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.


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.


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.


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.