PitchWars - the real from a 2 time mentee
Hello lovelies! Something I don't know is talked about enough are the varying experiences we PitchWars mentees go through. As a 2 time mentee (2016 & 2020), I figure the least I can do is offer my perspective on both experiences.
But first - should I enter?
If you have a complete manuscript, that you've cleaned up at least once, ABSOLUTELY. Do not self-reject, do not let imposter syndrome stop you from trying.
Confession: I am shy with sharing my work with people. I offer critiques and love beta reading my friend's stories, but I rely on software to help me do my first pass edits. There are reasons for me not swapping my work (my friends know them well), but that doesn't mean I don't want other "eyes" on my manuscript...even if those eyes are AI :P
I personally love using AutoCrit. I can't remember when I paid for a plan, but even the non-plan version was helpful for helping me dissect by chapter. AND and! You can see how your book compares to one in a similar category + genre. I love digging into the "strong writing" tab and eliminating adverbs, filler words, and passive voice.
I know it's a couple of weeks to the PitchWars window opening, but give it a spin (especially if you're like me and don't like sharing) and see what you can learn about your own writing. At least make the first chapter really shine!
What to expect: the submission
I know the moment you send your material, you're going to be refreshing your inbox like mad. Don't. Walk away, turn off notifications, and chill - at least until 10/1. I believe a change was made to when the mentors could start reading their submissions, and they can't actually see the entries until the sub window closes on 9/30 at 10pm EST.
But then - THEN - the real torture begins. Between 9/30 and 11/6, you'll be biting your nails, anxiously refreshing your inbox, and stalking your chosen mentors (we all did it :P ) waiting for a hint that they're reading your story.
Some people will get a request, maybe more than 1, but many others get none. Both years I think I got 2 requests, so that's a 50% request rate, but a request wasn't a guarantee to mentee-ship. I definitely didn't think it was in the bag, and I even participated in DVPit prior to last year's picks being announced. Gail (my 2020 mentor) reached out to me during that event worried I'd forgotten about my PW entry (nope!) and to maybe hold off sending material until after PW announcements were made. We found that hilarious later cause she was all "I thought I was so obvious!" but I was all "I figured you were telling all your possibles this!". Goes to show that you never know.
During this time mentors might reach out for additional pages and possibly with questions to determine if this will be a good mentorship match for the two of you. This is a three month courtship (at the least) and they want to be sure they're mentoring style matches your editing style.
What to expect: the mentorship
2016: Mentee's picked, tweets sent, edit letter received, heavy lifting starts!
Again, I wasn't sure that I was going to be picked then, but the mentors asked certain questions to see if I was open to changes. So, in all transparency, I drank the juice of "I'm in PitchWars so an agent is happening for meeeeeee!" so I was willing to do anything.
Readers: it was not. But I'll get to that.
We had 2 months to do 2 passes on the entire manuscript. Not only had I agreed to change category but also genre and increase wordcount. Why? Cause I figured the mentor's knew what would sell. They definitely had better insight than me anyway! And, in my naivete, I figured doing all of the things they said guaranteed an agent at the end.
I realized quickly I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Though I love deadlines, I found the schedule grueling but didn't push back. I was in an accident that totaled my car, which threw me off for a couple of weeks, but I tried hard to scramble back. I didn't ultimately "complete" the MS until 2 weeks after the showcase, so shouldn't have been in it at all, but that wasn't an option then.
But the worst part for me was I no longer loved my story. I didn't feel like it was ME anymore, and I feel that loss to this day. I plan to go back one day and redo it, but my heart's not there right now.
2020: Mentee's picked, tweets sent, wait on my edit letter
Due to mentor schedules and their own deadlines, delays can happen. But I wasn't worried cause we had 3 months for the revision! I nervously - but excitedly - waited for my edit letter while other mentees talked about theirs in the private FB group.
Oh right! You'll be part of a private FB group with your entire class to share your joys, frustrations, etc.
My edit letter was the longest, most thoughtful, feedback I'd ever been given for one of my stories. She got IT - the themes I wanted to convey - without me having to smack her in the face with it. I honestly loved everything in it and agreed with most of it. I think I questioned one suggestion but otherwise went to work cutting characters and expanding - or creating brand new - scenes/chapters. I gave myself a 4 week deadline to turn it around so that my mentor had time to do the second read whereupon she could give me additional changes.
My second pass was much lighter lifting than the first and mostly involved ensuring I was writing in the appropriate age for my MG category. So I then spent the month before showcase just simplifying sentences but I was SO ready.
What to expect: the showcase
2016: I received 3 requests during the showcase. (The requests were visible in real-time.)
Not as great as some, not as much as I'd hoped, but not zero. But, my original full manuscript had already been out with a few agents from before PitchWars so I could still send to them. Once I'd been chosen for PitchWars, I'd contacted them to ask if I could pull my current submission and resend after the showcase window closed. Most agents agreed and looked forward to the new MS; some ghosted and that's gonna happen.
In total, I sent 70 queries between the original and new MS...and more or less received 70 rejections. I got no offers. I did not sign with an agent.
I wrote a new story. I queried that story. My number of rejections grew.
I took a year off from writing. I could not take another rejection. I put my heart into each of my books, and my heart hurt every time my story was shot down. I wasn't sure I would write anything again.
Then in early 2020, I asked my daughter what kind of book she would want to star in; what she told me was the basis for my Anika Patel story.
2020: I hadn't queried this MS because Middle Grade was new to me and I wanted to be sure I got it right. I got 28 requests this time! (No requests were visible until the showcase window closed.)
My story was not one that was "fought over". The first weeks after the request window closed and my materials were out, I anxiously waited a response. Yes, I spiraled, my brain recalling the 2016 experience, but I waited and tried distracting myself to no avail. It felt like someone was signing with the agents I submitted to daily, but the same agent wasn't talking to me.
And then 1 wanted a call and it changed everything. This call was requested off a YA I had written and queried the year before, but the agent also read and provided thoughts on my MG.
Of 60 queries, I was asked for 1 more call off my MG. Both of the agents were wonderful, but one of them was THE ONE because she wants to bring my MG, my current most cherished book baby, into the world. She understood the themes and she loved the voice and my characters and the magic and the food and she did not feel a stranger in my India setting.
What to expect: PitchWars aftermath
Everyone's experience is different, just look at both of mine! But something good came from both of my experiences: the friendships!
You will inevitably bond with a few people, and that's great, because there's no better balm on the pains of your writer soul than sharing them with another writer. We are unique creatures and no one else understands this dream of ours. They will share your highs and lows, your joy and tears.
Will you be agented at the end of this journey? Maybe, maybe not, BUT YOU ARE NO LESS THAN A GREAT WRITER. That's a thing we forget; I definitely forgot. If you are chosen, though, try and remember that your entry was chosen out of thousands. That you have a voice and the skills to make it.
Do not give up.
Do not self-reject.
T R Y