13 Ways to Win in Pitch Wars, and Three Ways to Lose

As a 4-time participant, I’ve learned there are many ways to be a winner in the Pitch Wars writing contest. Here are a few:

  1. If you are chosen by a mentor, get an agent, and get published, you’ve won Pitch Wars.
  2. If you’re chosen, get an agent, and don’t find a publisher, you’ve won.
  3. If you’re chosen but don’t get an agent, you’ve won.
  4. If you’re not chosen, but get feedback, even if only a little, you’ve won.
  5. If you don’t get any requests, but improved your manuscript to enter it, you’ve won.
  6. If you don’t get requests, but think about ways to improve your MS while you wait, you’ve won.
  7. If you find new CPs or expand your circle of writers, you’ve won.
  8. If you got feedback in the forums, you’ve won.
  9. If you learned something in the feeds, you’ve won.
  10. If you had fun, you’ve won.
  11. If you gained experience in the query process, you’ve won.
  12. If you wrote your first query letter, you’ve won.
  13. If you entered, you’ve won.

There are so many ways to win, way more than I’ve listed here. What winning means to you depends on your personal goals and where you are in the writing process.

I only know of three ways to lose:

  1. If you don’t participate, you can’t win.
  2. If you let Pitch Wars discourage you and you quit, you lose.
  3. If you look for the negatives and let yourself be bitter or angry because you’re not picked, you lose.

Stay positive. You have not failed or been rejected if you’re not chosen.

It’s OK to feel elation or disappointment or whatever else you feel. Even if you feel a wave of anger, that’s OK, but I’d highly suggest venting somewhere other than the Pitch Wars feeds, because you don’t know who’s watching.

This business is tough and it’s a rough ride emotionally. Pitch Wars is everything in the business in a compressed time frame. If all you get out of the contest is experience dealing with those emotions, then you’ve won.

So, 14 ways.

My Personal Pitch Wars History

This is my fourth Pitch Wars. I thought it might be fun to summarize my experiences each year. I considered doing it Pitch Wars style–in a tweet thread–but decided against it.

2014

I heard about Pitch Wars a couple days before I submitted. The submission window might have already been open. I don’t remember for sure.

I had two manuscripts to choose from, a YA and a MG. I had another YA in the works, but it wasn’t ready yet. I chose the MG because I wasn’t sure what I thought of it myself. I hoped for some feedback on whether it was any good at all.

The #pitchwars feed was fun, so I followed it, participating some. I lurked far more than I posted, though.

Because I joined late, I didn’t take much time to research mentors. I quickly skimmed some of the mentor bios and found four I thought might be interested. I ended up getting brief feedback from three of them. Each of these mentors said basically the same thing: The story is good, but at only 28k words it’s much too short.

This gave me the confidence to keep working on this story. Maybe it was OK after all.

2015 – My Big Year

I returned to Pitch Wars in 2015 with the same book, only this time it was about 30% longer. While adding to the book, I discovered an important new character. I also discovered some important things about my main character, especially about his relationships with his parents and other characters. And I changed to 1st-person POV. In other words, I did a lot of work.

I spent a little more time researching mentors, at least enough to read through all the bios. I didn’t do anything before the submission window opened, so I still didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.

I only remember getting one request (could have been more), but I learned that manuscripts were shared behind the scenes and that the number of requests doesn’t really tell you how many people are looking at your work.

I got into the feeds more the second year. I felt more relaxed and confident, and participated more. I had fun.

When it was over, I wasn’t chosen. I did get a very nice note from one of the mentors, however, saying that she loved my story but didn’t feel it needed enough work to need her as a mentor. She generously offered to coach me through the query process and even recommended me to her agent. She’s still helpful a couple years later, a real writing friend. I’m still querying this work, and am getting nibbles of various sizes, but nobody has bitten yet.

One of my favorite things that happened that second year was that I was introduced to #mglitchat, a weekly Twitter confab of MG writers. This chat greatly expanded my circle of writer friends, introduced me to a bunch of great books, and made me feel part of the greater community of MG writers. I can’t overstate how much the #mglitchat has meant to me and how I feel as a writer.

2016

Last year, I entered the YA that was still in progress in 2014. I had pretty much given up on my other YA, the one I nearly entered the first year. Something just didn’t feel right about that first YA. And, although I felt like I was part of the MG community, thanks to #mglitchat, I didn’t want to enter the same MS a third time.

I started reading the mentor blogs as soon as they were available, making lists and being more careful about my choices. A couple of them felt like excellent fits for my manuscript, and I was feeling pretty good about it myself, although I still struggled with a few parts of the story. I was pretty sure nobody would say this one was too polished to need a mentor.

