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About contests, and how I became and Alternate in Pitchwars

Pitchwars got somewhere around 2000 applications, about 30 of them were lucky enough to be picked as a mentee, and another 60-ish as alternates . Guys, the odds weren’t good. Especially, when you add in the fact that the quality of the people entering was HIGH. Like really high, through the roof high. We’re talking much higher than an average agents slush pile. These are the best of the best in slush, all being in the same place at the same time.  

Honestly, I’ve tried these kinds of contests before, and I’ve been disappointed every time (not to say I didn’t learn a ton from each and every one)
Starting in May with The Writers Voice, I’ve tried all of Brenda Drakes contests, and a hand full of others. I’d say around 10 or so, maybe more, it’s hard to keep track. But every time I wasn’t chosen, in most I have no idea why. Each time I learned more, grew A LOT and made lots of writerly friends. But wasn’t really sure.

I’ve learned, through my experience with contests, that it’s more likely to get a request from slush, than to be picked for many of these contests (not that I’ve had luck with those either ;-) I’ve yet to try out my polished pages and tons-better query)

Reasons why being picked for contests can be harder than slush:

1. You are surrounded by amazing-ness and not average-ness (or worse) so your really good sub might not stand out as well against all the other really good subs.

2. There is a limit to what can be accepted. This depends on each contest, but in pitch wars the mentors were only allowed pick one person of all the entries they got. They changed the rules to allow 3, but still, an agent would request 10 or more if they thought they were worth it.

3. There are only so many mentors in the world. Most of these contests  often have the same judges. Pitch wars had the most variety than most contests , which usually have just a few people picking the entries that will move on. And those people tend to be repeats in each contest. Why does this matter? Subjectivity. Yes it’s that word we keep hearing about. Each one of these people have their own tastes, things that matter to them, things they personally want or like. So, if you are submitting to contests and not having much luck, it could be just that you haven’t found someone who really gets you. This is the case with agents as well, except the pool is much bigger (were talking hundres as apposed to a handful, or dozens at best). Adding this with 1 and 2, it makes these contests very hard.

They are still worth it, for those who make it it’s a GREAT opportunity, for those who don’t—the lessons you learn and the people you meet are invaluable.

As for me? Things got a little better gradually, I got a vote to go on to the second round of Gutgaa (but not enough to actually go ) and was picked in pitch live (but got no agent attention). Then I decided I’d be done doing contests with this MS. I realized at this point I was better off getting as ready as I could and jumping into the query game for real.

 Until Pitchwars came along and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up—a mentor! Not just throwing me into an agent round, but giving me someone to work with me. Now, I didn’t expect to get picked, of course. I never had before. So I sent my apps in and practically forgot about them. Until I got a last minute (or last day) request for more pages and a synopsis. I STILL didn’t want to believe I had a shot, I mean, I did think I did, but I didn’t WANT to (did you follow that?) There was still a good chance I wouldn’t get picked and I didn’t want to get my hopes up. When the day came and I learned I was an Alternate…. I was THRILLED. I am just as excited about being an Alternate than if I was chosen as an actually mentee. I got exactly what I wanted—a mentor! Fiona loves my idea and it feels really good to have someone on my side, someone who chose me! She may not give me as much attention as her #1 pick but she’s already helped me with my query and plans on at least helping with my synopsis and 3 chapters (and maybe the full later in the month if she has time).

So how did this happen? How did I go from getting nowhere in the contest scene to being an Alternate (I hope you think as highly of being an Alternate as I do ;-) How was I chosen amoung thousands of others?

Are you guys ready for this?

… no really, it’s deep.


Get ready


Okay, it’s more than that. A little more than that. Go back to #3 on my list of why contests are so hard. This is the absolute reason I found my way (in this contest. I'm no sucess story... yet ;-) I was lucky enough to find the person who got me. Someone who loves my story and my writing and is willing to forgive a few issues for what she sees underneath.

So, what does this mean for you? My advice is not to take too much stock in contests.

Try them, love them, hope and learn. Learn, learn, learn. Soak in every little bit of information offered to aspiring writers on the web. Meet new writers.

But when things don’t go well, don’t take it too hard. Hopefully you’ll starting getting a few hints that you’re more ready than it may seem. Like a vote in one contest, a request in a pitch contest, lots of great feedback on your work, people running a contest telling you they loved your sub but...  Those things can be great hints that you are ready for the real writing world. You CAN get an agent from a contest, but 90% get them from old fashioned querying. So don’t think that you MUST make it into a contest to be successful. Just learn from it and move on. Then when you find your success your own way you can help others on their way.

As for me, I’m going to soak as much as I can from pitchwars and my amazing mentor Fiona, then fight as hard as I can to find an agent and then a publisher. Wish me luck, and I will most definitely return the favor! Your turn will come as long as you keep trying, but almost never how you expect it (kind of like love ;-) So keep your head up and keep fighting.  <3

EDIT: In case you're curious I ended up getting 2 full requests, still no word on those but I'm moving on to my YA contemporary NAKED, at least as far as most of my current efforts go. No giving up, or anything :-)

Pictures are from


  1. Wise words. Contests aren't the be all and end all. I've gotten requests from contests, but the highlight has been meeting wonderful writers that are now friends. If any of the requests amount to offers that's a great bonus, but the reality is most writers find their perfect agent the old fashioned way.

  2. I'm with you. Writing is a tough business, but if you keep learning and keep putting your work out there, you will succeed, eventually. It's the eventually that's the toughest.

  3. Thanks for the post - really needed:)

  4. I'm in the same boat. I do well in conference writing contests, but never blog pitch contests. And I've wondered why one and not the other. But this post really puts it into perspective for me. Thanks!