Tips and tidbits from an online writing contest junkie

Online Writing Contest Junkie

It’s been a hot minute since my last post. Between tying the knot and an extended European honeymoon, I haven’t had much time to devote to my blog. My sincerest apologies! When I did have time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I focused my efforts on my current MS or Twitter contests. So to get back into the swing of things, I figured I’d touch on some of the tidbits I’ve learned during my recent ventures as an online writing contest junkie. Here we go!

Pitch Wars 2016

Online Writing Contest Art

I really can’t speak highly enough about this contest. And with the 2017 submission window here, it’s high time I remind everyone of its awesomeness. Pitch Wars is a two-month intensive writing journey. If you’re selected by a mentor, ALL of your words will be reviewed. Manuscript, query, synopsis, pitch — seriously, you’ll come out of this with a shiny and beautiful MS that will be prepped for the agent round in November. For all the details, visit Brenda Drake’s blog post.

Here are a few other awesome things to note:

Community

Uhm. Yes. There’s no denying that the Pitch Wars community (and the writing community in general) is absolutely fabulous. Even if you DON’T get selected, don’t de-value the priceless information, insight and connections you would gain simply by hanging out on the hashtag. Join the Pitch Wars hopeful group and start making connections NOW. I met my amazing CP because of Pitch Wars, and she’s absolutely fabulous. My writing wouldn’t be where it’s at today without her. But even more so, she was (and still is) an incredible rock throughout the process. Writing is tough. It’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve contemplated walking away a number of times, and if it weren’t for my support group, it’s highly possible I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Winning isn’t everything

I’m not sure I’m a fan of the term “winning,” at least not in the writing sense. Winning can be defined in so many different ways — connecting with new people, getting a mentor, getting an agent request, submitting a partial, upping to a full request, and finally, representation. There are so many in-between options, too (and even more beyond the representation stage). The point is, “winning” in Pitch Wars is what you make it. Yes, I was selected by Layla Reyne and I truly felt like my writing excelled because of her expertise, but I didn’t get an agent out of that MS. Does that mean I failed? Hell no. Layla is still the greatest mentor in the world, and I was able to apply her advice and thoughts to my current manuscript.

If you’re curious how it all turned out, here’s a link to my entry in the agent round.

Query Kombat 2017

via GIPHY

New manuscript, new contest! This was the first time I entered this online writing contest, and boy was it a whirlwind. Query Kombat consists of submitting your query and the first 250 words of your manuscript to the QK crew. Out of the slush, they select 64 entries to be divided among teams and do battle — KOMBAT STYLE. After rounds of battle and two opportunities for revisions, my entry succeeded in being crowned the Adult Champion. Woot! The biggest win, though, was the agent request round, which happened between rounds one and two. I received three requests, and I’m avidly waiting to hear from those agents.

Criticism, oh criticism

QK is not for the thin-skinned. The nature of this contest involves judges and kombatants alike, so your entry will receive plenty of eyes and feedback. Which is phenomenal. I can’t thank the judges, hosts (Michelle, Laura and Mike) and participants enough for all the hard work they did. But when you have so many opinions, you have to learn when to take crits and when to leave them. Let’s discuss that.

Consider modifying your words if …

  • You notice a trend among the feedback (i.e., several people have a hangup with the same sentence, description, etc.).
  • A suggested crit rings true and doesn’t sacrifice your voice (i.e., someone offers a word choice that better fits with your character/voice).
  • Obvious grammatical and mechanical errors somehow slipped by you.
  • You read something out loud and notice the flow of the sentence doesn’t work.

Consider keeping your words if …

  • The feedback is varied and you can’t pinpoint a trend (test out a few options and see what works, or try to look for a deeper connection).
  • Feedback is vague and indicates your entry simply isn’t meant for that reader.
  • Changing results in a shift in voice that doesn’t resonate with the rest of your writing.
  • It simply doesn’t feel right.

The point is, there’s merit in learning when to make changes and when to leave them. Only you can decide what’s right for your words and your story. Certainly don’t be arrogant — everyone has to cut their darlings. But realize that you are the craftsman for your story, not anyone else. When you get feedback, sit on it. Mull it over. Test out a few ideas, and then make changes accordingly. And by all means, enter contests like this, especially if you haven’t had any eyes on your query. It’s the first piece of writing agents see, and QK does a great job at making it shine.

#Pg70Pit

I recently discovered that my entry is a #Pg70Pit finalist for adult entries! Let’s do a quick happy dance (and you can click on the gif below to see it for yourself!).

#pg70pit Winner #70pit17

In this online writing contest, you submit 250 words from your 69th or 70th page to be judged on voice. It’s based off the McLuhan Test, and it points to the direction of the plot, the strength of the voice, etc. in a way that the book cover or blurb does note. This year, submissions were accepted via a rafflecopter lottery drawing, then narrowed down to the top seven entries (in this instance, there were fourteen winners for the adult category since we all shared the top seven highest scores). Now, agents have the opportunity to browse the entries and leave comments requesting materials from each author. Fairly straightforward!

Teasers from the judges

Since this contest doesn’t involve editing or revising, most of the feedback from the judges happened on Twitter in the form of common trends. I often saw judges commenting about:

  • Incorrect use of dialogue tags/action beats. Personally, I’m a stickler for these. I don’t like it when I see people “growling” entire sentences. I also don’t like tagging everything with he said/she said. Focus on creating unique voices for all of your characters so that dialogue tags aren’t needed. Use action tags to further enhance the characters’ reactions.
  • Showing vs. telling. Don’t simply state, “she was sad.” Show us she was sad! Do her fingers quake as she holds unshed tears at bay? Does she avoid eye contact? Pick at her shirt/cuticles? Certain actions/reactions portray the emotion better than simply stating a fact, and it’s way more engrossing for the reader.
  • Odd descriptions/stage directions. Lara has a brilliant post about this. Read it.
  • In need of proofreading. While fairly self-explanatory, still incredibly important. If you don’t have the funds to hire an editor, that’s okay. Seek out beta readers or critique partners to help you find mechanical and grammatical issues that you’ve missed.
  • Repetitive sentence structure. The easiest way to find repetitive sentence structure is to READ OUT LOUD. Read clearly. Read slowly. Do you have too many “I did this, she did that” phrases? Try adding clauses and varying up your sentence structures to create a natural and pleasing flow.

By no means where those the only bits of feedback given out by all of the judges and slush readers, but they did crop up quite a bit. If you’re interested in learning more, check out Lara Willard’s Twitter feed and see her rating system. She’ll also point you in the direction of the other judges who provided feedback, too.

Another online writing contest

There are still plenty of opportunities for future writing contests. In addition to these, there’s also pitching contests like #SFFPit (which I did toss a few pitches into and got some good responses) and #Pitmad. And of course, 2017 Pitch Wars is right around the corner. If you’re an online writing contest junkie like me, check out Carissa Taylor’s blog for an updated list of all the available contests. You won’t regret it!

But the biggest takeaway from all these experiences? Don’t stop trying. No matter what. Every path to publishing is different (I sound like a broken record, I know). I’m certainly not the first person to share that tidbit, and I won’t be the last. Enjoy the process, make new friends, reach out to fellow writers — it’s all part of the journey. Happy writing!

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