Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Three Things to Know Before You Pitch in an Online Pitch Event

By Roseanne Brown, @rosiesrambles

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Pitch Wars and other online pitching events are all the rage these days. While more options for getting our work to agents and editors is good, the public nature of it comes with its own share of downsides (as well as benefits). Please help me welcome Rosanne Brown to the lecture hall today to share some tips on surviving an online pitching event.

Rosie Brown is a graduate of the University of Maryland, a former editorial intern for Entangled Publishing, and an alumnus of the Pitch Wars contest. She is represented by Quressa Robinson of Nelson Literary Agency. She can be found on Twitter @rosiesrambles, where she is usually yelling loudly about Star Wars or complaining about how much she hates the cold.

Take it away Rosanne...

Nowadays, it feels like there is a pitch contest happening on Twitter every other day. From contests dedicated to marginalized voices to ones specializing in science fiction and horror, there is a contest for almost every kind of writer or story.

By no means is this a bad thing. Accessible opportunities for writers to move forward in publishing, especially writers from historically marginalized groups, are always welcome. I’m an alumni of Pitch Wars, a mentorship program culminating in an agent pitch round, and I don’t know where I’d be in my writing journey without that experience.

There are plenty of resources out there with advice on preparing your pitch/query/synopsis/other materials for such contests. However, I’d like to focus on things I wish I’d known before entering Pitch Wars that might have helped me deal with the emotional impact of participating in a wide-scale online contest.

I should preface this with I do not regret entering Pitch Wars at all and that given the chance, I would go through it all again. But below are some things I learned from the experience that I feel might have been helpful back when I didn’t know what I was signing myself up for:

The comparison game messes with your head hard

Though the length of each pitch contest varies, one aspect most share is that the pitches are made public. This gives agents and editors access to peruse works from people who may have never queried them. However, it also means anyone with an internet connection can see how well—or not well—your entry does.

I knew that come the agent round, my pitch and excerpt would be up for request at the same time as all the other mentee’s. But it was one thing to know it was coming, and another to feel the punch to the emotional gut as yours lagged behind others. I’m not going to lie—it feels pretty crappy to watch others pitches blow up with requests while yours only straggle in…or not at all. Make sure you have a solid support system ready to catch your emotions no matter where they may spiral. (And trust me, they will spiral at some point.) Learning to be genuinely happy of others’ success is one of the most important skills for an author at any stage in their journey.

You will have a new kind of visibility put on you as a writer

If you’re anything like me, writing was a solitary pursuit you squeezed in among all your other responsibilities. I had a few close friends and critique partners I’d talk about my writing with, but that was really it. However, Pitch Wars opened up a part of my journey to the public in a way I’d never experienced before.

Now there were people who had followed my progress since the mentee announcements through the agent round who wanted constant updates on where my book was in the submission process, many of whom I had never spoken to before.

I understand many of these people come from a place of genuine support, and I am so grateful to have so many people who care about me and my work. But I am still adjusting to this new level of visibility. Pressure is nothing new in this industry, but the rise of social media has definitely changed the way that pressure manifests. There is no shame in deciding you prefer a more private alternative as you search for representation.

Pitch contests are no better or worse than cold querying

After failing to get into a pitch contest, one friend of mine expressed dismay that they had missed their best chance of getting their work before agents. I worried myself into a panic for weeks before the agent round because I was sure that if my pitch didn’t do well, I had ruined my chances of getting that particular manuscript published.

Neither of these beliefs are true.

The reality is, the majority of authors still find their agents through cold querying. Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency tweeted 80% of her clientele comes from cold querying. (Or the slush pile if you prefer, though that term always seemed negative to me. All the slush pile means is work that came without referral or that wasn’t a direct request of the agent. Being in the slush pile says nothing about a work’s quality.)

No single contest or opportunity is the be all, end all for your career. I know people who didn’t get into Pitch Wars who went on to get multiple offers of representation from wonderful agents. I know people who did get into Pitch Wars who chose to keep revising their novel after the agent round ended. There are so many twists a path can take. To view getting in or not getting into such a contest as an end goal is to close yourself off to so many doors before you’ve even reached them.

Participating in a pitch contest is a huge achievement for any writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But it is a stepping stone in your writing journey, and just as no two paths are the same, not every stone is for every person. And remember, there is no other path for you but your own. Own it, no matter where it may lead.

Happy writing!


  1. I wasn't even aware that online pitch contests existed.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I'm hoping to have my manuscript ready for some some of the contests Pitch Wars offers later in the year.

  3. Great article! But I think there's a typo in the first paragraph. I'm guessing that phrase is supposed to be "the public nature".

    1. Eek! Absolutely. Sorry about that, and thanks for letting me know. :) That's a word I almost always double check since it's so easy to typo with funny results. Missed it this time!

    2. Might want to check use of the word alumni as well since i think the word is plural? But is used as a singular?

    3. That's in her official bio, but you're probably right. I think it's alumnus, though it's one of those words few people ever use correctly. Like nauseous (grin).

  4. Awesome post! So informative and encouraging. Thanks so much!