I participated even more fully in the Twitter feeds, and even pimped my bio. The third time’s the charm, and my experience the previous year was so amazing that I expected something similar this time. I mean, I even joined the Pitch Wars dance parties.

And I got very little response. It was practically crickets.

There was, however, an agent who during the waiting period offered hopefuls a chance to pitch, and liked my pitch enough to request a query and pages. That was a win, even though she ultimately rejected the query, because it gave me confidence in the premise.

Participating in Pitch Wars was still a positive experience, but it was hard to compete with the rush of success I felt after 2015. I planned to participate again in 2017, but I hoped I wouldn’t need to. I was in the midst of a Master’s degree, didn’t have a lot of writing time, and my latest WIP had stalled. So I pinned all my hopes on that MG I was querying and moved on.

2017

Which brings me to this year. With my shiny new Master’s degree, and a pile of new ideas, I was writing again, but I still hadn’t sold my 2014/2015 MG book.

I briefly considering entering the YA book again. I’ve done some pretty significant revising. But I really wanted to stay within the MG group. I’d had great Pitch Wars experiences in MG. More importantly, participating in #mglitchat had made me feel like part of the MG community. I have also read a lot more MG. I feel like an MG writer.

But what should I enter? My only complete MG manuscript was the one I’d entered twice and been told was too polished to need mentoring. Of course, that was only one mentor’s opinion. Maybe another would help me figure out why it’s not landing with an agent.

Then there was the YA I almost entered the first time. A couple people had told me it felt more like a middle grade book back in the day, but I had kind of written it off as a tween book, and those weren’t doing so great so I’d shelved it. I pulled it out for another look. It had a lot of problems. But, because I had read so much MG lately, I saw where the people were coming from when they said it felt more like MG.

I decided in June that, if I could get it ready in time, I’d enter that one in the MG category. If not, I’d try the other one for a third time. It needed a ton of work. It was too long for MG, had some technical issues, and the POV didn’t feel real to me. So I dug in, doubtful that I could finish it in time.

This year, I got involved in Pitch Wars earlier than I ever had before, while I was still buried in revisions. I discussed what I was doing, and when the mentor blog hop opened, I read the bios carefully and corresponded with nearly every mentor who might be interested in the book.

I still wasn’t positive that I’d be ready with this manuscript until a week or two before the sub window opened, but I really wanted to sub that one. It looked like more mentors might be interested in it than the other one, based on wish lists, so I kept working on that one.

And felt ready, just in time.

For my fourth Pitch Wars, I feel more relaxed, much less stressed. I’m enjoying the community and having fun. I hope to be picked, of course, but if I’m not, I’m still getting encouraging responses to my other MG and I don’t believe Pitch Wars is my only path to success.

Of course, it’s too early to know whether I’ll get any response or feedback on this new/old manuscript. But I’ve learned that, for me anyway, Pitch Wars is more about the people that the manuscripts. I believe I’ve made some good connections–friends, even–through interacting with mentors and other hopefuls, so I feel like I’ve already won.

And, once again, I’m already looking forward to next year, while hoping I won’t be eligible to enter in 2018.

How to Choose Your Prospective PitchWars Mentors

If you’re new to PitchWars, you might be wondering how to choose your prospective mentors. The contest lets you submit your work to four mentors, six if you make a $20 donation or win one of the extra mentor giveaways that take place in the lead-up to the competition.

The PitchWars mentors are all generous volunteers and awesome writers, so chances are that narrowing your list to four (or six) won’t be easy.

There are several ways to make sure you pick the mentors you’d most like to work with if you’re chosen, and who’d be most interested in helping you improve your manuscript.

1. Mentor Wish Lists

The mentor blog hop has been open for several days now. In the blog hop, all mentors posts information about themselves, including the kinds of books they like and dislike. The blog posts also help you get an idea of their personalities.

If you use no other resource, use this one. You want to make sure you submit to the people who are most likely to be interested in your work. Choosing a mentor who doesn’t like SciFi for your space opera is a wasted opportunity. Although they might make an exception, they are highly unlikely to do so.

When I first participated in PitchWars, I only heard about it a few days before the contest began, and was unaware that the blog hop was out. I ended up scrambling to choose mentors while filling out the entry form, which didn’t give me much time.

Spend as much time as you can with the blog posts and make a list of all who are looking for what you have to offer. Eliminate any who don’t like your genre. If nobody specifically lists something like your work on their wishlists, don’t assume they’re not interested. Unlike with most agents, you’ll have the opportunity to ask around to find out who is most interested. (See below.)

