Online Writing Contest Etiquette

If you’re a writer in search of an agent, you’re likely aware that Pitch Wars is currently in full swing. (If you’re thinking of entering, the submission window closes on Saturday. You can find more information here. For a list of other online contests, see here.) I’m mentoring in Pitch Wars for the second time, so naturally I’ve been thinking a lot about the contest, particularly as submissions have started pouring into my inbox.

In particular, I wanted to share a few thoughts about online contest etiquette.

1. Follow the platinum rule

First, the platinum rule is always a good idea: “treat others as they’d like to be treated.” Be respectful of the hosts, mentors, and other contestants. Mentors often talk behind the scenes and the publishing world can be small. If  you’re rude to one of the hosts or mentors, or dismissive of other entrants and their writing, word will get around and significantly hurt your chances of getting picked, no matter how well you write.

As my friend Kimberley Vanderhorst (one of the hosts of Pitch Slam) has said, “don’t tick of the judges just for the satisfaction of being right.”

2. Read the Rules

Most contests have the guidelines spelled out somewhere. Find out where, and study the rules. Don’t hurt your chances of getting in by failing to follow rules about format, submission, etc.

Related to this: most contests encourage participants to ask questions of the hosts or mentors, but make sure that you read the posted guidelines to make sure your questions haven’t already been answered (for instance, on Brenda Drake’s blog, there are extensive comments and questions on the guidelines page that have already been answered). Go to the hashtag (#PitchWars in this case) on twitter and read to see if someone has already answered your question. There’s nothing wrong with a genuine question, but it can be frustrating and time consuming for the hosts (who are usually volunteers) to answer the same question again and again. (See #1 above).

 3. Make friends

This is related to the first point, but one of the best things you can get out of an online contest is a community of like-minded writers. (The group of 2014 Pitch Wars mentees I was part of is still a group I participate in almost daily). Even for writers who don’t get into Pitch Wars or other contests, making friends with other people on the hashtag can be a terrific side benefit of participating. Treat other writers as potential friends, rather than the competition–and you’ll come away with possible CPs and cheerleaders that last much longer than the contest.

4. Don’t talk publicly about requests (or rejections)

It can be thrilling to get a request for more pages–whether from actual agents in the judging round or from mentors in the rounds leading up to that. As writers, it’s natural to want to celebrate all the highs (particularly when the journey to publishing can be strewn with so many lows and obstacles). Celebrate all you want–but do it privately. It can be painful to writers who aren’t as lucky to see the public celebrating of others. It can also be incredibly awkward if you’ve announced all your requests–only to not make it in as a finalist.

Related: don’t complain publicly about rejections. Every year, there are a few bitter writers who don’t make it in who take to the hashtag to complain about the process. Don’t be that person. There are way more writers who enter any given contest that can make it in, and not getting in isn’t necessarily a reflection on you or your writing–the contest is subjective, and it might only mean that a given mentor connected more with someone else’s writing. But complaining about the process (particularly when the mentors and hosts are volunteering time away from their own writing and jobs and families) does reflect on you.

5. Be gracious

When the contest is over, it’s always a good idea to thank the hosts and mentors for the time they’ve put into the contest. Most contests are an act of love on the part of the coordinators, who participate because they want to give something back to the community. Acknowledgement of that is always appreciated.

 6.  Keep going, regardless of the contest outcome

Whether you make it into the contest or not–keep going forward. If you get in, you’ll face rewrites and then a judging round and still more work. If you don’t get in, you still face rewrites and querying.

As you move forward, don’t let your self-worth be tied up in your writing success. You have value as a person (and your voice has value as a writer) whether or not you’re getting the external validation you want at the moment.

Don’t quit (unless you need to for self-help reasons–and then un-quit when you’re ready). Any given contest is only a turn in the road, not the end of it.


Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming March 2017 from Knopf/Random House. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. 

4 thoughts on “Online Writing Contest Etiquette

  1. Great advice. I submitted to you last year but this year my critique partner's manuscript was a better fit for your wishlist and I didn't want to be in direct competition with her. Thank you so much for volunteering your time and talent to help us flourish too.


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