Contesting the Contest Hype


I’m gonna start this off totally upfront. I was a mentee in Pitch Wars ’14 and ’15. I’m now a mentor in that same contest, and TeenPit. I was in a buttload of other contests (I forget most, but Googling can bring them up if you want to spend some time stalking around). And, despite all that, I got my agent through traditional querying.

Contests are amazing. I had little by the way of a writing community when I was introduced to the world of Twitter and internet writing contests. I’d never had real deadlines to work under before. The goals I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned are priceless. And that community? I wouldn’t be writing today without it. I wholeheartedly encourage all my writing friends to enter them.

But also, I know a lot of people who have been completely destroyed from them.

They either didn’t get in, or they did get in and they had a bad experience, or they got in but didn’t get an agent, or so many other things. And I get it. No one’s aren’t wrong to feel that way. I’ve been at the bottom of that pit, and it is dark and lonely and awful.

A vast majority of writers I know are rep’d through traditional querying. (And I know a lot of authors from having been involved in so many contests and competitions and forums for over seven years.) Like I said, even I caught my agent’s attention through traditional querying, and before she signed with me I did an revise and resubmit. Which was amazing and made my story immensely better, even after I’d been in Pitch Wars twice. No contest is the end all, be all. There’s so much more to learn, and infinite room to grow no matter if you’ve been in a contest or not.

Please don’t let any contest keep you from writing if it’s what you love. You aren’t a failure if you don’t get into a contest. You’re not a failure if you do get into a contest and don’t requests or representation from it it. You’re not a failure if you got an agent from a contest but still haven’t sold your book.

You wrote a book.

Tell me how many people you know in your personal life who have accomplished writing a novel. There’s probably not a ton. Most people will never understand enough about publishing and editing and revising to get it to the point you do. And the online community you build is the most important part of these contests, but it can be exhausting with mostly good news all the time. Because, yes you’re happy for them, but you feel like you’ll never have your turn.

Please keep writing. Keep querying. Keep listening and learning. Take breaks and don’t worry about them, we all need them from both writing and/or social media. The odds of getting into a large contest are slimmer than getting a request querying an agent, nowadays. The odds of getting rep’d through a contest are then even tinier. It’s not even a guarantee to get rep’d!  I could have entered another Pitch Wars with how long it took for me to sign with my agent.  (Well, I was rep’d for about three months after my first PW, but that’s a long story that did not end well and made everything worse.)

Getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting into contest, it’s all like winning the lottery. For the most part, it’s luck. You can’t know if the judge or mentor you submitted to hates a small trope in your book; you can’t know if the agent was having a bad day; you can’t know if the editor you went on submission to just bought a similar book the day before. But it’s not all luck. The fact that you’ve come so far, that you’re reading this post, that you’re investing so much time in your craft, means you’re increasing your odds.

It’s okay to still pursue your dream even if you didn’t win the lottery this time. The only thing it costs you to try again is time (and, let’s be real, emotional perseverance). Like I said, contests are amazing in how they teach you so much, and that community is what pulled me through some of the worst of my dark times. You should keep entering.

But this is not your end all and be all. Your words are more important than a contest.

You are more important.

I’m sorry this line of work is so rough. But you’re awesome for coming so far.

If you want to share/ramble/word vomit your story, both my ears are open for you in the comments or elsewhere (I get that sometimes talking it out helps). If you want to add on encouragement for anyone who needs it, totally feel free to leave some of those, too.

(I also apologize for the sheer amount of italics in this post. And how messy it is. I have emotions about this.)

Bacon, out.