Just as you would take the time to research agents before you send your queries to make sure your work is right for them, research your potential mentors. One of the things they’re looking for is professionalism, and the pros do their homework.

2. Interact on Twitter

Stalking is an important element of PitchWars. Not the creepy, personal kind, but the kind that happens online within the parameters of the contest. Most mentors are open and responsive when people ask them questions.

Proper PitchWars etiquette is to @ the mentor or ask questions in the #askmentors feed. Don’t DM (direct message) or email potential mentors unless they expressly tell you to in their bio blog.

Even if you don’t ask questions, you can watch feeds like #PitchWars, #askmentors, and #mentorhints–as well as category-specific feeds like #PitchWarsMG and #PitchWarsYASFF–to get a feel for what mentors like and what they are like.

Of course, it’s best not to ask questions that can easily be answered by reading the blogs. While they’re likely not going to remember you did it, they might not be as responsive. But if you want to know which mentors are most likely to be interested in your YA SciFi retelling of The Frog Prince set in the 90th Century after the Great Reptile Revolt, ask.

Keep in mind that many excellent mentors aren’t as active on Twitter as others. Although they’ll probably answer your questions, they might not post a bunch of stuff on their own. So, choosing a mentor solely on their Twitter activity might mean that you ignore the mentor who’d be perfect for you.

It is, however, fair to make choices based on responsiveness. If you repeatedly ask a mentor questions and never get an answer (just don’t be obnoxious about it), it’s understandable if you quietly move that mentor down your list behind the people who do respond.

One note about Twitter: Some mentors have a policy of not following back if potential mentees follow them, until after PitchWars is over. There are many reasons for this, but one is that hopefuls sometimes take being followed by a mentor as a sign that they are going to get picked, which can increase disappointment if they aren’t. So if you follow and are not immediately followed back, don’t take that to mean anything about your chances, good or bad.

3. Use the Forum

Beginning this year (2017), PitchWars offers a forum where hopefuls can receive input on their queries and pages from other hopefuls and sometimes from mentors. Many mentors have opened discussions where hopefuls can ask them questions directly.

Especially if you’re not a Twitter fan, this gives you another place to find out more about the mentors on your list. Whether you ask questions yourself or just read their answers to others, these discussions can help you narrow your list.

4. Check Out Their Books

You can learn a lot about any potential mentors by looking at their books. You don’t have to buy and read their books (although you are welcome to do that, even encouraged). Titles and genre info will tell you a lot about their interests. Sites like Amazon also offer samples of many books, so you can get a sense of their style.

Several of the mentors are waiting for their first books to come out, so this won’t work for every mentor.

5. Recommendations

Sometimes, a mentor’s previous mentees post information about how the mentor was to work with. The recommendations are always positive and might not provide a lot of information. But, you can ask those former mentees questions about their experience, and the mentor’s style.

 

Use as many methods as you can. The better informed you are, the better your chances of not wasting those precious mentor spots by choosing somebody who is not looking for what you have to offer. You can go into the submission form with confidence, ready to pick the mentors you believe are your best choices.

As always, the primary rules of PitchWars apply: be kind and respectful in all your PitchWars interactions, whether with mentors or other hopefuls. The mentors are watching, and although their main interest is in the pages submitted to them, they also want to choose a mentee who is easy to work with, so negativity and meanness could help them make their choice.

NOTEBOOKS!!!!!!

Like many writers, I have an obsession with notebooks.

One of my favorite things about summer, in fact, is that the stores have “school” supplies for great prices. They might become cheaper as we get closer to the start of school, but they are still irresistible right now.

This morning, I needed to run to Target for drinks and dog food. I ended up also getting these:

It doesn’t matter that I already have several unused notebooks. When comp books are 50 cents, leaving the store without at least six is not possible. Not for me.

Comp books are my favorite.

I have many favorites.

If comp books are great, how great are those little mini comp books? Great enough to be my favorite.

My favorite notebook is next to the mini comp book. It’s a slightly larger notebook with a fabric cover. And it lies flat when opened.

Sometimes at work meetings, they pass out these great notebooks. Those are my favorite!

And then there’s the great notebook I got for my birthday. It even has a pocket. No wonder it’s my favorite.

My favorite notebooks are made just for writers. How can any writer not love these?

And can a desk really be a desk without one or more yellow pads? They may be simple, but they are a workspace essential. And that’s why they’re my favorite.

Then, of course, there’s the sticky note. Maybe not technically a notebook, but they’re beautiful, and easy to color code, and you can put them anywhere, and they’re my favorite.

I have other notebooks. There are few places I can go in my home where I don’t have a notebook nearby. It might come as no surprise, but whichever one I’m using is my favorite.

