Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insecure Writers Support Group: IWSG

Happy March! It's time for Insecure Writers Support Group's monthly blog hop. Sign up or visit blogs here: Insecure Writers Support Group website

They also have a Facebook Group

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?

Please visit other IWSG blogs in the link above!


  1. Way back in college, I wrote a one act play for a class that ended up being performed in a festival. It was the first time I ever saw my words "live" and it was an extremely positive memorable experience. :)

    Of course, I also have piles and piles of rejections, too. You take the good with the not so good, and you keep going. That's what writers do.

  2. I keep telling myself, it only takes one Yes! when I keep getting the no's and the silences. I really have to keep pushing myself to put my query out there. But I absolutely believe if you keep working the process, the process will work for you. I'm learning so much.

  3. I actually started to feel anxious reading your post. 900 entries for pitchmadness is nuts! And you're right, it isn't any different in slush piles. But speaking of needles in a haystack, my son is a sailor on the USS Abraham Lincoln. He was on duty one night, reading my book and another sailor walked by and said, "Hey, I've read that book." And he replied, "Hey, my mom wrote this book." For some reason that was the first time I realized - really, truly realized - people I don't know choose to buy and read my books. Such an awesome thing!

    Happy March, Stephanie.

    1. Very cool! The closest I've come to that is seeing a writer colleague's book in Target. I was so excited!

  4. I still rankle at the memory of being dogpiled by three agents who shall remain unnamed, in a pitch contest on a site which shall also remain unnamed. I thought it was ridiculous how they decided I'm not a good, accurate historical writer based just on two six-line pitches, and the fact that they didn't think my characters' names were accurate. Actually, the spelling Jakob is also used in The Netherlands, and it would've hardly been unusual for a German Jewish girl born in 1930 to have been named Katherine. I later found out one of these agents was involved in some rather high-profile bullying of a book reviewer, which makes me wonder why anyone would still want to query someone who behaved so unprofessionally.

    1. Oh, that's tough. Sometimes contests aren't the best format for certain stories, and a longer-form pitch say via querying or meeting an agent or editor at a conference where there is more time set aside to discuss is a better fit. Ultimately, I think it comes down to the writer doing their research (in agents as well as for their book) and making the decision that works best for their own career.

  5. Although it was scary at first, I've had pretty good experiences with online pitch contests. I try to seek out the ones where even if I don't "win," I still get some kind of feedback. That way, I feel like I'm successful no matter what. The thing I like about online contests and the like is getting feedback from either agents/editors or writers who might not be as familiar with your work as your regular critique partners.

    1. They definitely have their place. Pitch Madness did not offer feedback. Maybe if the entries were 250 or so and the team could divide that up, but it's become SO BIG. Given agents aren't required to provide feedback either, it's both fairly standard to not always here WHY something doesn't work, and also frustrating. I guess all this to say is, contests have their place, but aren't the end all be all.

  6. Oh my gosh - 900 entrants! That must have taken some reading :)
    Co-Host March IWSG :)

    1. I know! Thankfully it was a team approach. My eyes would bleed at reading that many in such a short timeframe.

  7. Wow, that's a lot of pitches to go through! I agree with all your tips, especially about joining a group. Such support and many of levels of experience you get access to..

  8. 900 entries @@ lots of reading. Might make your eyes run together. Support and teamwork really do make a difference.

    Thank you for stopping by for visit. I became ill with horrible virus on IWSG day. If I had not already written my posted I would have miss the posting. That why its take so long to get back to you. I really appreciate your comments. Hope you have a great day. /Writer's Gambit Juneta

  9. What an amazing amount of pitches to review! Hats off to your group of readers. I guess the first pitch I made in person to an editor at a conference would be the most memorable because I was so nervous I almost forgot the name of the book I was pitching. thank goodness, she was very patient. And no, I didn't sell then, but eventually did to a different editor. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I appreciate it.


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