Query or Contest: What’s best for you?

Antique Writer's Friends

A brief story: A few years ago, I started researching agents (read more about my process here). Before I sent out my first queries, I heard about an upcoming Twitter pitch contest and entered on a whim. I got a favorite (an invitation to send the manuscript), but not from an agent at the top of my list based upon my research. Now I was faced with a decision: should I go ahead and send the requested material even though I hadn’t queried my top agents?

The internet age has created new ways to connect with agents, editors, and fellow authors, as well as new ways for us to second-guess ourselves. Today I’ll weigh the pros and cons of old-fashioned querying, as well as Twitter pitching and other contests. Always remember, there’s never one right answer for how to query, just what works for you and your manuscript. And that answer often is a combination of approaches.

Old-Fashioned Querying

  • Benefits: 
    • You do your research up front before you query, meaning you don’t get your hopes up when you get a favorite only to find out it’s from a vanity press or an agent without a great reputation.
    • No deadlines. Send out queries when and if you are ready without pressure to get things ready for the next contest.
    • Old-fashioned querying works well for books that are more quiet or literary or need a bit more room than 280 characters to explain. Sometimes nonfiction is a better fit for traditional querying since your platform is a big part of your proposal.
  • Drawbacks: 
    • Querying takes patience, for sure. Unless agents and editors have put out a specific call (for example, through #MSWL), it’s hard to know what they want RIGHT NOW. That means you have to play the odds, sending out lots of queries, and getting lots of “not right for me” responses that may have nothing to do with the quality of your work.
    • For those who need a deadline to send out queries, there’s no deadline.
    • No sense of community unless you have a group of writers on social media to console you and cheer you as agent/editor responses roll in. Lucky for you, Sub It Club has a Facebook submissions support group.
  • Best for: Self-motivated authors with manuscripts of all kinds. Just know, despite the overwhelming popularity of Twitter pitching and other contests, most authors still get their agents and (and thus their book deals) by querying the old-fashioned way.

Twitter Pitch Contests (like #PitMad)

  • Benefits: 
    • A great way to hone your “hook” whether you decide to query the agents/editors who favorite your pitch or not.
    • You may get a faster response time since you are now submitting requested material. You’ve essentially eliminated the first step of the traditional querying process. (A faster response is a big MAYBE. Don’t get disappointed if you still have to wait. Agents can take months on requested material.)
    • Builds a sense of community with other writers as folks watch the feed and retweet each other to show support.
  • Drawbacks:
    1. Twitter pitch contests have become very popular, making it harder and harder to stand out in the crowd (and for agents and editors to sort through the fast-moving feed.)
    2. Each contest has featured agents and editors, who look at the feed, but many authors have noted an influx of vanity publishers and questionable agents who also go through the feed favoriting pitches. That can lead to major disappointment and dilemmas about whether to query.
    3. A limited number of agents and editors participate. A pitch contest might have 20 or 30 agents/editors committed to reading the feed, but there may be a couple of hundred agents who could be a fit for your work.
    4. Your pitch is on Twitter for everyone to see. Obviously, ideas are in the ether. Authors come up with the same ideas all the time, and an idea doesn’t make a book — the execution does. But sometimes the selling point for your book is that you are the first one to write it. Or that it has an unusual structure or format. If you share your idea on Twitter, someone else could use it.
  • Best for: High-concept books with clear comps that can be easily understood in 280 characters, as well as authors who work best on a deadline. Just the right book/hook can have tremendous success. A high-concept YA historical attracted almost 5,000 favorites during a recent #DVPit (not all were agents and editors, but still. AMAZING!).

Other social media contests:

There are other social media contests that combine elements of both traditional querying and Twitter pitching. For example, Pitch Wars invites writers to submit queries and pages to established agents and editors who serve as mentors; months later, revised work is showcased during an agent round. Other contests pit query letters against each other (for example, Query Kombat).

  • Benefits: 
    • Offer an opportunity to hone your queries or revise your pages through professional feedback.
    • Typically done via blogs and websites, these offer a less cluttered environment for agents and others to judge your work.
    • Agents and/or editors are pre-screened to make sure they are legit.
    • Builds a sense of community with others in the industry.
  • Drawbacks:
    • Some timelines can be long, especially if you think you are ready to query. For example, PitchWars takes applications in August and doesn’t host the agent showcase until February of the following year. Query Combat takes place over a month.
  • Best for: Authors whose work and query are finished, but could benefit from some more polishing. Again, there are some spectacular success stories, for example, Tomi Adeyemi’s CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE garnered 15 agent requests through Pitch Wars. Her agents subsequently got her a three-book deal and a movie deal.

So, what did I do with my Twitter pitch favorite? I treated it like a conference submission opportunity: I figured I could wait a few months before sending the manuscript. In the meantime, I queried my top agents and got my agent the good-old-fashioned way.

What are your thoughts on traditional querying versus social media contests? Leave your comments below.

6 thoughts on “Query or Contest: What’s best for you?

Add yours

  1. Super-helpful post, Kirsten! I have done some Twitter pitching in the past, which was less about really wanting to find an agent that way, and more about the thrill of immediate feedback. It was exciting and made me feel “alive” in the industry. I had fun. The other thing I did was a day or two after the pitching was over, I went back and deleted the tweets. That saved me a tiny bit of worry about someone stealing my ideas (I didn’t pitch anything super high-concept, but it made me feel better).

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  2. PitMad was helpful for honing my hook. I got a handful of likes from actual, reputable agents. I didn’t send materials to any of them, because none of them were on my list (or were pretty low on my list). It was good validation that this first foray into pitching got some interest, and it was a phenomenal way to meet others in the writing community.

    I’ve actually subbed to Pitch Wars, and am waiting on results (and the timeline, while long, is actually a bit shorter than what you’ve posted–Mentor applications were back in May, but Mentee applications were at the end of August, with mentees announced in early October). If I’m selected, I obviously have hopes for the agent round, but either way–whether the online contests get me “there” or not, my knowledge of the trade and my connection to the communtiy has deepened.

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