Now I’m thinking about buying another one. I think a dot-ruled notebook would definitely be my favorite.

Different sizes, shapes, styles–each helps me in a different way. The only notebook that is not my favorite is one that can’t hold up to being used, a cheapie that falls apart or where the ink bleeds through too much.

What to expect from your first PitchWars

The preliminaries to PitchWars are heating up. Several people have tweeted that they are entering for the first time. I remember being somewhat confused during my first PitchWars. I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences so first-timers will know what to expect and will get the most out of the contest.

Note: This post is based entirely on my experiences and impressions. Nothing here should be considered official. Make sure you read the information on the official PitchWars website for rules and schedules.

Preliminaries

The contest has not opened yet, but already the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter is heating up. There are even several genre-specific hashtags, such as #PitchWarsSFF and #PitchWarsMG.

There are a few things you can do before the contest begins to enhance your experience:

  • Polish your manuscript and your query
    Although your work doesn’t need to be perfect (in fact, being too good can actually keep you from being chosen by a mentor, because mentors want to help you improve your manuscript), you want to show that it has potential, and that you write in a professional manner.
  • Pimp your bio
    The PimpMyBio contestant blog hop is a great place to share information about you and your work, and to meet other writers. Although the mentors all say their decisions are based solely on your work and that writing a bio makes no difference, it does make the contest more fun when you know something about the other contestants.
  • Participate on Twitter
    Following the hash tag is a great way to get to know some of the mentors and other contestants, to get a feel for the contest, to ask questions, to find critique partners, and all kinds of useful things. Most of the communication after the contest begins happens on Twitter, so participating, or even lurking, helps you see how the contest works.

Mentor Blog Hop

The Mentor blog hop is scheduled to begin on July 19. (This is from memory, and schedules can change, so check the official site.) This is the first really important part of the contest.

When you enter the contest, you’ll submit to four mentors. Six, if you make an optional donation. The blog hop introduces you to the mentors and their interests. Just like when you query agents, your chances are better when you submit your work to people who are looking for your genre and age group, and are interested in your type of story. Querying mentors who are not looking for your genre guarantees that your work won’t be chosen, and may even be ignored.

Choosing your potential mentors is not something to be rushed. I always have trouble paring down the list. The mentors are great. You’ll want them all to be your friends. But you can only query four (or six). Read the bios and wishlists, then hop out to the web to find out more so you can narrow it down.

Don’t sub to somebody you like in the wrong category, thinking maybe since you’re friendly online or because they like your kind of story, just for the wrong age group, they’ll consider you anyway. The mentors are locked into their categories. They can’t make exceptions.

Query

When the contest officially opens, you’ll enter it on the submissions page on the official site. Your entry consists of:

  • Query letter
  • First chapter
  • Selected mentors

Although you don’t need them to enter, you should have your complete manuscript (or a subset), a synopsis, and a 35-word pitch ready when you enter. If any of your mentors want to see more, they will ask for at least one of these items.

Each year I’ve participated, there have been a bunch of questions in Twitter about whether entries were made correctly. Pay close attention to the entry page. Your confirmation will likely appear at the bottom of the page, or at least it has in the past. Read the entry page carefully for information about how entries will be confirmed this year.

Wait

The time between your entry and the official announcement of the chosen mentees feels even longer than it is. A lot can happen in those three weeks. This is when mentors will ask for additional information for any entries that interest them.

This is the most frustrating part for many contestants. It’s completely normal that your nerves will be on edge from the second you complete your submission. Entering your writing in any contest is a huge step, and it’s a difficult one. Emotions go all over the place. You’ll second guess everything from your query to why you entered in the first place. You’ll fret that you did something wrong when you entered. You’ll discover a typo on the second page of your manuscript and figure you blew the whole thing.

Don’t worry about any of this. I say this knowing you will. And I will, even though I’ve done this a few times. But try not to. Have fun. Think about the good stuff. Work out your nervous energy by playing in the Twitter feed.

Many of the mentors drop hints on Twitter (tagged with #PWTeaser). While these are fun, they can also be torture when your nerves are shot. Sometimes you’ll swear somebody is tweeting about your manuscript, only to realize it’s not one of your chosen mentors and may not even be in your genre or age group.

Every year, some people express frustration and disappointment, even anger, if they have not gotten any nibbles from mentors. This is understandable. Again, entering this contest is a difficult step, and it’s natural to believe your work is too good to be ignored. You are almost certainly right.

Keep in mind that the mentors have to have a love connection with a submission to consider it. There are many more entries than mentors, and most mentors (there are occasional exceptions–watch the feed) can only choose one mentee. Try to stay positive in your Twitter posts and in your life. If your manuscript is not chosen, it might mean it’s not ready. It could mean it’s too polished to need help. Most likely, it just means the mentors felt they could help with another manuscript more than they could with yours. It’s not personal.

