I adore pitch contests. I think they’re an amazing way to meet other writers, get feedback, connect with the writing community, test out your pitch/query/first page without closing any doors, and more. They are absolutely amazing, and I think every querying writer (or about-to-query writer) should participate in them.
That said, you know what? In my experience, querying is flat-out a better way to get agent requests.
When you enter a contest, you’re not targeting agents who are seeking work like yours, or who you’d be eager to have represent you. You’re putting your work out there in front of a whole bunch of agents, some of whom may be perfect fits, but others of whom won’t be. When you query, on the other hand, you’re deliberately selecting agents who you think are a great match for you.
Here are my own stats from when I was querying and entering contests:
Requests from Twitter pitch parties: 2
Full/partial requests from blog contests: 2
Full/partial requests from querying: 14
One of the agents who requested a partial from a blog contest never got back to me on the material she requested, too. And, like many writers, I got my agent from regular querying. She found me in the slush pile.
So… By all means, do contests! If you get picked, yay! If you get requests, double yay!!!
But if you get picked and don’t get requests, don’t feel bad at all. You’ve proven you have a strong pitch and pages, or you wouldn’t have gotten picked for the contest. The particular agents just weren’t a great match for you. You can find better matches with regular querying.
And if you didn’t get picked for the contest, never fear! You’ve still gotten all the best benefits contests have to offer (see feedback, connections and friends, etc, above).
The only way to not win a contest is not to participate. Any which way, Just Keep Querying. And good luck!