I've been in and around the contest scene for a long time now. I've entered and failed many times, entered and made it a handful of times and have now had the chance to sit on the other side of the desk and judge a few of them too.
Truth: I LOVE contests.
This time around I have no stake in Pitch Madness. I'm not entering and I'm not judging, but I've decided to include myself in another way-- helping at many people as I can.
Step one was to offer a few entry critiques, but I could only help a few people that way so my step two is to reach more people with is this post. My contest tips! (step 3 is a full manuscript critique give away for after Pitch Madness. More info at the bottom of the page!)
If you don't know what Pitch Madness is (what is wrong with you?!?), it's a contest where writers submit a short pitch and first page of their finished novels with the hopes that they'll be picked from the masses and presented to literary agents. More info here!
What does it take to be picked?
1) an awesome pitch that not only explains what your story is about, but how it stands out from others in your genre/category.
2) and awesome first page with awesome-- polished!-- writing, great voice and conflict! Since I wrote a post about writing an awesome first page a while back I'm just going link that (http://middlegrademinded.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-perfect-first-page.html) and spend my time talking about the pitch here.
A 35 word pitch is very hard to master, but so fun (when you stop stressing out about it) and very rewarding!
The biggest problem with these contests is that you only have 35 words to tell why your story stands out from HUNDREDS of others
How do you stand out?
Show us something different!
Show us something that we haven't seen before. It can be a plot twist, a setting, a unique character-- anything! But give us something NEW. That will get you remembered and you HAVE to be remembered or by the time the slush readers read the next hundred pitches, they won't care enough to pull yours out from the masses. (sometimes the writing of the first page is what makes them remember you. But if BOTH stand out? You're golden.)
This is the one question I asked most when reading through pitches as a judge/slush reader. Your character has to kill the wizard to save the world? Cool. But why? A lot of writers forget this part. Tell us what the character needs to do but don't forget the WHY!?
Make us care!
One of the basics of a good pitch is to tell us the stakes. What happens if your character fails in his task? Make sure you include that, but I'm going to take that a step further-- why should we care? Often the "stakes" are OR THE WORLD WILL END. Unfortunately, that's just not that compelling. Instead, try for something more intimate. Get personal. We can't fully connect to the world as a whole (and lets face it, how many stories have we heard that saves the world?) but we can connect to characters. People.
So, yeah, maybe your character will save the world/city/bus full of kids, but what makes his journey personal on top of that? Will the love of his life hate him forever? Will he lose his opportunity to go back in time to save his brother? Extra credit points if this personal stake conflicts with the more generic stake. He has to choose between his lover hating him and letting people die. That's compelling!
Do you have a pitch that tells your story perfectly, but you're just not sure *sparkles*? Just a word or two could make your simple pitch POP. Try to master the tone/voice of your story and find a way to show that off in your pitch. Tell the story the way your character would tell it. Use words they would use. Don't be afraid to get cute... just so long as you still explain the story in a way people can understand.
Stop and start over. Try a bunch of different ways of telling this pitch. There are often a few ways you can pitch a story by focusing on different aspects. Write out 5 or 6 different pitches and then narrow them down, or even combine some of them.
Pull out your query and chop it up. Take the most important lines and cut out all the rest. You might find a new way to pitch your story this way. It's a great way to start if you're stuck!
Get another opinion! Get others to look over your pitch and see what they say. Do they understand it? Which version do they like better and why? How do they think you can improve it? (strangers are best for this because it's hard for people who know you well to tell you if they don't like something. You need blunt here)
Some novels are easier to pitch than others, so don't worry if you can't perfect your pitch. If you think yours is impossible to explain in a short way, do your absolute best and focus on the first page being A-MAZE-ING.
Free Manuscript critique!
Want a shot at winning a critique from me? After Pitch Madness I'm going to run a quick giveaway for the folks who didn't make the agent round. The winner will get a Quickie manuscript critique from me (check out the Mentorship tab for information on what that includes.) So check back here after the agent round reveal to enter!
Anyone who tweets this post and includes @trombolii (me), I'll give them an extra entry into the give away (if you're picked for the agent round you can give away this extra entry to someone you know. Just tweet me who you want to give it to)
Have any questions? Leave them in the comments or shoot me an email SPTrombley88 at aol dot com.