It’s also possible that while you’re feeling frustrated about a lack of response, your manuscript is sitting in a mentor’s “maybe” pile. You don’t want to influence the mentor’s decision by sounding like a Negative Nelly. Contributing to positive, encouraging discussions will help you stay positive yourself. Look for the upside and you’ll find it.

Every year, some manuscripts that are not chosen end up being agented before the chosen manuscripts find a home. There are many ways to win besides being chosen.

To get the most out of the waiting period:

  • Follow the Twitter feed
    There’s constantly something going on Twitter, everything from sharing info about your work to Q&A with mentors. Announcements, sometimes of special offers, are made there. Lots of GIFs are shared for many reasons and on many themes. Last year, a couple agents even offered critiques or a bump to the top of their slush.
  • Connect with other writers
  • Work on your next project
  • Research the agents in the PitchWars agent list and note the ones you might want to query

You’re going to be nervous. You’re going to be jealous of writers who get more requests or get chosen, especially if you know them. You’re going to feel all the feels, good and bad. There’s no avoiding that. PitchWars is not easy. They key is to stay positive and have fun.

The Announcement

As you’d expect, Announcement Night is difficult. All the nerves of the evaluation period come to a head. Even if you haven’t heard anything and have given up, you’re likely to have a sudden burst of hope.

Information about how to find the list of winners will be shared on Twitter. There is also a live online announcement party, which some people enjoy and others don’t. You don’t have to watch if you don’t want to.

Breathe.

If some of your new writer connections are chosen, congratulate them. Commiserate with others who don’t make the cut. Feel what you need to feel. Try to keep your Twitter reactions positive, though. Every year, some people express their disappointment and bitterness on Twitter. While this is understandable and even expected, it’s not very useful, and can be counter-productive. Remember, the next agent you query could be lurking, looking for professionals.

Aftermath

If you’re chosen (I guess–hasn’t happened to me yet), you’ll get instructions from your mentor. Congratulations! Celebrate. Your hard work is about to begin.

If, like the vast majority of hopefuls, you are not chosen, you might receive feedback from your chosen mentors. Or you might not. Not all mentors give feedback to everybody, and some who say they will never get around to it. Most of the feedback I’ve received has been useful, but brief, sometimes not more than a few lines. A couple mentors have given me more. In one case, much more.

Remember that mentors receive several dozen queries, even into the hundreds. They are volunteers who receive nothing for their work, and they hate that they can’t choose everybody. Be respectful of their decision, even if you are disappointed and bitter. Act professionally. You never know how contacts you’ve made can make a difference down the road.

Most importantly, take what you’ve learned, even if it’s just the pain of rejection, and turn it into resolve to persevere in a difficult, competitive business. Don’t self-label in destructive ways. No, you’re not a failure because four mentors chose other works. Works that don’t make the cut get published, often quickly. Some that are chosen don’t ever find an agent. This is just one contest.

Keep working. Keep going. It might be helpful to take a little time off to recover from the pressures of PitchWars–it can be exhausting–but don’t let the disappointment of not being chosen derail your dreams. Take the query you put together for PitchWars and start sending it to agents. You could be one of those who find representation while the mentees and mentors are still scrubbing.

PitchWars is nerve-wracking. It’s everything about the publishing world condensed into a few weeks, the good and the bad, the difficult and the fun. By taking the huge step to enter, you’ve already moved a step closer to your dream, no matter what happens in the contest. That’s a big freakin’ deal. It really is. Enjoy the contest, learn from it, and come back next year if you haven’t found an agent yet. It’s even more fun the second time.

Questions?

If I didn’t answer questions you might have, feel free to ask in the comments. Or come over to the #PitchWars Twitter feed and benefit from more than one guy’s experiences. You’ll find the group to be extraordinarily supportive.

PitchWars: PimpMyBio, 2017 Edition

Hi, I’m Scott, and this is my fourth year in PitchWars. Or Fifth. Fourth. I can’t remember. Less than sixth. Last year I entered in YA, but this year I’ll go back to MG like the two previous years. So probably fourth, then.

I’m still trying to decide between two stories. One is ready. The other needs to be trimmed by about 15,000 words, now that I’ve completed a major revision. Working on that now.

UPDATE: This year, I am submitting my middle-grade fantasy. The other story I considered got good responses two years ago and is more polished, but this is the one that could benefit most from a mentor’s help. I’m wrapping up a major revision while I wait for PitchWars to open, and I’m happy that it will be ready. I’ve added info about the story to the end of this bio.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I’m feeling good about this story right now. I made the right choice.

