Come my dears, settle in for my longest blog post yet (it covers a solid three months so there was no way to make it shorter – sorry) as I tell you a tale of the dread contest known only as “Pitch Wars.” No one knows how the challenge came to be except for, perhaps, its host, the mysterious and magical Brenda Drake.
… OK, obviously Brenda knows as she’s the one who started all the crazy in the first place. And it is crazy, mind: two months (well, closer to three months when you consider the submission round and agent round) of writerly shaped folks losing our minds either trying to get a mentor or putting ourselves (and our manuscripts) into our mentors’ patty paws to whip our books into the best shape possible before putting it all in front of a panel of super awesome agenty people. Seriously, this has been a whirlwind, and one I definitely am thrilled to have been a part of.
I know I’d been promising some of my writerly friends and family to do a full breakdown of everything to do with the contest, and now that it’s finally over, I guess I have no more excuse not to do a blog post for it LOL.
So, I guess the easiest way will be to break it all down into stages.
First up: the Agent Round! So I almost didn’t join in on the contest at all as it happens. The awesome and delightful @coolkidmitch brought it up to our writing group, and I thought about it, but figured I might do better to just continue querying TRACES instead of diving into a contest that meant a whole ‘nother round of revisions, assuming I even got in. And I’d already sent out a few queries, and according to the contest rules, you weren’t supposed to be querying during the contest round. So did I really want to put off querying for another few months?
For once, a rejection ended up being a boon, as I got a personalized rejection to my query right around when the submission period for Pitch Wars was getting ready to start in mid-August. That rejection mentioned some things I’d wondered about with my manuscript, but hadn’t been sure how to fix. Plus, it was a reminder that TRACES was on the short side for science fiction at only 75k in word count. With both of those issues in mind, I finally decided what the hell – entering couldn’t hurt, right? (And yes, I did double check to see if it was OK that I had queries out first. Apparently as long as I hadn’t queried widely and I didn’t send out any more queries during the contest, it was allowed.)
Then came my first glimpse at just how difficult this contest could end up being. For the submission round, we had to pick five possible mentors to send our query and first chapter to for them to choose from to find their mentee. Five. Out of a hundred or so.
And seriously guys – the list of mentors is incredible. Everyone on the list is either an editor, agented author, or published author, or several of the above. It took me over a week to narrow down my list, and oh man was it ever hard! In some ways I was lucky in that each mentor agreed to take a specific age category only, so I was able to narrow down the monster list to only those that would mentor for New Adult (the age category for TRACES). Course that still was a LOT, but at least it wasn’t just over a hundred. Finally, though, I had my list of five to choose from, and submitted my application on August 17th.
And then I sweated and stalked Twitter for two weeks trying to figure out if any of those five were considering me. It was a stressful first week – I didn’t see how any of the few cryptic tweets that cropped up could possibly be related to my novel, and I’d honestly guessed it wasn’t likely to happen.
Mostly because nearly 1600 people applied. No really: just under one thousand six hundred people applied, and only a hundred or so were going to be chosen. It really was just a number’s game at that point, and I was trying to be realistic about the chances.
Then, out of the blue, I got an email. One of those five mentors I applied to was the absolutely incredible Molly Lee. Her Pitch Wars bio made me smile like a loon, and considering this was going to be fourth time she was a mentor and her previous mentees were doing awesome, I was going to be super thrilled to get a chance to be considered (Go check out her bio – she’s awesome http://mollyelizabethlee.blogspot.com/2015/08/pitchwars-bio-wish-list.html ) Anyway, she wanted to know if I would “mind” sending her my full to take a look at. Cue hysterical laughing and panicked flailing to get my USB drive with my manuscript on it and send it out to her.
We ended up exchanging several emails over the course of the next week, and even if she HADN’T decided to take me on as her mentee, she had already sparked a dozen ideas on how to work on the issues in TRACES, and I figured I’d have a place to start from with revisions, as I had decided more edits really were necessary, if not exactly something I was thrilled to need to do.
But then the announcement of the mentees rolled around (early because Brenda is awesome that way) on September 1st ( http://www.brenda-drake.com/2015/09/pitch-wars-mentor-picks/ ), and much to my surprise and delight Molly did in fact choose me! Her congratulatory email had me laughing cuz it said I must have “known” she was going to pick me. Considering she’d mentioned on Twitter she had over a hundred entries just submitted to her, I knew no such thing. I was completely shocked and so freaking excited!
