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Have pitchfests run their course?

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Harlequin

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I remember when pitchfests on twitter were a attended virtually by about 3000 and a good chunk of agents.

Now the number of pitchfests have proliferated, as have participants. Some pitmads etc get half a million a tweets. Meanwhile the number of agents actually interacting seems to drop steadily. Not just every year, but every pitchfest, its going down that rapidly.

I've never been sold on something effectively feels like n extra step in the querying process, particularly when it does so little for writers and seems to cause everyone, including agents, so much stress and anxiety.

Have we finally reached the point where pitchfests have outlived their usefulness?
 

Woollybear

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Maybe. I've noticed the same thing on Pitmad, both with my personal experience as well as browsing through the pitches.

Pitchwars seems to be doing fine though. I track agent requests in the showcase (adult entries only) and the winning manuscripts get more requests every year. Here is the data on requests from 2018, 2019, 2020. (Each cell represents a manuscript from that year and how many requests it got.)


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Woollybear

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I guess I wonder too if the nature of finding a publishing deal (or finding a manuscript to sell) is changing in response to pressure from KDP and the rest. I could imagine this being a 'selective pressure' on how the big houses operate.
 

byarvin

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I don't think fests or in-person slams are a negative in themselves, but they do add one more step to the process. Most of my successes and most of those that I know of came from send pitches cold.
 

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I guess I wonder too if the nature of finding a publishing deal (or finding a manuscript to sell) is changing in response to pressure from KDP and the rest. I could imagine this being a 'selective pressure' on how the big houses operate.

I’m curious about this too. I’ve heard a number of reports of house editors saying KDP (and self-pub in general) isn’t materially impacting their business.

I’m also curious about how many pitmad requests turn into rep, and into trade publication.
 

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They add an extra step, but they're also a risk-free way to put your novel out there for requests. You lose nothing but the time of putting together a twitter pitch. If it catches the eye of a legitimate agent, awesome! If it doesn't, you still can query every agent who participated. It gives you a chance to pitch the novel in a different way, and any different way is another chance to find the specific hook that's going to catch an agent's eye.

However, while I'm a big fan of the idea of #pitmad, if I were an agent, I would probably be exhausted by them at this point. It seems like they pop up all the time, and with the number of authors that participate, I don't know how any individual pitch has anything but luck on its side to get an agent who might want to read more to see the pitch in the first place.
 

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I would be exhausted, too. I'm exhausted as a writer. Nevermind an agent 😂

I guess I feel bad for writers who come away from pitchfests feeling utterly discouraged and like it isn't worth querying because they can't get a like.

Stats wise, almost none of my agency's client come from pitch fests, most from cold queries. Not sure about other agencies.

Wolly that is so interesting. Ty for compiling and sharing.
 

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I guess I feel bad for writers who come away from pitchfests feeling utterly discouraged and like it isn't worth querying because they can't get a like.
That's me. Condensing your novel into a query is hard enough, but into a pitch? And w/a failed query you can move on to the next agent, but with a failed pitchfest there's nowhere to go. Percentage wise (authors versus agents), the odds seem much lower for a pitchfest.
 
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But with a failed pitchfest, you move on to querying your next agent. Honestly, it's best to think of it as a shot you made in the dark and then move on. You haven't been rejected yet. That's the best part of pitchfests. There is zero rejection.
 
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VeryBigBeard

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But with a failed pitchfest, you move on to querying your next agent. Honestly, it's best to think of it as a shot you made in the dark and then move on. You haven't been rejected yet. That's the best part of pitchfests. There is zero rejection.
I kind of see where you're coming from, but to play devil's annoying strategic advisor:

--> Pitch and don't get a like = query the agent

--> Pitch and get a like = query the agent

--> Query the agent = query the agent

I suppose querying after a favourable pitch allows one to mention this as personalization, but I'm sceptical how far personalization really goes. Maybe it gets past the intern, but that's still a long way from signed.

The vast majority of queriers are going to get rejected, as always and ever more, because the book isn't good enough at all and, in a few cases, because it doesn't jive with that particular agent. Those few cases just loop back around to the above formula: if one has That Book, it's likely to catch interest; if one does not, the pitch just adds another layer of bureaucracy. The wrong book is going to get rejected somewhere. Hiding that rejection behind a heart-shaped button does not change its basic truth or necessity.

The one point I'm tempted to give in the pitch's favour is that, in terms of industry accessibility, meatspace networking is a huge and often hidden barrier. If the publishing industry is serious about diversity, it should take any opportunity to get away from avenues like writing conferences that cost money and time to attend. Except I'd lump Twitter into that space, too, because while it can feel democratic (I retain a very small shred of respect for Twitter for being founded on the ideals of the open web even if it's come a long way since...) it's really a pressure cooker environment, and far too subject to the ebb and flow of social and internet culture, neither of which is conducive to the production of good books.

Queries have a major advantage in that they're basically private correspondence. Emailing a query to an agent remains one of the most effective and egalitarian ways of connecting creators and industry--far, far better than a lot of other creative industries.