I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, but I’ve been exiled to Utah for more years than I can count. More than six. I try to get back as often as I can, slipping in under cover of night like a bad guy in a Dashiell Hammett novel. Usually in disguise.

 

I’ve also lived in Austria and worked a summer in Germany. That’s why I speak German and Weanarisch.

This is me, the time I decided to try wearing a man bun:

Something doesn’t quite look right. Maybe I should have shaved first.

I’ve been a professional writer and editor since 1988, when I started working for Atari, where my favorite thing was making up stories for the beginnings of game manuals. I’m currently writing for Adobe. I’ve also done a lot of freelance work. On the creative side, I’ve been writing since I was first published at the age of eight.

Last year I published two pieces, a poem and a middle grade short story about alien bugs that turn the junior high basketball and their goat mascot into brain-eating zombies. Because zombie goats rock.

One of my favorite writing accomplishments was the time one of my poems, “Buying Baseball Cards,” was put on display at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Library and was featured in a lecture by the Hall of Fame librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s really a middle-grade poem.

Most of the time, I work from my Schreibwinkl, my home office.

This has become my favorite place. I’m surrounded by pictures of writers, illustrations, quotes, and other things that inspire me.

Books are, of course, an important part of my hideaway.

I’m also surrounded by maybe too much tech.

Who am I kidding? You can never have too much tech.

Another great PitchWars will add to a pretty great year. I finished my Master of Professional Writing degree in May, and recently hit my target weight after losing close to 80 pounds in two and a half years, putting  me at the weight I was when I graduated from high school back in the Pleistocene.

My favorite part of PitchWars is hanging out with all the writers. I’m looking forward to meeting more hopefuls this year.

About The Loom Of Fate

The Loom of Fate is an upper middle-grade time travel fantasy that draws on my lifelong obsession with mythology and folklore, and decades of reading medieval lit, especially Norse, Anglo Saxon, and German stories. It has Vikings, dragons, ghosts, witches, giants, a faithful dog, a rude horse, and a very special sword. And a lot of derring do. Because you can never have enough derring do.

I wrote the story as a YA book, but realized later it would be better as a MG novel. I revised with that in mind, then eventually shelved it while I wrote two and a half new novels. I considered it a learning experience and moved on, but the story had other ideas and kept calling me back to it.

Much of the inspiration for this story came from my own bookshelves:

When I returned to the manuscript, I wasn’t thrilled with what I found. I’d learned a lot since I wrote it. I’ve put a lot more work into it, and think it’s worth the effort, but I could use the kind of feedback and mentoring this contest offers.

Favorites

I like to read fairly widely, from kidlit to classics to medieval and ancient. But I’m subbing a MG story, so here are some of my favorite MG books I’ve read recently, in no particular order (unless alphabetical is “particular”):

  • Chronicles of Prydain
  • Dead End in Norvelt
  • The Evil Wizard Smallbone
  • Fiendish Deeds
  • Half Magic
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale
  • The Last Boy at St. Edith’s
  • The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
  • My Seventh-Grade Life In Tights
  • The Nest (the creepy one about the wasps)
  • Odd and the Frost Giants
  • OK For Now
  • Out of the Dust
  • The Riverman
  • Secrets of Selkie Bay
  • A Tale Dark & Grimm
  • The Twits
  • Under the Egg
  • The Wednesday Wars
  • The Westing Game
  • Westmark
  • When You Reach Me

How to Succeed at PitchWars Without Even Crying

We’re a little more than a month away from the opening of PitchWars, and writers everywhere are starting to talk about it. As a veteran of four PitchWars (two where I’ve gotten feedback and two where I haven’t), I thought I’d share some pointers to help you make the most of your PitchWars experience.

What is PitchWars, anyway?

First, in case you haven’t heard of PitchWars, let’s explain what is it. PitchWars is an online writing contest in which agented, published writers, agency interns, and other industry pros each select a manuscript from the hundreds of entries and mentor an author through the process of polishing the manuscript and submitting to the Agent Round, where literary agents have the opportunity to select entries for possible representation.

It’s a way to avoid the agent slush pile. If you make the Agent Round, the agent can be pretty sure you’ve submitted a quality manuscript that has been vetted and workshopped by a professional writer.

There’s no cost, although beginning last year a small donation gave entrants a chance to pitch to additional mentors. I don’t know yet what this year’s policies will be.

Sounds Great! Tell me how to win.

