Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars is the biggest and most successful contest I know of in the online writing circles.
After that is Authoress’s Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction.
At least that is the way it always seemed to me, without seeing any actual statistics. There are TONS of other small contests (some of which I entered, but I’ve tried to be very selective about it to avoid over-saturating every avenue and exhausting the same judges with the same version of my pitch), and Twitter pitch parties (that I refuse to participate in on the grounds that Twitter is evil), but these were the two I really wanted to enter at the start of the year.
But as the deadline of contest loomed closer, I wasn’t as excited as I was before. I was struggling with my first pages after Pitch Wars, and the contest asked for a short pitch instead of a full query, requiring me to narrow down my hook further than I felt comfortable with. It also required a small fee to enter and I am enough of a cheapskate to think that anything I pay money for should get my best effort. A week before the contest, I finally got a pitch together and was fortunate enough to find a blog that helped me work out all the kinks, well enough that I felt okay about entering again.
Two weeks later, I got THE EMAIL.
Out of 245 initial entrants in my category and 35 available slots, my pitch and first page made the cut. It was posted on the blog and with a published author and large press editor on board to critique it. Along with several excellent agents waiting to bid on the entries they liked… getting a request from an agent is SO much better than trying to wade through a large slush pile of queries.
This was a huge step, but instantly I was nervous again. I wasn’t guaranteed that any agents would “bid” on my pitch, and feared that “no bids” would be like getting a big, fat rejection from them all. But either way, my post was going up, ready to face the world.
(48) YA High Fantasy: THE DEMON PRINCE
If you didn’t click on the link, don’t worry! I will post what my entry looked like right here:
TITLE: The Demon Prince GENRE: YA High Fantasy
Ashira wishes for love, excitement, and adventure far from her desert village. When her coming-of-age prophecy states she will “live a life of no renown,” she becomes determined to change it, utilizing a lazy and cynical djinni. Her errant wishes trigger demon outbreaks and darker prophecies. Now, Ashira must contain the magic she unleashed before it destroys her world.
Ashira stared down the dirt road, longing for a glimpse of her future to form in the horizon like a heat vision. Instead of the endless sand of Saban, she would sail oceans. She would bask in the luxury of the northern kingdoms and master the magic there—fight past drakes and any other beast she could imagine with a brave and handsome man at her side. Find the forest fairies and even taste snow.
Camel groans and the stench of sweat reached her first. With her prophecy still days away, Ashira had to settle for dreams and vicarious adventures. She held the skirt of her sari away from her sandals as she moved from the village gate, weaving around the returning caravan. She tried to guess at their last stop, but nothing stood out among the cloth bags and worn baskets until she found Vaslin, the merchant’s daughter.
The girl had a light in her brown eyes that said she had a secret—a secret Ashira would have to spend most of the evening wheedling out of her.
Ashira swallowed past the dust in her throat. “Do you have a letter?”
“Let me think.” Vaslin pushed a stray lock of hair under her veil and sorted through her satchel with agonizing deliberation. “You’re expecting to hear from Isila?”
“Isila, Liaha, Jalila—it doesn’t matter. Do you have a letter or not?”
“Yes, I think . . . Jalila. That’s her mark, isn’t it?” She held a bundle of parchment just out of reach.
And if you did click on the link, you already know that the results were . . . mixed. Again, most people seemed to like the stupid pitch, but not the actual writing. They wanted more setting and character voice. I appreciated the comments, but at the same time I quickly discovered that it was not my favorite way to receive feedback. Though I know they all intended to be helpful, there was an air of competition as most of those giving feedback were hoping to catch the eye of the same agents. A lot of the advice came down to personal opinions (I personally find too much setting, “boring,” and too much voice, “gimmicky,” but really it was only the first page so how can you really make an educated decision anyway?).
Don’t get me wrong, my writing group and online betas regularly COVER my book with red and I love it!! I’ve put my query and smaller blurbs on forums and have gotten great feedback there, too. That someone would take the time to help my book at such a close level is a great blessing to me, but without the opportunity to ask clarifying questions or make revisions, it didn’t FEEL like they were there to help, even though I’m sure they were. It felt like they were there just to cast stones and move on as quickly as they could, as they all waited anxiously for the agents to start bidding.
But I did make a few minor adjustments based on their feedback and did my best to apply it to other areas of my book, revising the first half of my manuscript in the time I spent waiting for the agents. I decided to stop looking so much at the feedback I was getting, and instead focus on the amount of comments as an indicator of how interested people were in the book, compared to the other pitches. It seemed to be in the middle of the pack somewhere, and I hoped that was enough to at least get me one agent bid.
The contest came. Some entries got snatched up right away by multiple agents bidding. Some received no bids at all. As predicted, mine was in the middle with two agent bids. Most of the agent bidding died off after the first two hours. I was excited to get some interest, but still a little disappointed that it wasn’t enough to get a full manuscript request.
Then, right at the end, one of the bidding agents did something that may have been cheating. She kept bidding on herself until she took the full manuscript. She didn’t have to do that. She likely already “won” by default. But I will love her forever for doing it and giving me what I really wanted, my first full request from a real agent.
I didn’t know much about her or her agency (they’re based in Israel and mostly do books promoting Jewish culture and authors, though this particular agent seems to be branching out more with a lot of success). I worried that she only wanted my book for the brief blurb of desert culture in the beginning. Maybe that is still true, but she already emailed me to say that she is half-way through the book, a ridiculously fast and conscientious gesture on the part of any agent. Even if she ends up rejecting the book entirely, it was a bright way to end the year. :)
And that should bring you all up to date. I’ll be making new plans and writing goals for the next year that I hope to report here. Five posts is a pretty low bar, so hopefully I can leap over that without much trouble. Either way, I really appreciate all the support I get from family and friends in all these adventures. Thank you so much!