In honor of Pitch Madness (happening now and hosted by the amazing and super-talented Brenda Drake!), I want to talk a little bit about pitch contests and why I think they are SO worth your time.

I’ve seen a bit of negativity lately in regards to these kinds of contests, usually based on the following points: 1) there are so many contests out there now, and 2) most people still get their agents the traditional way, through querying. These are both true…but. Why deny yourself an additional opportunity to snag the right agent for your work? Recognizing that querying is still important doesn’t make pitch contests irrelevant. Both are good, and I did both myself, when I was searching for an agent.

In my opinion, there’s no downside to taking a chance on a contest if you’ve got a manuscript that’s polished and query-ready. Sure, your manuscript might not get chosen for the agent round, and rejection sucks. But, if you’re querying agents, then you’re likely already familiar with that sucky feeling. It’s not any worse–as we all know, everything is subjective. Even if your work doesn’t get chosen, the fun thing about these contests is that you’ll likely make connections with other applicants, and then you’ve found an online community of other people who are going through the exact same process you are. That’s no small thing, especially if you’re the only writer in your immediate circle of friends/family. Having other people who “get it” to celebrate and/or commiserate with is just…nice. Maybe you’ll even find a new critique partner.

And there’s always the chance that your work will be chosen for the agent round, and then you have a unique opportunity to sit back and let agents come to you. Which, if you’ve been in the query trenches for any length of time, is a bizarre yet refreshing Freaky-Friday-style change of pace.  Even if you get zero agent requests from the contest, there’s still that pleasant, tingly feeling of knowing your work was selected in the first place. And if you do get an agent request, then you’ve got an opening that you didn’t have before–not only is your query not buried in a digital slush pile begging for attention, but an agent has actually asked to see it.

I’ll forever love these contests, because last year’s Pitch Madness changed my life. Entering that contest, and following (and engaging with) the Twitter feed, made me feel like part of the online writing community in a way that I hadn’t before. I went in with very little expectation (I didn’t even tell my friends and family that I’d entered), but my entry was selected for the agent round–cue the squee! When my entry went live, I received so many messages from other entrants, cheering me along. And I did the same cheering for the entries I loved. Though I’d been shy in the past about reaching out online to people I didn’t know, I got really comfortable doing exactly that during Pitch Madness. I still love to read over all of the selections during pitch contests, even now that I’m no longer entering. And, if I see something I love, I’ll send the author a message letting them know. Because we authors need all the positive feedback we can get, amiright?

Best of all, through last year’s Pitch Madness, I connected with my agent–the fabulous Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. The funny thing is, I was impressed by Suzie long before she became my agent. I read her Tumblr Q&A sessions every week. I already knew she had a stellar reputation, and she seemed like so much fun! I wanted desperately to work with her. But–my research indicated that she mostly repped Young Adult, and because I write Women’s Fiction, I hadn’t queried her. But here’s another interesting thing: agents’ MSWL’s change, sometimes faster than your own internet research can keep up with. If she (and the amazing Jess Dallow, formerly of New Leaf) hadn’t requested pages from me during Pitch Madness, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to query Suzie on my own. That’s what contests can provide that querying alone simply can’t: the opportunity for an unexpected connection, and for me, that was the very best kind.

So, to those of you who are skeptical, I say: go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose, and so much to gain. If you’re new to all of this and you’re interested in learning more about pitch contests, here are some great places to start:

If you’re not new to this and there are other sites you want to share, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments section! :)