In shorter version: writer-Twitter is a terrible, self-destrcutive place that only cements the age-old reputation writers have rightly earned as people who should never be invited to dignified parties lest we drink all the good booze, fall asleep, and drool all over the couch.
 
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Cyia

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I don't think it's the fests, it's the year. There's a lot of professional burn-out from both agents and editors over the last couple of years, and they don't have the brain space for twitter contests when they're trying to figure out if there's enough paper available for their contracted books to be delivered on time.
 

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I can't really see the burnout getting better though :/ I mean half a million pitches is a A LOT. I know my agent used to participate in them regularly and she just kind of doesn't at all any more. When you start tipping past 600 queries a month (and many folks get those numbers or higher), then idea of seeking out pitches is probably not very appealing.

I agree on the spirit of what pitchfest is, but every single fest, multiple times a year, I find myself on twitter trying to cheer up baby writers who have been crushed by the experience and/or come to the conclusion that twitter platform is all important in getting an agent (because the ones which get the likes and shares do tend to be those with a platform.) Very much not alone in that - I feel like a lot of writers I know are trying to put out despair-fires after pitch fests.
 

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I agree on the spirit of what pitchfest is, but every single fest, multiple times a year, I find myself on twitter trying to cheer up baby writers who have been crushed by the experience and/or come to the conclusion that twitter platform is all important in getting an agent (because the ones which get the likes and shares do tend to be those with a platform.) Very much not alone in that - I feel like a lot of writers I know are trying to put out despair-fires after pitch fests.

They were billed as a shortcut to getting an agent, like in-person pitch sessions at cons. Folks new to trade pub are often lured by the idea of there being some key that will work if they only figure out what shape they need to make themselves. It's a factor of the supply-and-demand issue, but IMHO things like this don't really help. They're illusory access, really, although I know they didn't start out like that - agents like different avenues of finding writers, too. It's just that few are as efficient as cold queries.

On the other hand, for some people it's probably better to learn how indifferent trade publishing is to the feelings of writers earlier rather than later. There's this idea that getting an agent will connect you with this network of super supportive and validating people, and it's probably better to get over that before you're facing public exposure via publication.
 

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Querying is by far the most effective way to find an agent. But I think a lure of #pitmad is that instead of you searching through all the agents to find one who might like your book, in this case the agents come to you. You *know* right then that this agent is interested in this pitch. No matter the research you do, you don’t know that for any agent you query.

Still, it’s a shot in the dark (and now in a crowded field of other arrows aiming at fewer targets). It should never be treated as anything other than that. Should people be disappointed when they don’t get likes? Of course! It’s always disappointing to put something out there & not get gratification from it. Some people get disappointed if normal tweets don’t get likes or responses. But authors shouldn’t walk away from it thinking it’s a statement on their novel. It was just a different chance to catch an agent’s attention. It shouldn’t ever be seen as the end-all-be-all of finding an agent.
 
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lizmonster

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Querying is by far the most effective way to find an agent. But I think a lure of #pitmad is that instead of you searching through all the agents to find one who might like your book, in this case the agents come to you. You *know* right then that this agent is interested in this pitch. No matter the research you do, you don’t know that for any agent you query.

Still, it’s a shot in the dark (and now in a crowded field of other arrows aiming at fewer targets). It should never be treated as anything other than that. Should people be disappointed when they don’t get likes? Of course! It’s always disappointing to put something out there & not get gratification from it. Some people get disappointed if normal tweets don’t get likes or responses. But authors shouldn’t walk away from it thinking it’s a statement on their novel. It was just a different chance to catch an agent’s attention. It shouldn’t ever be seen as the end-all-be-all of finding an agent.
I agree with every word of this.

Of course, having said that...it bothers me a lot when I see yet-to-be-published writers tie themselves up in knots (and become disproportionately disappointed) in attempts to get attention from agents. Yes, an agent is your best hope at a trade publishing contract - but I see too many people trying to play the personality game, twisting themselves and their work into something they think Random Agents On The Internet might like.

I guess I'm a little sensitive to writers not taking pride in their work. I know most agents out there are reputable, but there are one or two I see who seem a wee bit addicted to having yet-to-be-published authors fawn all over them. I don't like to see people who haven't yet had the chance to learn any better get exploited - it's not good for them, and it's not good for the industry in general. And I think pitmad-type things are a little more vulnerable to this behavior than plain ol' querying.
 

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Maybe it was always the junior agents who were participating, and maybe agencies are taking fewer new agents the past two years. Because of the pandemic.

It seems like the new agents need to get their name out there, and so they do all the twitter stuff. Then they hit a point when they're open to queries but don't need to solicit. They might host a podcast or workshop or something instead. Then they hit a point where they periodically close to queries to catch up. Then they hit a point where they take queries by referral only. Then they hit a point where they don't even do that, and by then their kids' colleges are paid for and the mortgage is in the rear view mirror and eventually they retire.
 
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Nether

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Are there places that track how many people get agents from an event like PitMad? I imagine the percentage is likely steadily shrinking (since the number of participants continuously grows -- it's a very low effort way for people to pitch, and I imagine it includes a lot of participants who might just be trying to vet an idea for a novel they haven't started drafting), but is the overall number of people finding representation still increasing or just dropping off?

