Do you have a completed manuscript? Have you been subbing it to agents, but have not found the perfect fit yet? There’s a new and savory way to sample the agent tasting menu. I refer to certain contests and sites like Miss Snark’s First Victim and Brenda Drake’s #pitmad where you submit small nibbles of your manuscript and receive in return comments from one or many agents. Miss Snark’s First Victim has monthly Secret Agent contests, under the Crits and Contests link, where the name of the agent everyone submits their manuscript sample to is not revealed until the end. Each of the fifty writers who make it past the bot that decides the entrance lottery, will submit only the first 250 words of a manuscript. One advantage for you of this lottery system is that the choice is random, not based on merit, so you actually are competing with a range of works – some better than your own, some not as developed, which possibly improves the odds that yours will shine. Each fall Miss Snark’s First Victim (aka Authoress) also offers a Bakers Dozen contest where several agents read the submissions. The monthly Secret Agent contests are great practice for this bigger annual event.
In #pitmad writers submit a pitch for their story on Twitter, which means your pitch must be 140 characters or less. This rigorous format is certain to help you hone your hook. And where else would you have the opportunity to read so many pitches by others? That alone helps you learn how to target your pitch. Here is a terrific blog post on Sub It Club about #pitmad with great how-to tips.
Reasons you should try this avenue:
- Each contest’s deadline prompts you to complete the required sample, so you have a specific incentive to refine and polish within that time frame. Since you know that one or more agents and a number of other readers will be reading your work, you are motivated to get that excerpt in shape.
- The agent and many other writers will see and comment on your sample. You’ll have instant feedback from a range of perspectives.
- Miss Snark’s First Victim contests sometimes lead to requests. She lists success stories that are a great enticement to try out your own.
As with direct submissions to agents, there are rules. If Miss Snark’s First Victim says do not put Re: in the subject line, and you do anyway, you are guaranteed to be disqualified. She also specifies the age and genre for each contest so if yours doesn’t fit, don’t waste her time or your own. Simply wait another month and perhaps the appropriate category will be requested.
Following the menu of choices and prohibitions is a significant part of your homework, just as it is for direct submissions to agents. However, no research is needed into the preferences of the agent since you won’t know who he/she is up front. You will be receiving input from someone not necessarily familiar with your genre.
Another benefit of participating in these contests is that you can read the submissions of a wide variety of other writer’s excerpts. In #pitmad you see concise pitches for dozens of stories. Inspiring, for sure, if you’re out to learn how to condense and convince. It’s a boot camp for sharpening your hook. Once you’ve done #pitmad maybe you’ll be ready for #pitchwars.
Each of these contests has spawned blog posts and articles where advice is given on how best to take advantage of these keyholes through an agent’s door. And for their part, the agents see that you are aware of alternate approaches, using social media as an avenue of exploration.
So, if you are looking for whether the beginning of your novel will hook an agent, whether your pitch is perfect, want to expand your range of possible ways in the door, or are wondering how other writers approach agents, then you might consider this strategy.
Do you know of other such contests?
Thanks for the great post, Joyce. I’ve never done the pitch contests, but it seems like an interesting experience and definitely a fun way to hone my pitch writing skills.
Hi Kirsti. Yes it is great practice. And for #pitmad, you can submit once or twice an hour, but you change your pitch. That means you try out various versions (if you have the time to go at it over the span of the contest, that is). Watching other people’s subs. helps you to get a feel for what works because you can see which ones are being favorited by agents and editors.
The contest route is a new one for me over the past 9 months. I’ve participated in a few twitter pitch parties. You should follow The Sub It Club, they do a post monthly on upcoming contests which are gaining popularity fast!