Why you win, even when you don’t…

(My next writing mug...thanks, Cafe Press!)
(My next writing mug…thanks, Cafe Press!)

This week on The Debutante Ball we’re talking contests and conferences, and since I’ve only done the first one (most conferences are scattered throughout the U.S. and Europe, which means this Canadian author must look and dream from afar…for now) that’s where I’ll focus my post.

When I first discovered the online writing community on Twitter, it was like finding a group of like-minded minions, and I mean that in the best possible way. Finally, I could connect with people who understood what CP, mss, query, ‘show, don’t tell,’ sub, synopsis, WIP, plus countless other writerly terms meant, and were happy to tweet, retweet, favorite, and direct message any and all support they could.

 

Minions, celebrating!

As part of discovering this online community of writers, I also discovered online pitch contests. Generally run by authors at various stages of the pub process, these contests offer an opportunity to hone your pitch or query, and connect with other writers. Both key things for green (read: naïve and hopelessly romantic about the craft) writers looking to join the ranks of agented and published authors. So armed with just enough knowledge to be dangerous, I entered four contests. The first three resulted in some helpful feedback (“Your query is confusing.” Oh… “Your voice is great!” Yes! Wait…what does that mean exactly?) from agents, and critique partners who have stuck by me through the twists and turns.

The fourth contest I entered was Pitch Madness, run by the lovely and ever-supportive Brenda Drake. Again, I didn’t find an agent through this contest…but I got close – and the changes I made to my manuscript after the contest DID end up getting me my agent. So while it wasn’t a direct line from contest to contract for me, here’s why I think every writer should enter at least one online contest:

They offer excellent practice: Taking a 90,000-word manuscript and distilling it into a 35-word pitch, or 140 characters, or a 250-word query letter, or a one-page synopsis is not easy. In fact, I’d say it was easier to potty train my very defiant child than to get a query letter I was happy with (I wrote about 112 versions for my last book) – but it was worth the effort. And the practice I got in writing pitches, queries, and even the much-despised synopsis (*shudder*) has proven useful long past my contest days.

They are educational and enlightening: Before I started paying attention to contests I was clueless about a lot of things, including some of the terms I mentioned above, and exactly how this whole publishing business works. I didn’t know what made a query letter “good,” or why you have to be clear about where your book fits on a bookstore shelf, or why you should avoid things like calling your manuscript a “fiction novel” (Don’t. Ever. Do. This. Ever.) In the early days when I was too chicken to join the conversations flying across my Twitter stream I read as much as I could, clicked links, read articles and blogs. Even now, long past those nervous contest days, there’s always something new to learn.

You win, even when you don’t: Whether you get one solid request, have agents fighting over you, or find yourself the only writer in the contest without any agent love (yes, it happens, and yes, it’s one of those ‘buck up, buttercup’ kind of moments), you’re still winning. Why? Because you were brave enough to toss your precious word babies out into the big scary world, hoping someone loves them as much as you do — or at least can give you a good reason why you need to kill off some darlings — and you’re one step closer to realizing your goal {I SO wanted to say ‘dream’ here but resisted–you’re welcome!}.

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Karma Brown is the author of COME AWAY WITH ME (MIRA/Harlequin, September 2015), an emotional story of one woman’s discovery that life is still worth living, even if it’s not the life you planned. Karma is also a National Magazine award-winning journalist, and lives outside Toronto, Canada, with her family and their mischievous labradoodle puppy, Fred.

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