Dear Pitch Wars 2015:
First of all, let me just say that I LOVE Twitter Contests like PitchWars, Nightmare on Query Street and Baker’s Dozen. Writing can be solitary and these contests are incredible in the way that they help writers form personal connections. But more than that, they help me with a particular problem I have: querying too soon.
In the past, I’ve had trouble figuring out if a project was really refined enough to be sending to agents. I widely queried my first MS at a point when it had not been through enough revisions. Contests help me here in two ways. First, the contest judging simulates the agent slush sorting process. I know if my query and first pages can make it past a team of agented and/or published writers, I have a much better shot of getting agent requests than if they can’t. Second, the feedback I receive is often invaluable. With some contests, featured entries receive input from mentors. And sometimes, a writer will receive feedback even if he/or she doesn’t “win.” All mentors I submitted to for Pitch Wars last year sent some form of personalized feedback, ranging from a couple of lines about my story to a critique of my first chapter. People can, and do, pay big bucks for this type of service.
In 2014, I was thrilled to be The Conspiracy of Us author Maggie Hall’s alternate mentee (the amazing Fiona Ivy was her mentee). The Pitch Wars Class of 2015 will not have alternates, which I understand considering how this must increase the time commitment of the volunteer mentors. I’m a bit bummed for PW2015 because my experience as an alternate was such a game changing, fantastic event for me. But for those of you lucky enough to be chosen as mentees, I’ve put together a little list of what I learned.
1 – The real prize is the improvement in your work
Sure, everyone wants agent requests, but for me that was not the most meaningful part of Pitch Wars. As part of the contest, Maggie gave me in line comments on my first chapter and general notes about my full MS, which she had read as part of the selection process. Maggie showed me how to take specific suggestions and use them to make global changes, a skill that has helped me to a huge degree. I find, in my writing, I tend to have the same issues over and over again, and I can improve my work by learning to identify these problems and address them with revisions. She also gave me a ton of suggestions on improving romantic tension between characters, which has helped me with my new projects. I know I am a better writer now than prior to Pitch Wars and that is the real prize.
Your PitchWars peeps might end up being some of the coolest people you know
This was hands-down one of the best parts of the contest! The 2014 Pitch Wars Winners and Alternates keep in contact via a Facebook Group and I kid you not, this is the first place I go for almost any kind of information. From writing tools to vacation spots, someone in our group is an expert. Pitch Wars 2015: Make friends and talk amongst yourselves.
The contest can help you find new resources
One of the best things that Maggie did for me was to point me in the direction of K.M. Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors” blog. This was interesting both in that the blog is a fantastic resource (as are Weiland’s books) but also because it gave me insight into the writing process of a published author. One more resource I came in contact with through Pitch Wars is the “I Write 4 Apples” blog. The Alternate Showcase took place there, facilitated by the incredible Dee Romito, and that is where I first learned of Scrivener. This software application has helped me improve everything from my outlining process to my ability to keeping repetition out of my work. Dee has put together a great selection of Scrivener tutorials on her blog. Without Pitch Wars, I doubt I would have found these resources on my own.
Everyone is moving forward at their own pace
Or, keep your eyes on your own paper. In some ways, I learned this lesson right off the bat. I was the alternate, not the official mentee. I don’t mean that in a mopey, woe-is-me kind of way, because hopefully I’m being clear about how much the contest meant to me. But still, I had to accept the basic fact of reality that Pitch Wars was designed to foster the relationship between the mentor and selected mentee, and I was waiting in the wings. Learning to manage the desire to compare myself to Fiona or any of the other mentees was helpful because I think it points to an unavoidable part of life as a writer. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, there is probably someone higher up on the ladder than you are. There’s always someone who gets an agent faster, sells their book more quickly, has better sales, gets more marketing support. I always try to ask myself, am I a better writer than I was a year ago? Have I made progress? If the answer is yes, then I keep going and try not to worry about anyone else.
This is not the end
I hope everyone involved in Pitch Wars 2015 gets mad requests, is immediately signed by an agent and sells a whole book series! But if you don’t, please remember that most writers still find their agents via traditional querying. So have fun, don’t stress and see number one.
So those are the totally true confessions of a Pitch Wars Alternate. Good luck to everyone this year and happy revising!
p.s. If any of the PW mentors happen to read this, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It takes a special kind of person to volunteer their time and energy to help a stranger succeed. You guys are amazing.