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.

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