Monday, April 20, 2015

Trends in Contests

Now that Pitchslam is over, I decided to put together a few thoughts on how contests have changed and where they might be headed.

Twitter parties are growing and getting bigger. There is much more chatter and spontaneous games on the twitter feed than ever before. Writers are joining twitter simply to hang out under contest hashtags and interact with other writers. They're making friends, finding CPs, and interacting more than ever before. It's a fun and wonderful result of contests.

On the other side, while agents are still eager to take part in contests and be part of the show, there is a change here. Agents are much less free with their requests than ever before. While last year and the year before, one blog of entries (10-12) might receive thirty requests; now the same group of entries would be more likely to garner half that in requests. This year, agents who used to do seven or eight requests each on a blog, now settle for two to three, or even zero requests.

The agents are being much more selective. Perhaps they overdid it in the past and lived with the result of tons of manuscripts to read filling their inbox. Perhaps they are not seeing what is marketable in recent contests or their wishlists are much narrower. But even the requests that do come through are for fewer pages than in the past.

I had only one full request in Pitchslam and the majority of requests were on the lower end of the scale, asking for twenty-five pages instead of fifty or one hundred. In the past, there were usually a couple of full requests and many more larger samples sought.

I can't begin to predict whether that will carry forward into future contests. Perhaps there are simply too many contests, packed too close together. It makes for interesting speculation.

Also there is a decided trend away from adult entries and toward YA and middle grade. That was always the case, but even more than usual now. Adult entries are virtually ignored. Perhaps the adult writers are relying too much on tried and true plots and not experimenting enough. Who can say? But I have noticed another trend toward high concept and multicultural plots.

Agents tend to agree (even when the comments are hidden) on requesting entries with multicultural plots. Plots which have elements of other cultures are almost sure to get requests--in YA and middle grade. As are plots that are very unique and haven't been seen before--what I call high concept. Unusually and fresh plots are easy to spot when you've read hundreds of query letters. They do stand out from the crowd just by virtue of being different from everyone else.

Look at entries in Pitchslam with multiple requests and it's probably either high concept or multicultural (including LGBT) or both. 

I hope this gives writers ideas for their next story concept and what agents may be looking for. Have you spotted any trends in contests? What have you noticed?  


  1. Thanks for posting this, Michelle. These thoughts are really interesting and you are in a unique position to be able to see what's happening to a wide array of entries across multiple contests. And thanks, as always, for hosting awesome contests! You are such a help to the Twitter writing community!


  2. Interesting post, Michelle. I've noticed (and lamented) the struggle for adult entries in these contests as well, and wish I could explain it. The trend of requesting fewer pages over time is fascinating. Regardless of the reason, it emphasizes the importance of strong openings in terms of hook, character, and pace.

  3. Interesting! I find it disheartening as a reader, too, that adult is being ignored. I adore YA, but adult issues are different and sometimes that's what I want to read.

  4. Twitter in general is young. It seems like so many new agents and young agents rep YA and MG. In writing magic realism for adults, I've found it harder to find agents to query than if I were in a youth market. Established agents are less likely to be seeking new authors. Not a complaint, just an observation. It may explain why there are more YA and MG requests in twitter games. It's who is participating on both ends.

  5. I'm sad that the adult entries don't get more love, but I've noticed that a lot of the agents who participate seem more focused on YA and MG. I've never requested adult or NA from a contest, because Amy doesn't rep it :(

  6. I usually write YA but I have two adult manuscripts I'm thinking of querying at some point. I was going to enter one of them in an upcoming contest but not if agents aren't looking for adult. Thanks for this post, Michelle!

    1. It doesn't mean agents aren't looking for adult. Just not so much in contests.

      And there are other ways to benefit from entering contests--like the expert advice from judges and meeting other writers.