What it’s like to be chosen in Pitch Wars

It was August 24. I was on vacation, visiting my mother for her birthday.

Earlier in the week at a San Francisco Giants game with friends, I’d talked about the contest and my hopes, and said no matter what happened, I don’t think I had ever felt more writerly than at that moment.

On Thursday, I knew it was the day the mentees would be announced for Pitch Wars, so I spent much of the morning watching Twitter and email.

Finally, it was time to take my mom to the movie she wanted to see, my birthday present to her. I had my shoes on and was heading for the door when the notifications on my phone started going crazy. The first one I saw was from the #PITCHWARRIOS Facebook group, congratulating me and some other group members for being in the 2017 class of mentees.

I immediately went to the Pitch Wars web page. Of course, it had crashed. I was getting a near-constant stream of congratulatory messages on Twitter, so I figured it must be real, but I couldn’t see the list for official confirmation, and had no idea who my mentor was, if I had really been chosen.

I called my wife, told her I thought I was picked, and headed to the movie. I checked my phone in the theater parking lot. Lots more notifications, plus an email from Neal Chase, congratulating me on being his mentee. That’s when I figured it was probably real. I finally got to see a screen shot of the list while waiting for the movie to start. Yes, my name was there.

My manuscript had been chosen.

If I hadn’t been picked, Pitch Wars ’17 would still have been a success. I made a lot of new friends, and had a blast in the feeds. Pitch Wars is all about community, and it’s a lot of fun. In so many ways, this year was even better than my previous three attempts. But being chosen was pretty cool too.

Phase II

Being a Pitch Wars mentee is a heady experience, especially those first couple days. The morning after being chosen, I was woken up at 6:30 by a constant stream of Twitter notifications on my phone. That’s when I learned that the little icon showing how many mentions you have only goes up to “99+.”

I exchanged a couple emails with my mentor over the next few days. He gave me homework: think deeply about my characters and their relationships. So I did that over the next week while I waited for my edit letter.

Other mentees reported that their edit letters were from about five pages long to nearly 30. Some of them were being asked to completely restructure their books, to create outlines and story maps and all kinds of things. Not once did a mentee say something like, “This is going to be so easy.” There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, loud keening for the darlings that were going to die, and a lot of panic. People wondered how they’d make all the changes in the time we have, and even commented that their mentors must think they are better writers than they are.

No wonder agents watch this contest. They know that when the Agent Round comes, they’ll be getting good manuscripts that have been vetted and workshopped by professionals. These aren’t light, easy revisions.

I read the panicky messages from other mentees while anxiously waiting for my own edit letter. I had no idea what was in store for me. I knew there were problems with my manuscript. After all, I’d shelved it “permanently” at least twice because I worried it wasn’t fixable, before pulling it out in early July and deciding to try to get it ready for Pitch Wars. I wanted my letter to get here so I could stop worrying and get to work. There’s comfort in working, and the three-day Labor Day weekend was quickly approaching.

Then the letter came. 13 1/2 single-spaced pages detailing several global issues and then going through the manuscript chapter by chapter. Good thing I wanted to get to work because there was a lot of work to get to. My biggest issues had to do with my characters, especially my main character, and some pacing problems. A bunch of other stuff too, but much of the letter dealt with those.

So I’ve spent the last few days revising. I’m making good progress, but there’s still a lot to do. I’m mourning over killed darlings, deleted jokes, cool stuff I found during my research.

Like the other mentees, my thoughts have run from “I love that my story is loved” to “How could I have been chosen when my manuscript is this bad?” Every feeling that comes during the long development of a novel has come up in the last few days. Often several at once.


So how does this part of Pitch Wars compare to what happens before the announcement?

It’s still all about community. We chat with our mentors, but mostly the mentees chat with each other, commiserating and encouraging one another through the revision process. I like that a lot, but it’s not as fun as it was before the announcement. There’s pressure now, on top of the nerves we’ve felt all along. Plus, we’re all working too hard to spend as much time in the feeds as we did before the announcement.

For many of us, this is the first time we’ve had to write to a deadline. I do it all the time in my day job, but I haven’t had to do it with my own creative writing. It’s different.

We’re all aware that some of the people who weren’t chosen are watching, wishing to be in our shoes. Some of those people have become our friends, and we want to live up to their well-wishes. We all realize how lucky we are, especially when we’re dealing with edit letters that show we’re not quite as good as we might have felt in those moments after finding out we were picked. So many other hopefuls were good enough to be where we are, but aren’t.

Although I’m excited to see where this part of Pitch Wars takes me, I really do miss the fun of that first stage and the constant interaction with the other hopefuls. That’s probably still my favorite part of Pitch Wars. I like this phase too, but it’s different. The playful fantasy and hopefulness of the first stage has given way to work and pressure. It’s what we signed up for, and I love revising. But it’s all so real right now, with real stakes.

Being chosen means hard, intense work. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.