When Enough is Enough: Writing Contests 5

A question came up today on Twitter on a topic I’ve discussed one-on-one with several people, and I figured a blog post would probably be helpful for anyone else wondering the same thing.

“How many contests is too many when entering the same manuscript?”

Let me take a moment to say everyone has their own opinion on this, as with most matters, and a writer is free to do whatever they choose with their manuscript. What I’m about to say isn’t a hard and fast rule but something to consider, along with my personal practices.

There are all kinds of contests:  Twitter pitches, first pages, query letters, 35 word pitches, loglines, three line pitches, first line of the story, on and on. For the sake of this post we’ll consider contests with the query/first page.

My limit for the number of times I enter the same manuscript into this sort of contest varies depending on the circumstance. If I enter but don’t make it to the agent round, that number is five. The reason for this is the same reason I keep querying despite rejections, because writing is subjective. Where the judges of one contest might not connect with my writing, the judges in another might love it. On the flip side, if I’m eliminated before the final round five separate times, I more than likely need to take a moment to look at that first page/query to see what might not be working, and how I could strengthen it. By the time I enter this manuscript for a sixth time, it’ll’ve had a first page face lift.

But let’s say I made it to the final round of one contest, and there’s another one coming up. Before I enter, I’ll check the list of agents participating in the final round. The purpose of these contests is to get your work in front of agents, and you shouldn’t enter if the same agents who saw your work last time will be the ones looking at it this time around.

  • Firstly, that’s pointless. You wouldn’t re-query an agent with the same manuscript without making significant edits and revisions. It works the same way for contests.
  • Secondly, while there’s a good chance I’ll make it to the final round, the chances I’ll get additional requests is low, and requests are the end game.
  • Thirdly, I’m taking up a spot someone else could benefit from, just because. Not cool.

Given this situation, what I might do is enter a completely different manuscript into this next contest. That way I’m not repeating myself, or any of that other stuff I mentioned.

Now let’s say things are a bit different and the agents in this next contest are all (or mostly, meaning 75%+) new to the work, meaning it hasn’t been in their slush pile or appeared before them in any other final round. I’ll go ahead and enter the same manuscript that made it to the final round of the last contest. I’ll do this three times, four at the most. More than four and not only will I more than likely start overlapping agents, but that’s borderline greedy in my opinion. Plus you run the risk of contest hosts and judges recognizing your story from other contests and not picking you because of said familiarity. Everyone should get a chance, yo.

I finished the final round of edits on my latest story–a re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland–early December last year, right in time for Pitch Wars.  Alice made it to the final round. I entered two more contests in January and one in February. That’s four times Alice made it into the finals and, for me, that contest in February was her last one. If I wasn’t a slush reader for Pitch Madness here in March, I would have entered the contest with a different manuscript. And I plan to enter Nest Pitch in April but, again, with a story that’s not Alice’s.

Entering your manuscript into more than one contest is not only okay, it’s expected. You wouldn’t stop querying after one rejection, would you? I hope not. Keep writing, keep querying, and keep entering contests.

And, just a little FYI, I’ll be hosting a contest at the end of April. The first Pitch Slam is coming! Click here for more info and stay tuned for added details over the next few weeks.

Questions concerning anything about entering contests I didn’t cover, Pitch Slam, or writing contests in general? Boom, comments, give’em to me. I’ll do my best to answer.

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5 thoughts on “When Enough is Enough: Writing Contests

  • Keely

    Thank you for this post! I was wondering about this and now I know. Great info. These contests are so much fun and provide a feeling of fellowship in an otherwise solitary occupation.

  • nestpitch

    Great post ! as the host of NestPitch, I couldn’t agree more, sometimes a manuscript needs to go for a very long nana-nap. In fact, #nestpitch isn’t accepting any MS that’s been featured in another #pitch comp in the previous 12 months. This is as much for the agents as it is for the authors. Keeping it fresh for everyone 🙂