Pitchwars seems to be doing fine though. I track agent requests in the showcase (adult entries only) and the winning manuscripts get more requests every year. Here is the data on requests from 2018, 2019, 2020. (Each cell represents a manuscript from that year and how many requests it got.)

I feel like PitchWars is always going to be different since there's a quality control buffer between the authors and the agents, and the number of manuscripts also remains reasonable. There are a relatively small number of mentors (iirc, 40 for YA, 40 for adult, and I think it was 20 for MG) and the screening is happening on the mentor side.

I think the premise for PitchWars is interesting. I only learned about it prior to the most recent one, so I'm a first-time PitchWars Loser and likely an only-time PitchWars Loser because it doesn't feel like a productive use of time or energy (although I guess if the mentors mostly stay the same year-to-year, it wouldn't be as much effort the next time I try it). And in the case of the manuscript I submitted, I was going to have an uphill battle no matter what because that one has a 14 y/o MC which is apparently a problem age that falls on the cusp of MG an YA, given conventional logic is readers tend to read 2 years above their age. Even I was going through the mentor profiles, I noticed a lot of them specified they were looking more for the 16-18 range
 

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I've soured on Pitchwars myself, as I've seen a few things in the years I entered, and the hype around it borders on toxic IMO. But the endeavor, and the whole process of it, still fascinates me, especially for the metrics at the end.

I think you can find the numbers for 'success stories' from pitchwars if you carefully work through the blog. At least for a time, the blog kept track of mentees who then agented and sold. It was not all of them. Maybe half? I have no good idea.

What most opened my eyes was the number of requests that the different genres received. These entries are all winners, right? Like, they were pulled from the top of the crop, from something like 1500 initial entries, and then mentored and spiffed up and polished into a showcase. So, the best manuscripts made even better. You'd expect (or, I'd expect) all of these to get a few requests.

They do all get at least one request, but given that dozens of agents are scanning the showcase, one request is damned depressing. After all that work and hype?

It gets worse for anyone writing SFF. Last year for example, fourteen winners in the showcase had four or fewer requests for pages. Of those fourteen, ten (ten!) were in the speculative fiction realm. At the other end of the spectrum, sixteen winners had fourteen or more requests (one had fifty three requests). Of those sixteen, only 3 were in the speculative realm. There's a clear bias away from SFF, at least in broad strokes.

And it's like that every year. Agents probably don't recognize their bias, but in general they aren't nearly as keen on SFF as they are on romance, comedy, suspense, and thriller. You can see the same trends on query tracker.

In a way, it's comforting to me. People say you should have a 10% request rate, and sometimes someone will have a 30 or 40% request rate. That's great! But it's highly unusual in speculative fiction, and so to even have a couple of requests has turned into a real boost for me.

That's my perspective of it, anyway. YMMV.
 
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Silenia

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I think a decent portion of that is not just whether or not they *like* the pitches/are subconsciously biased in regards to SFF, but whether they have the know-how of repping SFF.

There's no use in requesting pages, or even signing an author, when they already know even before reading the manuscript that they won't be the right person to try selling that story because they don't have the market knowledge and the contacts they do have for whatever genres they typically represent. No matter how much they might love the pitch.

And for whatever reason, Spec-fic repping agents appear to be underrepresented when it comes to pitchwars.
 

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I think pitchfests are moving in the direction of running their course but aren't quite there yet. I've definitely noticed fewer and fewer agents participating, while an overwhelming number of writers now do. But it was a PitMad request that got me my agent this year, and there are still success stories.

PitchWars is also getting more and more applicants (around 3,ooo I'd heard), but having been through it, I'd recommend it, even though it didn't get me an agent at that time or for that book. It was still a great opportunity to work with a mentor and gain support from the group of mentees (you join a FB mentee group for your class, and in mine they were super supportive and had a lot to offer). I think adding it in your query bio is also a boost, so you're going to get more requests while querying, even if you don't get many during the showcase. Even entering and not being chosen can be an opportunity. The second time I entered, it turned out super helpful because the mentor I was runner up for gave me the exact feedback (eliminate the journal entries of the antagonist) that was subsequently recommended during my offer call for that book, and I honestly think I might have resisted the suggestion if I hadn't already heard it from another professional in the industry, and an openness to that I think played into the offer.

The number of PW mentees who get agented was mentioned in a comment above, and for my class it was around exactly half who eventually got agented (we tracked it within the group), though many of those were for subsequent books, not the one in PW.

I'd still say it's all worth a shot, and if you don't get the likes at Pitchfests or chosen for PitchWars, just keep going, knowing it's not the only path to success and that more often people will succeed in other ways.
 

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There are indeed groups who track such things! Disabled authors get far fewer pitch requests than non disabled authors, for example. This year's most recent fest was apparently good for disabled contestants.

Agree hard on the whole personality thing and the myth of the dream agent based on what kind of cat pictures they post. Judging by twitter I would have thought my mss wouldn't appeal to my agent 😂

I had one like from a pitchfests ever. Did not even get a form reply - just no reply at all. It was not really different to querying, but even more annoying.
 
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