getting picked would suck.

No one will like this weird Game of Thrones + Crazy Ex-Girlfriend mashup.

Yeah, you might get excited, and then not chosen.

Yeah, you might put in all that work after being chosen, and not score any agent interest.

Those possibilities suck. But publishing is an industry built on trying, falling, short, and trying again. First and foremost, don’t self reject.

If you compete, at the worst, you’ll have a finished, polished manuscript ready to query on your own terms. Best case, you’ll have a whole new group of uber-supportive contacts, and an agent.

Cliché Time!

You can’t win if you don’t play, chickies.

With that in mind–guess what? Pitch Wars is about to open for 2017.

Pitch Wars


Agents Involved


The Mentors


Live Mentor Interviews


There’s even a group where hopefuls can trade queries and chapters.

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