Like everything in the publishing world, being chosen by a PitchWars mentor is a fight against long odds. Although there are typically close to 100 mentors, there are many more potential mentees than that (we’re talking thousands), and each entrant pitches to multiple mentors. The odds of being chosen are better than they are in the slush pile of the typical agent, but they are still slim.

The good news is, although being chosen may be the ultimate goal, it’s not the only way to win. Here are some tips to increase your chances of having a successful PitchWars.

1. Define “winning”

You’re most likely to have a good experience if you broaden your definition of what it means to win. For some, the only positive outcome is to be chosen by a mentor. These entrants are more likely to be disappointed. Not because they’re bad. Because there are so many hopefuls.

Over the course of the contest, you’ll have the opportunity to broaden your circle of writing friends. You’ll gain the experience that comes from submitting and, more likely than not, you’ll start to develop the thick skin that is necessary for success in the publishing world. You might get feedback from your chosen mentors (if only a sentence or two), and you might get information that helps you improve your work.

Three years ago, I received positive feedback from my chosen mentors, but all agreed on one thing: my manuscript was too short. I followed their advice and entered the same manuscript the next year. Again, I wasn’t chosen, but the feedback I got was amazing, including one author who said she loved my book, but didn’t choose it because she thought it was too polished for her to be of any help.

Not everybody gets this, but you might. And if you don’t, that’s a kind of feedback too. There’s always more work to do. You can still have a useful, positive PitchWars.

2. Respect your mentors

There are several ways to show respect to your mentors:

  • Carefully read their bios, which contain information about what they like, and pitch to the mentors who are most likely to like what you wrote. This increases your chances, and decreases the odds that you will be ignored. In other words, treat your mentor pitches exactly as you would agent queries.
  • Ask questions. Many of the mentors happily answer questions about their wishlists, the contest, or writing in general before the submission window even opens.
  • Understand that mentors are volunteers who receive nothing in return but the honor of helping one writer get closer to his or her goals. They go into this knowing (and not liking) that they’re going to disappoint a lot people, and that some people will even become angry when they are not chosen. Don’t be one of those people.
  • Give your mentors your best work. I can only imagine the time it takes to consider dozens of entries and look through additional chapters or full manuscripts requested from the lucky few who become finalists. Make their jobs harder and more enjoyable by giving them your best writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but make sure it’s good.
  • Be friendly and courteous when mentors post on Twitter. Much of the contest communication is carried out over Twitter. Mentors often drop hints about what they’re reading.
  • DON’T SELF REJECT! It’s best not to submit something to a mentor who specifically says they don’t enjoy that kind of book, but if you don’t see anything in the mentor wishlists that matches your manuscript exactly, don’t assume that nobody is going to want it. Maybe yours has exactly the unique premise that’s going to excite mentors. Because it’s unique, nobody thought to include it on their lists. If it’s not that unique, maybe they just didn’t think of including it.

In all of your communications with the mentors and other writers, be nice. Be positive. People are here because they want to be helpful. Most of the mentors are sincere when they say they’d pick everybody if they could.

3. Don’t stop with your pitch

Many PitchWarriors submit their pitch package and then stop and wait for the announcements of who was chosen. Although this is a perfectly valid way to participate, you can have a better experience if you participate more fully.

Even if you’re not a fan of Twitter, you can bask in the (mostly) positive glow of the Twitter chats. It’s very much like a conference, where even introverted writers can absorb energy from other writers. Watch for hints that might refer to your work, or might not. Encourage other participants who are feeling down or doubtful. Or hopeful. And don’t forget to pimp your bio.

Sometimes, during the course of the contest, mentors and agents make special offers. Last year, an agent requested my manuscript as a result of one of these special offers. You might see offers for critiques, books, query help, and other things. But you won’t see any of those if you don’t pay attention.

This year, for the first time, there are PitchWars discussion forums where you can make friends, get critiques on queries and pages, and ask questions of specific mentors. Whether you post in the forums is up to you, but even reading other people’s posts can help you learn, and learning something in PitchWars means you’ve won.

It’s corny, but true: the more you put in, the more you’ll take out. Even when I’ve participated without any response, I’ve enjoyed hanging out online with other writers, other people with the same hopes and dreams and frustrations.

4. Redefine “winning”

Even if you’re not chosen, find the positives in your experience. It’s fine to be disappointed. We all are. But don’t be bitter or angry. Look at all these positives:

  • You’ve gained query experience.
  • You’ve had fun hanging out with writers.
  • You’ve found new critique partners.
  • You’ve used PitchWars as the incentive to polish your manuscript.
  • You’ve put your work out there for others to judge, a very difficult thing to do.
  • You might have gotten some feedback. Even if it’s not much, it will help make your story better.
  • You’ve learned more about how PitchWars works, information you can use for an even better experience next year.

