It’s that time of year again… time for the fabulous Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest! The mentor wish list/bio bloghop happens from August 4-18, and the submission window opens on August 18.
As some of you probably know, I was a Pitch Wars mentee last year. And as some of you may not know, I almost didn’t enter Pitch Wars. I had convinced myself that the competition was too stiff, that I wasn’t ready, that my manuscript wouldn’t be what the mentors were looking for.
You know, the typical excuses of the insecure writer.
On submission day, I waffled about entering all morning and afternoon. I had already spent hours reading the mentor bios and whittling my choices down to four. I had a query and pages ready to go, but I stalled and stalled until I was sick of my own excuses. Finally, I just hit send. I figured, why not? What’s the worst that could happen? I had a brand new YA manuscript that had never been queried or entered in a contest before. If it didn’t get chosen, I would take that as a cue that it needed more work before being sent into the world. I would at least have tried.
But much to my surprise (and delight!) I got picked by two mentors, Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Ehrlich. (They are both mentors this year too!) I was chosen as Lori’s mentee and Evelyn’s first alternate. I was so happy that my manuscript resonated with both of these amazing ladies, and I buckled down to work hard.
And work hard I did. With revision notes from Lori on my full manuscript, I made a schedule that would allow me to edit and incorporate all of her feedback. I also spent a lot of time crafting a pitch and honing my query with both Lori and Evelyn. Our efforts paid off: during the agent round, I got eight agent requests for FIRSTS (plus one ninja request).
It was a whirlwind. A crazy, amazing experience that changed my writing for the best. So I wanted to pay it forward with some of my tips for getting the most out of Pitch Wars.
If you’re chosen:
- Have an open mind. Take your mentor feedback seriously. Before Pitch Wars, I had never had any of my manuscripts read by another writer (big mistake, I know). Lori picked up on so much that I would have glazed over—plot holes, character inconsistencies, places where words had been overused, spots where sentences could be smoother. Evelyn and Lori looked over several pitches and helped refine until we had the perfect one. Point is, you enter this contest to make your manuscript better—so be open to ripping it apart and changing what isn’t working, from your title to your pitch to your whole plot.
- Be active on Twitter. I’m a generally shy person, but I wouldn’t have gotten nearly the same PitchWars experience if I hadn’t followed my fellow writers on Twitter and gotten to know them and their amazing manuscripts. I found that I was cheering for other people even more than myself! I was lucky enough to become friends with fellow Team Evelyn member Emily Martin, who is now my awesome CP. (Emily is a mentor this year and is seriously brilliant, by the way!) I loved the way everybody supported everyone else, and the genuine team atmosphere. It’s a great feeling knowing that so many encouraging people are rooting for your success.
- Take your time. Don’t rush your revisions. They won’t happen overnight, nor should they. Having a schedule helped me complete things on time, but when Lori advised me to do a final read-through to check for places that were still rough around the edges, I took her advice and I’m so glad I did. Turns out, my manuscript needed that extra mini-round of edits and I’m glad I completed them before turning it in to agents. Yes, agents would rather you take your time and wait a few days than have you send them a subpar manuscript. This is your chance to show off your best work, so take the time you need!
- Start thinking of a pitch early on. Be able to describe your manuscript in just a couple of sentences. This will really help later on. I found that writing a pitch was just about as hard as writing a whole novel, so being able to whittle your manuscript down (ideally to 50 words or less!) is an invaluable skill.
- If you don’t get requests in the agent round, don’t stress out about it. Your entry was chosen for a reason– because a mentor saw something special in your writing– and you are well on your way. You can still query the old-fashioned way. And if you do get requests, don’t be shy to send queries out after Pitch Wars too. I found my agent, the wonderful Kathleen Rushall, while querying.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The mentors are there to answer them, whether to elaborate on a suggestion they made or hear a new idea. My mentors were both so easy to talk to and bounce ideas off, and they gave such great pep talks during the agent round too!
If you don’t get chosen:
- Keep writing. This is the biggest one. Keep remembering why you write—because you love it—and write the story you want to write, not the one you think will sell. You can worry about the rest later. Don’t be hard on yourself because you weren’t chosen– because if you keep writing, you will be chosen someday. You will find the route to getting your work into the world– the path that works for you.
- Find a CP who you trust. This person will be very important to your development as a writer. This person is not just somebody who tells you everything you write is amazing—he or she is somebody who will dig deeper and help you uncover issues that you might not notice yourself. He or she will push you to make your work the best it can possibly be. He or she will tell you what’s working and what isn’t, and that feedback is so essential to thinking outside the box in an isolated profession like writing.
- Research agents and what they are looking for. I stalked agency websites, followed agents on Twitter, and made a query spreadsheet with agent names and notes about each one. I read agent interviews and made a list of agents I thought would be a good fit for FIRSTS. This takes time and effort, but it’s so worth it. If you aren’t focused, chances are you aren’t getting your work in front of the right people.
- Send out queries. Different writers have different strategies. Some send in large batches, some in small. I was in the latter camp. I tweaked FIRSTS constantly and didn’t stop thinking about how to make it better. After shelving my first manuscript, I was much more focused with FIRSTS. I only sent it to agents I thought would be a really good fit– agents I would be thrilled to work with if they offered rep.
- Read, read, read. When I queried my first manuscript (a NA contemporary), I admittedly hadn’t read much NA. But before, during, and after I wrote FIRSTS, I read tons of YA. I read works from writers whose work had things in common with mine and writers whose work was nothing like mine. I read light, humorous books along with darker ones. Reading not only educates you in the market you’re hoping to break into, but also lets you see why these books got published. Voice, tension, characters, great plot twists—they’re all there, and you can learn from them.
- Enter other contests. Even if you don’t get picked—or if you get picked but don’t get requests—you’ll make friends and connections along the way, and that’s the best part.
Hopefully this post has been helpful for anybody on the fence about hitting send. I wish everybody entering the very best of luck this year. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines! If anyone has specific Pitch Wars questions, I’m happy to answer. You can find me on twitter at @laurellizabeth.
Click here to visit my amazing mentor Lori’s website and read more about my Pitch Wars experience and what happened after.
Oh, and for anyone who is interested, here is my pitch from last year’s competition!
Seventeen-year-old Mercedes provides a unique service to the virgins of Milton High: the opportunity to get their awkward first time over with, judgment-free. But when her best friend’s boyfriend wants into her bedroom, it’s not just her secret that spirals out of control, it’s her life.
Happy writing/pitching/querying, everyone!