Do you have a polished, unpublished (this includes self-published) manuscript for a novel? Does it fit somewhere between the age spectrum of middle grade to adult? Are you hoping to sign an agent?
If you answered yes to all of those questions, entering a pitch contest is invaluable experience. Here's five reasons why:
1. You Will Learn How to Summarize Your Story
Before I entered QueryKombat for the first time, I was having difficulty developing a strong pitch. A good pitch is character+goals+stakes, but... let's face it... sometimes that's hard to pare down, especially for fantasy or humorous stories or books with multiple POV characters.
In the publishing world, your novel, dozens of thousands of words long, will always be cropped by either a log line, or a "dust jacket summary." Contests and the critique that comes with them will make you do this, and do it well.
2. You Will Make Connections in the Writersphere
The wonderful people who host these contests are often published or agented authors who know the mechanics of the chessboard called literary publishing. Sometimes, contests feature mentor rounds, and while I have yet to enter one that features mentors, I know of success stories where writers' contest mentors referred them to their own agents, or at the very least, became important critique partners. And of course, it's always good to connect with people of your trade, especially when it comes to building a future platform.
3. You Will Learn Where Your Work is Lacking
The great thing about these contests is that there are some bloggers and authors who host peer critiques, and I learned quickly how crucial such critiques can be. When a contest is coming around, come up with the best pitch you can on your own, and share it with someone who knows the story for their opinion. After that, test it on the peer critique waters. In one of these forums, someone pointed out to me that she misread a segment of my pitch, "1811 nobility," not to mean "nobility living in the year 1811," but as "one thousand, eight hundred and eleven noblemen!" Whoops!
Publishing, like any business that mass-produces art for public enjoyment, is extremely subjective. Tastes change in matters of months, or even weeks, and the winning selections that move onto agent rounds and are requested will give you an indication of the current appetite.
At the moment, the market is generally crowded. No particular genre is out or in (with the exceptions of vampires/angels and Hunger Games-esque dystopian). This makes even harder to determine request trends among agents, as many will request (besides looking for strong voice and plots) out of personal taste. Contest results will give you a glimpse into what's being signed.
5. You Will Have Fun!
The one consistent thing about these contests is that they are loads of fun. In the last Pitchslam I entered, we had to answer questions that related our main characters to the Avengers, using the hashtag on Twitter. It was hilarious to see other authors' answers, trying to make the connections in humorous ways. The general attitude of these contests is supportive and entertaining. I promise that if you enter one, you won't regret it!
Remember, before entering a contest, research all the rules and decide if you and your work is ready for entry!