In Praise of Query Contests and a PSA

I love writing contests, pitch contests, twitter contests, the like. I loved participating when I was looking for an agent and I love watching them now that I have an agent.

I’ve done several: Miss Snark’s First Victim, Query Kombat, two rounds of twitter pitch parties, Writeoncon, and finally #Pitchmadness.

I love them because they bring writers together to cheer each other on. You can find critique partners (waves at Lex Martin, Amy Pine and Megan Erickson — hello Writeoncon 2013!), you discover amazing other authors who become your friends on Twitter and might beta read for you, you refine your pitching skills, and sometimes, you can find an agent.

I did. The marvelous Carly Watters of P.S. Literary found me thanks to #Pitchmadness and the countless people who sifted through entries and hosted us on your blog. (See more in a blog post I wrote with Megan and Amy.)

And I’m so grateful for everyone who donates their time (and time is so valuable for all of us) to run these contests and to sift through the entries, to offer critiques and to really make a difference in so many writers lives. It takes so much time to run these contests and to judge them, time that comes out of writing time and family time and work time. And they are under no obligation to run them. They do it to help other authors, to give back to the writing community. It’s something I’ve done a little of and I hope to do much, much more. Because contests help writers. And they work sometimes.

But here’s the thing: we writers are an anxious people. We invented Goodreads stalking. We probably created the vomiting emoticon that I believe is used exclusively for when people read our writing. We lose sleep when our CPs read our stories too slowly (it must be boring) or too fast (they must think it’s such drek they need to be done with it). I could fill this blog with writer anxieties.

So here’s my PSA: please, those who are sifting through the slush piles, think about what you’re tweeting out there. Think about how it’s being read by a writer who is one of the 500 people who entered this contest. Who believes every negative thing you say is about their book. Ask yourself: Is this comment going to be helpful in someone looking at their query/ pitch next time? Is it constructive criticism, helping writers remember to make their stakes clear, or make sure that their query/ pitch focuses on their uniqueness?

Remember that just like every writer who entered these contests, you were once a writer looking for an agent, thinking your book would never be an actual book. There are plenty of people out there who will rain on their parade, from agent rejections to editor rejections to bad reviews. They don’t need that now. They need encouragement and they need to know how to make their work better. But nicely. Gently. Please.

Like this tweet:

#PItchMadness I actually found an entry I would buy in a heartbeat in a bookstore. Very few capture me like this. Well played, good writer.

— Fiona McLaren (@BookOmnivore) March 13, 2014

Brilliant.

Just my opinion.

And writers out there? Thank the contest creators and slush readers and blog hosters and agents who participate. Because they are doing a wonderful thing.

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3 thoughts on “In Praise of Query Contests and a PSA

  1. Nicely put! I didn’t enter PitchMadness, but was following the hash tag and the hosts because several of my friends entered. I was dismayed at a lot of the negativity I saw from reading their tweets. Keep your chin up, entrants!

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