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.