In this world where participation trophies are too common, it sounds trite to say that everybody who participates in PitchWars is a winner. And, it’s not entirely true. People who come out of it bitter and angry or convinced that their writing sucks are not winners.

But, people who come out of it understanding the positives, and realizing how hard it is to write something that’s ready to enter in a contest like PitchWars, and how it’s even harder to put that baby out there for other people, have won PitchWars. You’ve gained valuable experience that will help you persevere through the difficult query process, and you’ve had a fun couple of weeks (or more) of playing the game.

So, yes, there is crying in PitchWars, but if you do it right, the tears will not wash away all the experience and resolve you can win by having the courage to play the game.

Review: The Writer’s Data-Book by Amber Florenza

The other day, I was browsing Amazon, looking for interesting writing stuff, and I came across The Writer’s Data-Book by Amber Florenza. It costs just under $7 and I was curious, so I bought a copy.

 

Writers who like to plan your books meticulously will find a lot a lot to love in this book. Even if you only sketch out a few characteristics and useful facts, the worksheets Florenza provides will be useful.

The worksheets focus mainly on characters, although there are pages to help you put together an overview of your book and even draft the dreaded synopsis. Mainly, though, the worksheets give you a place to fill out information about your main characters and the “secondary characters  who matter” and “secondary characters who exist,” as the book calls them.

Among the more interesting pages, useful even for pantsers, are worksheets that help you keep track of a character’s family and pages where you can sketch out the floor plan of a character’s house or other important places.

Many of the left-hand pages throughout the book are lined for notes, and there are blank pages at the back of the book where you can draw or mind-map or whatever it is you like to do.

One interesting element I don’t remember seeing before is the concept of flavors for your story. There are a few worksheets where these flavors are included.

The book is clearly a Print-On-Demand book. Mine is dated the day I ordered it. It is available in several colors so you can choose your favorite, or even color-code your projects. The author has also generously provided instructions for printing additional pages that are easy to locate online. In fact, I suppose if you really wanted to, you could print pages without buying the book, but that’s cheating. The author deserves something for the work she put into planning her worksheets. Nowhere does she ask you not to do that, but the workbook is reasonably priced and includes those extra spaces for notes and sketches, as well as some pages that are not available for download.

Although the book is a plotter’s dream–or could be, if it included more worksheets for scenes and other plot elements beyond the basic book summaries–I think pantsers can also use it for ideas or to track certain details. There’s no rule that says you have to fill out every line, but we all need to keep track of stuff. It’s a good deal at $6.75, especially since we can print more pages. Even if you use something like Scrivener to keep similar notes, sometimes there are advantages to the old analog way of doing things, especially if you want to make sketches on note paper.

If you’re looking for something to help you plan your next story or make notes about your current work in progress–especially information about characters–give this workbook a try.

Feeling Positive About Long Odds

In an interview on the Agent Hunter blog, Gemma Cooper of the Bent Agency was asked:

How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?

Her answer:

“I see around 6000 submissions annually, and take on about 2-3 new clients a year.”

Based on other things I’ve read, I’d say this might not be a typical answer. Many agents take on fewer new clients each year and receive more queries.

Let’s break down those numbers, shall we?

I don’t have exact stats, obviously, but I’m betting at least half, maybe even 3/4 or more of those submissions can be immediately eliminated from competition, either because the author queried too soon with a manuscript that is not yet ready or because the author failed to do the requisite homework and queried an agent who does not rep that kind of story. None of us wants to believe we’re one of thosewriters, but if we’re not, chances are good we have been.

If we’ve sufficiently polished our manuscript and done our homework, this means our odds are improved from impossible to merely astronomical.

In a typically perverse writerly kind of way, this gives me some positive feels.

Another reason this makes me feel better is that it means when an agent says my story does not connect with her the way a story needs to if she’s going to rep it with the required enthusiasm, it might not just be a line. Agents may indeed be superwomen and supermen, but even super heroes have limited time. Well, usually. Unless their super powers include manipulating time, a power I’ll bet most agents would love to have but, sadly, just don’t.

It’s not like the agent is accepting everybody else’s manuscript and declining mine. Better books than mine are likely being rejected on that same day.

I’ve had other writers tell me they love my story, people who didn’t have to tell me anything at all. This means there might still be that one agent out there who doesn’t automatically push my query into the pile of 5,998 that will not make it.

There are a lot of agents out there. If they all choose one or two, or even three, new writers, that’s still a lot of new writers. Maybe I’ll be one of them. Maybe you will.

And if not, we’ll keep chugging along because we believe in our stories, but mostly because we just love writing them.