The air’s getting crisp, the cicadas have fallen silent, the pumpkin spice is flowing freely. All the signs and omens point to one thing: it’s Pitch Wars season!
The submission window opens soon, and I can feel the vicarious excitement all the way over here on the other side of the Pitch Wars experience. What feels like a lifetime ago (AKA, in 2019), I was mentee to the amazing and talented TeamPITA: Rajani LaRocca and Remy Lai. As such, I humbly offer the following advice:
*Thinking of entering, but you’re afraid you won’t get in? I offer the evergreen words of Pitch Wars wisdom: Don’t Self-Reject.
If you are an unagented writer with a completed manuscript that you’d like some help getting into query-ready shape, and the only reason you’re on the fence about whether to apply or not is the fear of not getting picked…just do it. Apply. Plenty of mentees (myself included) don’t get in the first time they apply. But no matter what, it’s still a great experience.
*Take advantage of the opportunity to meet your fellow hopefuls, especially in your age category and genre. If you want to navigate the journey to publication with your sanity, hope, and humor intact, you’re going to need writer friends and critique partners. But they can be hard to find when you’re starting out. Guess what? Pitch Wars is the perfect opportunity to connect! Test the waters, swap the chapters, find the people whose writing and personalities align with yours.
*Determined to apply but overwhelmed by the mentor choices? As an MG writer, I had it a little easier here, with fewer mentors than the YA and Adult categories, but it was still hard to winnow down choices. You’re going to have to do some detective work here.
Read the mentors’ wishlists. Pay attention to their anti-wishlists, but don’t get too sad when someone says they don’t want what you have. The process of elimination is helpful in making your decision! Read the books or at least samples of the books they cite in their wishlists. Here’s another overused phrase, but one that’s true: Writing is subjective! You want a mentor who likes the same kind of stories you like, because that’s the kind of story you’re trying to write!
*Pull up the application form as soon as it’s available. It has questions. You want to spend time and thoughtfulness and care answering them. Don’t rush through it and don’t send a first draft. This is where you get to show that you’re serious about your writing, that you’ve gotten under the hood a little about your craft. Here’s where you tell the mentors what the pages in your submission packet mean to you and why you chose to write them.
**Edited to add: The submission form is now live and this year, there are no open-ended questions! Happy dance for you! But mentors could still reach out during the sub window with questions specific to your MS to get a feel for whether you’d be willing to make a type of big change they have in mind (some examples from my PW class: changing your book’s tense, changing, adding, or eliminating a POV, plot point(s), and/or character(s), hiring a sensitivity reader).
They might also ask things like what you think are your book’s strengths and weaknesses, why you are applying, what you hope to get out of the experience, and/or about the MS’s querying history. If you get a message like that from a mentor, I advise shooting back a quick thank you and letting them know you’ll answer the questions within a day or two. Then spend a little time crafting honest, well thought-out answers.
*After the sub window closes, time is going to slow down as you wait for the mentee announcements to be made. When does time ever slow down? This is a gift! Use this time to read craft books, read books in your genre (those mentor wishlists are a great source of reading ideas if you don’t already have a giant TBR stack), and do something creative that isn’t necessarily writing. Somebody smarter than me said creativity is like breathing. You’ve got to breathe in inspiration in order to breathe out a creative product. You just exhaled a huge breath, getting your book, query, synopsis, and application form finished. Now you get to inhale, refill your well, and rest. Because if you get picked to be a mentee, you’re going to need to be well-rested and ready for a WHOLE lot of exhaling. And if you don’t get in, it’s still a good idea to take some time away from your MS before you dive back into revisions (hopefully with some feedback from your new CPs). Fresh eyes make a huge difference in self-editing.
*It’s here at last! Announcement day! If you get in, yay for you! Celebrate! For a day or two…then start thinking about that edit letter and how you’re going to pull your book apart and put it back together again.
*If you don’t see your name on the list, don’t despair. As they say, there are many writing paths, and Pitch Wars is just one among them. Consider doing what I did in 2018 when I applied but didn’t get in: pretend like you’re a mentee. Read the craft books and other resources shared by Pitch Wars and the mentors. (My personal favorites are Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story and Story Genius, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and Donald Maas’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction.) Do the writing exercises from those books, either alone or with 1-3 of those writer friends/CPs you made. Set a revision deadline to mimic the mentee revision window. You’ll end up with a more polished, query-ready manuscript. You might get an agent going the normal querying route. And if not, you can always try again next year!