Writing Contests, #PitchWars, and Rejection

Bear with me. This might sound like everyone else in the whole authorverse…

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I started writing novels last year. That’s not to say I started writing last year, but until Nanowrimo, I had never attempted a full-length, plot-arced, voice-dripping, character-driven ms. I finished one (Yay!) and revised that sucker and edited that sucker and didn’t have the first clue what to do with that sucker until a friend convinced me to give Pitch Madness a try.

Guess what else I had never done before? Pitch. But what the hell…

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My first stab at writing a 35-word pitch was just that – a stab. And I submitted the requisite first 350 words with even less finesse. And yet, I watched the contest results with optimism because I didn’t have clue number one what qualified as good. What’s the worst that could happen?

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I’ve figured out since that if I had, by some miracle, made it into Pitch Madness, it would have been the worst thing that could have happened to my writing career. Cause I sucked and had a lot of learnin’ to do.

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When I didn’t get in, I read the entries that did. Then I revised, reworked and tried again a month later with Nest Pitch. Again, I wasn’t ready and didn’t make it into the contest. But this time Nikola Vukoja tossed me a bone and told me that my pitch had been under consideration. Just knowing I got close (and that they weren’t all wondering why I thought I could compete) was enough to keep me going.

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Once again, I brushed myself off, revised and tried again with Pitch Slam. Once again, I was rejected, but once again, there was encouragement. This time Michelle Hauck tweeted me to tell me she had considered picking mine, but went with the one that resonated with her more.

Victim of subjectivity!

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I want to thank Nik and Michelle for their generous comments. They didn’t have to tell me anything, but knowing how close I was, I kept scratching.

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I read the archives at Query Shark until the advice there sank in. I scrapped my query completely and started over. This time I felt like I was in the ballpark.

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So with a little more confidence, I entered Query Kombat, and this time around, I GOT PICKED!

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I can never thank SC enough for the shot of confidence he gave me by picking me for his team — not just in my ms and query, but in myself. I felt like I had arrived as newbie author.

Of course, I got knocked out in the first round of Query Kombat, but I gained so much just from playing the game. I met both my critique partners (and new best friends) through the contest. One was on my QK team, while the other was the competition who knocked me out.

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Through all this time, I queried agents. Rejections turned into full requests by the time Query Kombat started. But full requests always turned into no’s, and I realized this was not the right novel. So I sat down and wrote another, putting into play everything I’ve learned in the past year.

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Then Pitch Wars loomed.

I honestly nearly didn’t enter because I didn’t think my ms was ready. I had written it, revised it, edited it, CPed it, beta-ed it, re-revised it and polished it, but still hesitated to pull the trigger.

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But I can’t resist the fun of a contest, the delicious torment of teaser tweets, and the possibility of making new friends.

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Like everyone else, I read through all the mentors’ bios, narrowed them down to general fits, stalked twitter feeds looking for mentors I felt I could connect with, and asked questions to figure out if they might connect with my MS.

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I was careful. I took my time. I didn’t submit at midnight on the day the window opened. I read my ms through three more times. I asked people to look at my query again. I double checked my mentor list…

And then I went for it. And shocker of shockers, I got in.

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I know I got lucky. My MS connected with Jaime Loren, but I am certain that if I had chosen my mentors differently, it might have been a near pass, or maybe not even on their radars. The mentors have said again and again, this is a subjective process, and I believe them.

AND I LOVE MY MENTOR!

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This week, I got a rejection letter from a Pitch Wars mentor and a rejection letter from an agent. That could easily have been end of story.

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But I got a yes from one mentor.

Knowing how many VERY worthy submissions came in for Pitch Wars and how many people were probably *thisclose*, I am very grateful and humbled.

And of course being in Pitch Wars doesn’t guarantee that I’ll find an agent so there’s that.

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And of course, I still have the sneaking fear that my mentor is going to read one more sentence and wonder why in the hell she picked me…

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What I’ve pulled from this experience is that a rejection from one agent or contest doesn’t mean that I am an unqualified hack. It may mean I need to re-work, revise or start over. But it may just mean I’ve queried the wrong person.

The saying that “You only need one” never felt so true.

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tldr; version: contests good.

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6 Responses

  1. colleenhalverson45
    colleenhalverson45 September 7, 2014 at 1:12 am | | Reply

    Mary Ann, you’re so awesome! You give me so much hope. Thank you! (and girl, you’re like super talented, so don’t even front!) <3 <3 <3

  2. manicholsonwrites
    manicholsonwrites September 7, 2014 at 3:09 am | | Reply

    Thanks and right back atcha, Colleen.

  3. nikolavukoja
    nikolavukoja September 7, 2014 at 3:36 am | | Reply

    I’m so very happy for you & not in the slightest surprised. You have natural talent combined with a generous spirit for others and are not only grateful for feedback but are willing to follow-through on feedback, taking it in the spirit it was intended. And naturally, I expect to be among the first few to interview you when you get an agent and again when you get a publishing deal <3

  4. manicholsonwrites
    manicholsonwrites September 7, 2014 at 3:42 am | | Reply

    Look who’s talking about generosity! I can remember nearly verbatim advice you gave me via email. Things like that fuel a writer, as you know. Your contest is empowering. I can’t thank you enough for what you do.

  5. michelle4laughs
    michelle4laughs September 7, 2014 at 3:06 pm | | Reply

    So glad I could help move you down this journey of learning and growing! It’s very nice to hear. Wishing you the best of luck in the agent round!

    1. manicholsonwrites
      manicholsonwrites September 7, 2014 at 3:08 pm | | Reply

      Thanks, Michelle!

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