Surviving and Thriving: The Query Competitions

Preparing the Queries and Pitches: My Mad Dash Process
Last March while preparing to start the first draft on my second novel, I heard about Pit Madness, the day-long Twitter pitch aimed at connecting authors with literary agents and publishers. It sounded like a great idea, and edits and revisions were underway for my debut novel, “Hunter Green,” so I wrote a pitch and put it aside for June.

As Pit Madness, or #pitmad, approached (June 4!) I decided to review the rules. In doing so – hey, surprise! – I discovered that both The Writer’s Voice and Query Kombat were both running that very week. The day I checked up on things was the very day TWV was allowing people to become randomly selected for the competition. I assumed that nothing would come of it and decided I needed to look over my query, at least for QK.

I was shocked and pleased to discover I’d won a spot on The Writer’s Voice. Those feelings of joy dissipated as I reviewed an old query I’d written months ago, something jotted down to get some practice on the process. It was terrible. I erased nearly everything and started over.

With little time before my blog entry was due, I had a full work day, tutoring, and freelance work to think about before I could polish my query; there was no time to even run it by a friend. These are competitions people prepare for weeks or even months in advance. I was ill-prepared, with zero workshop experience and only scattered online tips to go by.

Still, I believed in the originality of my idea. After all, I am a writer. I spent what sleepless hours I could improving the query and, at the last possible entry time, posted my submission for TWV. I set a timer so I wouldn’t miss QK and prepared a draft email to send for that competition as well. Tutoring and freelance continued, but I was able to improve the QK query a bit more before hitting send.

With a week to go before I hear anything definite on either query, the waiting game is entirely nerve-wracking. However, this much I think I’ve determined from #QKSlush, an ongoing critique of the queries as they’re read- my query very likely bombed with at least one reviewer.

Lessons Learned and Still Learning
It was a little soul-crushing to see my query go down in flames- at first. I want to emphasize that I’m not 100% sure the comments were actually regarding my submission, but the criticisms were specific enough to make me feel glum. The bulk of submissions for both competitions were young adult, so when I hear someone referring to a “thriller,” it narrows the field somewhat. There are YA thrillers, too, but additional comments gave me pause.

However, I’m putting perspective on things, and I’ve learned some great things from the in-depth commentary that was provided for the title I presume to be mine. I have a clearer idea how I can improve my queries when I send to agents. If it’s hard to tell who the main character is by the end of the query, the onus is on me to explain that this is a dual perspective husband/wife story, and that the MC perspective shifts from husband to wife. The critique mentioned there were too many adverbs. They may be right.

A third and final critique; it was noted that the plot didn’t sound like a thriller, but there’s not much to do about that. On this count I’ll respectfully disagree. If I’m writing cross-genre fiction, I have to go with the best definition I can place, and I felt mine was accurate. It could also be a horror, but I think the thriller aspect is the stronger one. I’ll stand by it.

Now the good news: all of the comments weren’t bad! The person running the critique loved the first sentence and the first paragraph, and if that applies to my query, excellent.

The most important thing to take away from all of this is that even if I don’t “win” either competition, my goal as a writer wasn’t to conquer query competitions (grateful as I am to be in them and awesome as they are!) It’s to become published. Any steps or missteps along the way that I can learn from can only help. I’m very glad I jumped in and I win by improving my query.

No regrets.

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About Shawn D. Humphrey

Writer, social media-type worker, bass player, gamer, activist. I read too much about Africa.
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