Are You Ready to Query, Sub, or Enter that Contest? Four Writing Contest Finalists Share Their Tips for Success
by Martina Boone
I remember the first time that I tried try to write a pitch and had to condense my novel into a couple of paragraphs. Writing the book had been easier and less terrifying than writing that query letter! I hated it. But by the time I sold my trilogy, I found that writing a pitch was no big deal. I don’t have to write query letters any more, of course, but I do work on pitches with my agent and on cover copy with my editors. I actually love the process.
Contests are a perfect way to test drive a story and a pitch. They’re also a great way to see the level of professionalism you need to succeed, and to help toughen your skin before sending out those queries, going on sub, or sending your baby out for reviews or seeing it in the hands of readers. And because every writer is different and different things work for different people, Sandra Held, Sarah Glenn Marsh, and I have asked some of the finalists in our recent Red Light, Green Light WIP contest at AdventuresInYAPublishing.com to share some thoughts on contests, querying, and getting your pitch and manuscript ready.
Interested in test-driving the opening and pitch for your own WIP? The next agent-judged Red Light, Green Light contest opens for entries on 4/7/16.
Four Finalists Share Their Contest and Query Tips
Dan Lollis (Winner): My advice for fellow authors toiling over getting the words just right for a contest or query pitch — do a little bit of research. Use the internet, Twitter, #PitchWars and sites like Adventures to see what works for other writers — what good pitches look like. Then write it until it sounds perfect. Share your pitch with anyone who will read it. Revise. Repeat. When you like it, go with it. Prepare, then don’t care. Trust in yourself.
As an unagented author, being able to talk with agent Patricia Nelson and ask her questions about writing, agenting, and writing was a real treat and valuable opportunity. After sending query letters and experiencing the impersonal side of that business, it was a thrill to talk with someone one-on-one. Contests allow me to read some amazing pitches and first lines. There were so many times that I want to keep reading! Contests like #PitchWars and the one at Adventures (and the workshops and content there) are a great way for me to feel involved in the writing community and motivate me to keep writing on days when I question why I’m writing or convince myself that I have no idea what I am doing. And that’s pretty much every day. It just feels good to have someone say “good job.”
Patti Nielson: After I write the initial novel, I spend a lot of time editing. First, I look for major things like character development, plot, emotional reactions then I like to identify all of my crutch words and try to delete as many as I can. After I feel like there’s nothing more I can fix, I pass it on to my critique group who find all of the mistakes I missed. Then I will spend more time incorporating their suggestions.
My biggest advice before you submit to a contest or an agent is to make sure you have everything (novel, pitch, synopsis, logline) ready and in the best shape you can because trying to write a pitch or a logline in a week isn’t a great idea.
Lana Pattinson: I look at the word count limit and try to end on a natural hook…leave the judges wanting more. I do the normal spell check, but I also proofread it on my Kindle. A different reading experience helps so much! I also use Margie Lawson’s EDITS system to highlight the manuscript and look for patterns. There’s a great ebook called “The Word Loss Diet” by Rayne Hall. She lists all sorts of plus filter words/tautologies to cut. I created some Macros for Word that I run my MS through. I wrote a blog post about it here: http://www.lanapattinson.com/
Cassidy Taylor: Polish your manuscript, query, and synopsis until they shine, and then send them out confidently into the world. You will get rejected, and you will lose contests, but don’t give up. Case in point: the week after the RL/GL contest ended, I signed a contract to publish the same story that I entered.
Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She’s the acclaimed author of the romantic southern gothic Heirs of Watson Island series, including Compulsion (Oct ’14), Persuasion (Oct ’15), and Illusion (Oct ’16), from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. She’s also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She’s on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.
She lives with her husband, children, and a lopsided cat, she enjoys writing contemporary fantasy set in the kinds of magical places she’d love to visit. When she isn’t writing, she’s addicted to travel, horses, skiing, chocolate flavored tea, and anything with Nutella on it.