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This past week, I've been working with Brenda Drake on the #PitchMadness contest she hosts on her blog. Writers submitted their 35-word pitch and first 250 words of a completed manuscript for showcase on 3 writer blogs, and consideration to a panel of pre-selected agents who "bid" on entries. All of these agents can be queried through their normal submission process, but the contest allows for more of a platform and exposure for the writer, as the entries are vetted ahead of time by readers.
Cue me: a reader! I helped Brenda and her teams read through, wait for it, over 900 entries!
Yes, that was a correct number of zeroes. NINE HUNDRED ENTRIES.
Which got me thinking. How do you get noticed among 900 entries?
Really, it's the same question on how do you get noticed among the hundreds of entries agents receive weekly/daily/monthly into their infamous "slush pile"?
This whole writing for publication thing is intimidating. You hear 900 entries, and in the case of Pitch Madness, if only 60 are chosen (they ended up taking 68 overall, each team taking 2 more entries since there were so many), it's easy to throw up your hands and say, screw it.
Being on the other side of the contest, I see how subjective it is. I also see how CLOSE so many writers are.
A pitch might be catchy, but the first page is kind of boring (anything from cliche: character waking up to start the day, or driving somewhere thinking about their life, or prose that doesn't connect), or it's well-written but maybe doesn't offer anything new, is missing the hook, OR none of the agents for the panel are looking for what the writer is writing.
All of those factors are the same with querying. A lackluster first page might get a skim ... and then a form rejection. If the genre is something the agent doesn't rep, they aren't going to consider it anyway. It's up to the writer to pay attention to those details when they submit. Same as a contest--if none of the agents rep what you write, it (likely) won't matter how great your first page is. You need to find agents or editors who are looking for your type of story.
The best part of contests like this is the community aspects. Twitter has been blazing the past week under the #PitchMadness tag, and that's really cool to see.
Congratulations to all the writers who entered. It's a great step to put your work out there. It's scary! While there's no easy path to publication, no real shortcuts, no easy answers, the best advice I've come away with from being on both sides of contests is this:
- Find writers who can help you; online or in person.
- Join a writers group, professional or local at a public library. SOMETHING.
- Read books about writing.
- Read BOOKS. Lots of them.
- Keep writing. For many published authors, their debut was not their first book. It could be their third or their tenth or their twentieth manuscript. There is no formula.
Tell me in the comments about a memorable experience of sharing your work publicly. How did you deal? What did you after that to move forward?
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