There will not be any short fictional stories on this blog for awhile. That is because there will be one heck of a long saga about a TRUE story, the story of me and an amazing writing contest called Pitch Wars.
For those who do not know about Pitch Wars, it’s a contest hosted by Brenda Drake. Brenda is a successful published author, who started Pitch Wars to help build connections between writers at all stages in their publishing journeys.
The way it works is: In May of each year, Brenda releases information about the mentors, or the agented authors who have volunteered their time, love, and energy to mentor a writer with a completed manuscript. Applicants to the contest then have June and part of July to hob nob over Twitter, get their manuscripts into shape, and possibly post a mentee bio. (Which I did this year- HERE)
In late July, the mentors post wishlists, or the kinds of books they are hoping to see in their inbox once the submission period opens. Applicants should recognize this kind of list from agent pages. It helps make sure submissions aren’t wasted for mentors or potential mentees.
In early August, applicants can submit their query and first chapter to 4-6 mentors. The next few weeks are an agonizing wait, and mentors announce their mentee picks near the end of August. That seems like a lot of things happening already, but the truth is, the end of August is when the contest really begins.
The chosen mentees work with their mentors on revisions throughout September and October. Over this time they overhaul their manuscripts, possibly making large cuts or adding large chunks, killing characters, combining characters, etc. Then, in November mentees post their pitch and first page to the “Agent round” where agents get a chance to request and read the shiny new manuscripts. If you want more information about how Pitch Wars works you can check out this article or even better go straight to Brenda’s description on her site.
Here are the main two things I want to point out about Pitch Wars:
- The chosen mentees get treated like real authors, with thorough edit letters and detailed line notes and ALL THE DEADLINES.
- Agents understand that writers who have been through Pitch Wars know how to revise and how to work under pressure.
Okay, explanation over. Story time.
I’m going to actually rewind and start in July of 2015. Here was me:
- Trying to work on this blog
- Editing a manuscript without a vision
- Receiving helpful but painful feedback from agents
To give a little background, I had started querying a manuscript I worked on for ages, called THE KALEIDOSCOPE, back in March 2015. It had about a 50% request rate, which was wonderful, but I found myself feeling not quite right about the story. While my husband encouraged and cheered for me, I became entrenched in the eventual realization that this manuscript would not be THE ONE we writers all hope for. And in June and July of 2015, the rejections trickled in and my fears were realized.
I made a big mistake a year ago. Here I was, sitting on a manuscript that had done well but wasn’t seeing results, when I learned about Pitch Wars. The whole point of Pitch Wars is to attract manuscripts with great potential but in need of help! Anyway, I’m getting off track. What I should have done last year was submit the exact manuscript I queried to the contest. It was polished and had many redeeming elements.
But I didn’t submit that manuscript.
Instead I rewrote a new version of that manuscript in two weeks and sent that one- the one that was rough and jagged around the edges and hadn’t seen any readers- that’s the one I sent to Pitch Wars.
Spoiler alert: I did not get in that year.
Rejection stings, there’s no question about it. But it’s important to pick yourself back up again. I wrote a silly little blog post about a Pity Party and then decided to move on. One of the mentors hosted a critique partner match-up event in mid September and I was ready to get some allies on my writing team. I was fortunate enough to pair with two CPs, and meet another person who would later become an extremely important CP to another manuscript.
I worked on revising KALEIDOSCOPE, which ultimately did not turn out as I had wanted it to. I finished that draft in April and it’s currently shelved for the time being. Meanwhile, I was leading a seminar for high school seniors entitled: Writing a Novel. The idea was simple but wildly appealing. I would lead a group of seniors as they wrote at least 40,000 words of their novels over a four week period. And, just to have something to do during the writing sprints, I would write along with them.
That was how DOPPELGANGER was born.
58,000 words came in four weeks, which I then edited to 56,000 words, then edited down to 52,000 words in July. I realized I loved the narrative more than any other story I had written in my life. There were issues, of course, but the core of it felt good. I loved my protagonist and I loved the basic plot.
By this time May of 2016 was upon us, which meant Brenda was once again releasing the names of the mentors for the next Pitch Wars season. Now armed with critique partners, I set to work. I sent the DOPPELGANGER manuscript to anyone who would look at it. I put out calls over Twitter. I contacted the writer I had met in the fall as a beta reader and she quickly joined my team of critique partners. I took suggestions, implemented them, polished, sent out again.
In July, I donated to a few organizations and won a slew of query and first chapter critiques from some top notch authors. They all had great suggestions and changes to make. But they were also cheering. Each one said: “This is great! Don’t give up on this!” I needed this kind of encouragement to keep revising, keep trying. Finally, the clock counted down to August 2nd and I gave my manuscript one last hug before sending it out into the mentor void.
I’m going to list the stats of that manuscript right now.
I sent a query and first chapter to six mentors. Five mentors requested fulls. One of those requests started off as a first fifty pages and became a full. Four of the five requests also wanted a synopsis. Three of the five had questions to ask about the manuscript’s query history and my ambitions as a writer. It’s difficult to not let this kind of activity bloat into hope and rise straight to your head. By the time the announcement date came, I had basically shackled myself to a tree just to keep my feet on the ground. It hurts to want something so badly. It hurts to know it’s not a certainty. On the evening of the selection announcement, I had realized I wanted to get into this contest more than I even wanted an agent at that moment. I wanted to be a part of the organization that had reshaped my writing career over the past year.
I got in.
I have three (THREE!) amazing mentors who tell me that they love this book and also because they love it and me they want to tear it to the ground and build it back up again. They sent me a real editorial letter that breaks my book down into plot, theme, character arcs, opening, climax, ending, etc. They see the things I care about most in this book and they want to help make them better. They want to see my book on the shelf, in a real bookstore, or a real library.
The picture at the top of this post is of the shirt I just bought. I want it to be here now, so I can wear it proudly every day. Here’s what it looks like on the back:
The truth is, last year was not the right time for me to get into Pitch Wars. I was starting a new full-time teaching job that turned out to be very consuming (in a wonderful way!) I also didn’t have the manuscript I loved in my hands.
But this year… this year was right. It was the time. I took this year to pursue writing and this contest is going to make me pursue writing like a true professional, whether I’m eventually picked up by an agent at the end of it or not.
I know this was a very long post, but it is only part one, friends. What lies ahead is a true adventure, much like Bilbo’s journey to Smog and back again. Much like Coraline’s journey into the clutches of her other mother. Much like the journey to the Metropolitan Museum that Claudia and Jamie take when they run away from home. Much like the journey Tami Small takes when she is mistaken for an identical stranger. You haven’t heard of that last story yet, but you will.
Oh trust me, you will.