I’m so excited to be a mentor in Pitch Wars this year, and I’ve spent the last three days reading through my submissions, trying to find the perfect partner. It’s SO HARD, guys! After three days, I’ve only been able to narrow my list down to my top 14 choices – and I only get to pick ONE!
This post is a little bit late, because I kept telling myself “I’ll write it as soon as I finish this one last thing for Pitch Wars.” And I’m anxious to dive back into the pile of awesome waiting in my inbox, so it will be brief. But I wanted to share a few thoughts from this side of the contest submission window. (I’m sure I’ll write more on each of these topics in upcoming months.)
#1 – Pitch Wars (or Pitch Madness, or The Writer’s Voice, or PitchMAS, or the Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction – or any other writing contest) is NOT your only chance for writing success!! As I’ve mentioned before, writing contests should only be a PART of your submission journey. A successful pitch in a contest MAY lead to agent requests, but getting a no in a contest does not (and never will) mean that you’ve missed your one and only shot at fame and glory. If you don’t make it this time, take a step back, reassess your manuscript, make any necessary changes, and then jump back into the ring! Don’t get discouraged, and don’t give up. No matter how difficult the road may be, NEVER give up! Remember, I signed with my agent just a few weeks after I DIDN’T make it into Pitch Madness! Contest judges are not the final authority on all queries!!
#2 – Maybe, in life, rules are meant to be broken, but when submitting to a contest (or querying an agent), PLEASE follow the established guidelines! When you’re asked to submit to a certain email address, or to format your entry in a specific way, there’s a good reason for the rule. There were over 2,700 entries in Pitch Wars this year, and sorting them into the appropriate files was no easy task. Any email that didn’t follow the rules for submission made that sorting process so much more difficult for the slush sorters. Before hitting “send,” PLEASE take the time to check your official submission against the established guidelines. Do you really want to start your relationship with a potential mentor (or agent) with the impression that you’re too arrogant to follow the rules or that you didn’t think it was important enough to do it right?
#3 – You are not the exception to the rule! No matter how much you want Marvelous Mentor M to pick you, if she is only looking for rainbows and bunnies, she’s not going to slip up and accidentally choose your blood-and-guts, slasher thriller instead. It doesn’t matter how much you get along personally. Pick the mentor (or agent) who is the right match for your writing style. You want a partner who can help your manuscript live up to its full potential. If your mentor isn’t comfortable reading the genre you write, she isn’t going to be the best advocate for your manuscript. Do your research!
#4 (which should probably be #1, because this is SO important!!) – DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED!! A lot of conversation happens behind the scenes of Pitch Wars. Please be patient! You don’t know what’s going on in your dream mentor’s mind. Has he dropped off the Twitter feed? He may be totally smitten and biting his tongue so he won’t accidentally spill the beans about the amazing manuscript he’s discovered before the big mentor selection reveal. Has she requested pages from your critique partner, but not from you? She might have decided with the first five pages that yours is the top choice, but needs another chapter or two to pick an alternate. Or she might have gracefully bowed out of the race for your manuscript because three other mentors are already threatening bodily harm to anyone who tries to take it from them, building stockpiles of virtual weapons for the ultimate behind-the-scenes Pitch War.
It breaks my heart to see writers we’ve all been gushing over tearing themselves down because they haven’t received any requests for more pages. Or because their mentor picks have been super-silent on Twitter. Or because a favorite mentor has already announced that they’ve finalized their selections. Writers are really good at coming up with worst-case-scenarios. We spend all day dreaming up devious what-if situations to get our characters into trouble, and it’s easy to let that worst-case thinking spill over into real life. DON’T DO IT!!
I’ve seen more than one mentor announce (in private emails behind-the-scenes): “I’ve picked my favorite, but I’m still trying to decide on my alternate choices. I’ll request some pages to help make my decision.” I’ve also seen mentors agonizing over the fact that they have 6-8 mss that they’re equally in love with. They know they’ll pick their mentee and both alternates from this smaller pool of queries, but they can’t choose between the brilliant pitches, so they request extra pages for each manuscript. Entries that don’t get requests for more pages might be tight enough to make a mentor fall in love at first sight! Entries that do get requests for more pages might be so amazing that the mentor can’t wait to read the next few pages. Don’t count yourself out of the race before anyone reaches the finish line!
#5 – If you’re not one of the lucky few selected for Pitch Wars, DO NOT assume that it’s because your writing isn’t good enough. I guarantee, there are more good-enough-to-be-chosen manuscripts in this contest than there are slots available. I can personally say that I did not have a single manuscript in my slush pile that didn’t show a ton of promise. You are all fabulous, and I hope you keep going, no matter what happens next.
Because Pitch Wars success story or not, what happens next might be the fabulous moment when all of your hard work starts paying off. Don’t believe me? Read my “how I got an agent” story here. Or my “how my manuscript got to be a book” story here. Or the story of how failing in an online pitch contest was the best thing that ever happened to my writing here.