It’s that time of year, when an author’s fancy turns to…contests? We’ve probably all heard of the big ones: Pitch Wars, the RITA®, the Golden Heart®. Once you start researching writing contests, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. It’s not our intention to tell you which contests are best—that’s subjective. But we can help you find the type of contest best suited to you at this moment in your writing career.
Before you enter any contest, you need a few things.
- A completed, polished manuscript*
- A pitch, hook, or logline
- A query letter
- A synopsis
*Unless otherwise specified, you’ll definitely need a completed, polished manuscript. Contests are not the place to test concepts! Realistically, you only have one shot with an agent/publisher/editor for each project. Don’t waste your time and theirs by giving them something that isn’t complete.
Okay, you’ve got all the required elements. Your beautiful novel has gone through rounds with critique partners and beta readers. You may have engaged the services of an editor. You’re as ready as ready can be. Your next step is to narrow down the list of available writing contests and choose the one(s) right for you.
These contests generally take four forms: pitch contests, query contests, mentoring contests, and page contests.
Odds are good that you’ve stumbled across pitch contests on Twitter. These used to be a rarity, but they’re becoming more prevalent. Some days, you can find multiple contests running. They work with hashtags. You’ve likely seen Twitter pitch contests such as #KissPitch, #PitMad, #DvPit, #SFFPit, and so on pass by your timeline. But what are they?
With Twitter pitch contests, you do your best to capture the attention of the participating industry professionals by tempting them to request your manuscript based on a hook or pitch limited to the length of a single tweet.
That’s right. You get to distill the essence of your entire novel into 280 characters, minus the accompanying hashtags. Now aren’t you glad you worked on your pitch?
If brevity isn’t your strong suit or if you don’t have experience writing pitches of this length, you may want to opt for one of the other types of contests. However, there are numerous resources to help you craft your pitch. We do this on the All The Kissing Facebook Group, and a quick web search will yield you many tips and hints.
If falling into the deep ocean of Twitter pitching isn’t your style, you might want to give query contests a chance. With these, your golden ticket into making it to the contest’s next round is a top-notch query letter. While you will find information about query contests on Twitter, they are typically run separately, with established lists of industry professionals set to judge along the way. Examples of these types of contests include Query Kombat, Sun vs. Snow, and Nightmare on Query Street.
Each of these contests have entry forms that include query letters. For these contests, you enter and hope to be selected to move on to subsequent rounds.
In many of these contests you’re pitted against other entrants, so you need to make sure your query shines.
At the end are agent rounds, where participating agents request partial/full manuscripts from participants whose entries resonate with them.
If you’re a writer looking to be partnered with an author for intensive manuscript feedback, you probably want to enter a mentoring contest. Pitch Wars is probably the best known. Author Mentor Match, for writers of MG and YA only, is another mentoring contest.
With these contests, you apply as a mentee and are matched with/chosen by a specific mentor who works with you to get your manuscript query-ready. While Pitch Wars has an agent round, Author Mentor Match does not. With both, you get to tap a mentor’s expertise. If you’ve got a manuscript that you think is almost there but either haven’t been getting requests from your query or know it needs that extra something else, a mentoring contest may be just what you need.
If you enter a mentoring contest, be prepared to work your ass off. If you participate in NaNoWriMo and think November is a blur, wait until you have a contest-based mentor. I never knew how much work I could fit into a two-month window until I became a Pitch Wars mentee in 2016. The help I got proved to be invaluable at every turn along the way. I’m still friends with my mentor, not to mention my fellow mentees. Being involved in a mentorship contest prepared me to go on and fearlessly (!) and with confidence enter page contests.
These are the granddaddies (grandmamas?) of all contests: the ones where you submit either partial or complete manuscripts for judging. Typically, you’re also expected to include a synopsis with your entry. Remember back at the beginning where we talked about having completed, polished manuscripts? Before entering any of these, you want to be sure that your manuscript is agent-ready. If you wouldn’t query it, don’t enter one of these contests.
The big name in romance-writing page contests are the Romance Writers of America® RITA® Award for published authors and their Golden Heart® Award for unpublished authors. In addition, many RWA chapters hold their own page contests throughout the year. For most of these you can sign up to judge, which brings a whole new insight to the game.
Each of these contests have different aims and angles. With the RWA contests, you’re asked to submit a variety of work—anywhere from blurbs to opening chapters to the entire manuscript. With the chapter contests, you receive scores and judging feedback. That’s excellent if you’re looking to work further on your manuscript. For the RITA and the Golden Heart, you only receive scores. However, those last two are the highest awards given by Romance Writers of America®, and the award ceremonies are a highlight at the RWA annual national convention.
So…How Do I Pick?
There’s no right answer to that question. Only you will know what you’re ready for, what point you’re at in your writing career, and what type of feedback you’re willing to accept. This past year, I’ve entered #KissPitch, #PitMad, numerous RWA chapter contests, and the RWA Golden Heart.
Each contest demands a unique approach and a different set of skills.
I’ll confess that Twitter pitch contests always stressed me out. How do you distill 90,000 words into 280 characters or less? Like anything else in writing, it’s an art form. Practice makes perfect. So do many episodes of pulling out your hair and crying on friends’ shoulders.
Hot tip: If you’re looking to meet fellow writers, try a Twitter pitch contest. Most of these have phenomenal supportive groups surrounding them.
If you’re looking to fold yourself into a smaller vibrant community, you’ll find those in the query and mentoring matchup contests. Once you feel you’re publication-ready, move on to the RWA chapter contests and then the RITA®/Golden Heart® contests.
Or, you can do it in a different order. Whatever works for you! I first entered the Golden Heart® before entering any chapter contests. I didn’t make it as a finalist that first year, but I did become a finalist later on in one of the RWA chapter contests.
Always remember to wear your suit of armor. You may see Twitter pitches receive huge numbers of likes, while yours gets few or none. You may be passed by for the contest you enter. You might get judging feedback that makes you want to cry—or smile.
Be prepared for anything.
Truthfully, all judging is subjective. With many of the chapter contests, the judging criteria and list of final judges/agents/editors are posted online beforehand. I’ve made the decision not to enter chapter contests because the final round agents are ones I’ve already reached out to with my manuscript. I’ve also made the opposite decision faced with the same criteria. Choosing a contest depends on what you’re comfortable with, how query-ready you are, and what that contest’s requirements and benefits are.
Resources for Writing Contests
Following is a small selection of resources we at All The Kissing have found useful. If you have others to share, please leave the information in a comment. Thanks!
2018 Pitch Contests — http://carissa-taylor.blogspot.com/2013/01/contest-madness.html
Free Writing Events — http://micascottikole.com/events/
Pitch Wars — http://pitchwars.org/
RWA® Chapter Contests (updated monthly) — https://www.rwa.org/chapterevents#contests
RITA® Award — https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=528
Golden Heart® Award — https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=536