I never intended to be a Contest Connoisseur during my journey to an agent, but with a goal of immersing myself in the industry, contests were a great way to create connections, grow as an author, uncover stones, and build upon each experience.
This guest post is by Jenni L. Walsh. Walsh has spent the past decade enticing readers as an award-winning advertising copywriter. Her passion lies in transporting readers to another world, be it in historical or contemporary settings. She is a proud graduate of Villanova University and lives in the Philly burbs with her husband, daughter, son, and golden doodle. Her debut novel, BECOMING BONNIE, was released in May 2017 by Tor/Forge.
Flashback to November of 2012, the month I began writing the manuscript that’d land me my first agent. In January of 2013, I caught my eye on a WritersDigest.com contest, the 13th Dear Lucky Agent. Grand prize was a 10-page critique by a literary agent. I wanted it, badly. But what I got was runner-up and a query critique. I happily took it.
Toward the end of 2013, after getting various readers for my book, I was on round “I lost count” of my manuscript. I also spent many painful hours in Query Letter Hell, a forum on AbsoluteWrite.com, before cashing in my query critique.
I was ready for Pitch Wars 2013, a contest where lucky mentees work with generous mentors in preparation for an Agent Showcase. I wanted it, badly. I submitted my tried-and-true query letter and the first 250 words of my manuscript and crossed my fingers. I got in—as an alternate. This meant I wouldn’t be in the main showcase, but I’d be in an alternate showcase (note: Pitch Wars no longer has alternate mentees or showcases).
Working with a mentor was big for me. I learned a lot. And my manuscript was much improved by the end. Unfortunately, the alternate showcase didn’t garner any interest from agents. Bummer, but that was okay because…
A #PitMad event, where a book is pitched in 140 characters or less on Twitter, was going down in January of 2014. I crossed my fingers. I pitched. Ten agents requested. I queried additional agents. More requested. Lots passed. Lots didn’t respond.
When it was all said and done, I had contacted 112 agents, of which 23 were considering my manuscript. I got uncomfortably comfy for the wait while they read. Then, something crazy happened. In early February, a Big 5 editor saw my pitch from January and invited me to submit to her, after I signed with an agent.
Agents were thrilled to hear it, and, soon after, I had 3 offers of representation. I signed with my first agent in February of 2014.
Celebrate! Right? Oh I did, but, unfortunately, that manuscript didn’t sell and, in December of 2014, I made the tough decision to explore new agent representation with a new manuscript.
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Round 2, Contest #1
I was feeling uncomfortably uncomfortable about my journey to publication, but I knew just the trick to jumpstart my momentum—#Pitchmas, another twitter pitch event. The timing was great; it was only a few days after I parted ways with my former agent. I ended up with 5 requests. I sent off those requests in December of 2014, but decided to wait until January before querying more widely. Then, a second something crazy happened. Only five days later, an agent from #Pitchmas offered (on my birthday)! I sent an update to all the agents, even the ones who hadn’t responded yet. Their reactions were all over the place:
“Already? You just queried me”
“Sorry, this is moving too fast for me. I’ll need to step aside.”
“Wow. Okay. Reading now!”
In the end, I spoke with 3 offering agents. It was a tough decision, especially since the agent who initially offered dazzled me. But, Stacey Glick, from Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC, was the best agent match for me, and I signed with her in January of 2015.
Now, thanks to Stacey, I’m happily awaiting the publication of my May 2017 novel, Becoming Bonnie (Tor/Forge) that tells the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. And, in 2018, I’ll be the proud author of Being Bonnie, the sequel to Becoming Bonnie, along with two books from a middle grade nonfiction series with Scholastic, called Brave Like Me.
While there are many paths to agent representation and publication, being a Contest Connoisseur worked for me. Now, I’m a mentor in Pitch Wars, giving back to one of the avenues in which I got my footing within the industry.
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