(Look this is my name by Molly’s – it’s worth a mini screenshot! LOL)
So after a brief hiatus to lose my mind with glee, it was time for the two month revision round. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of writing a book and then cutting your heart out to turn it from a first draft into a polished draft ready for submission, let me just explain that it usually takes a great deal longer than just two months even if you have the time to devote to nothing but writing during the day. Which, sadly, I don’t. Because day job.
So yeah, two months to do some fairly major revisions and additions to TRACES was a little intimidating. Let me tell you, I had more than a few rounds of “Sweet baby jeebus what was I thinking surely Molly lost her mind deciding to choose me this isn’t going to work at all I hate my book so so much why did I even think I could write what are words?” OK so I got a little melodramatic there, but I ended up adding 15,000 words in the course of revisions, which is a lot of first draft words to add into a polished work, and getting those words up to the level of the rest of the book was a little terrifying.
That leads me to one of the best things about Pitch Wars (aside from marvelous Brenda and Molly): the community. The 2015 Pitch Wars Mentee group has been a phenomenal fount of encouragement and commiseration. Like, I can’t even begin to say how amazingly supportive everyone in this group is. Any time any of us got down or needed advice beyond what our mentor had to give someone or several someones in the group stepped up to keep us all sane. It was seriously amazing, and I can’t wait to see all of these amazing writers get an agent and a book deal because DAMN do they deserve it. So, so much. Added bonus – some of the other mentees either came to Austin to visit or already live here, so I was able to hang out and write with other mentees in person! As in real life and off the internet! There were even pictures to prove that I exist! Who knew that was possible? LOL
But yeah, the revision phase was just as incredible as being selected, but stressful in a whole ‘nother way. I am at the point where I still don’t even know if the book is good any more, but I’m more excited about sending it out into the world than I was before. As egotistical as it sounds, getting chosen has definitely upped my confidence level after having the deal for my first manuscript fall through earlier this year. I went into a definitely slump and had to force myself to send out the first few queries on TRACES, and getting the subsequent (equally few) rejections had me wondering if I should just give up and maybe move to the next book. Knowing that there is someone out there so incredibly excited for me has given me the boost I need to keep going in the query trenches.
Now, the Agent Round. Talk about something I tried desperately not to think about during the revision phase for fear of completely psyching myself out. I mean, there are almost double the number of agents participating than last year, and all of them are incredible. ( http://www.brenda-drake.com/2015/08/meet-the-pitch-wars-agents/ ) Any one of these agents could be the partner that I’d love to have for an entire publishing career. Granted, Pitch Wars isn’t a guarantee of getting picked up by an agent – but getting a request during the Agent Round does tend to put you up to the top of the slush pile, and some of the agents participating are closed to queries outside of contests like this one. Plus, having been chosen already tells those agents that you are willing and able to revise and have a book that your mentor has signed off on so to speak. Apparently, that’s a good thing. :)
When the Agent Round finally arrived, I joined the other mentees in collective gasps and shrieks of glee at seeing requests pop up all over, as well as the dejected sighs when few to none appeared on some of the entries. It was quite possibly the most stressful consecutive three days that I have spent in YEARS. Years, I tell you. Every time one of the agents tweeted they were going into look at the entries, every mentee went into a refresh clicking frenzy, desperately hoping that they’d see that oh so lovely comment show up if they just hit it enough times. We also had the joy of knowing that ninja agents were among us, some requesting openly and others emailing Brenda to be revealed after the official agent round ended. So there was that additional stress of “Is there a ninja request there, too?” to keep us guessing as well.
All in all, I barely slept and felt like I needed a drink and/or a Xanax about twenty-three and a half hours out of each day of the Agent Round.
By the time all was said and done, I was one of the mentees to get one request, and I’m definitely thrilled to have gotten it. I was very aware that New Adult is a challenge to get picked up, and New Adult genre even more so, and I’d done my best to convince myself that I wouldn’t get any requests at all and that no requests would be OK. And it’s true – even if I hadn’t gotten any requests, my query and manuscript are in the best shape they possibly can be. I’ve already sent out my full to the agent who requested, and about a dozen other emails have also been cast out into the slush pile ether for my first (well second, but first since Pitch Wars edits) round of query trench exploration.
But getting that request – definitely another boost. Now there were not one, but two people who felt like my book was worth taking a chance on. It’s hard to explain that feeling, that sense of “thank fuck this doesn’t suck” but you’ll just have to take my word for it – it’s pretty amazing.
Anyway, Pitch Wars is finally over. I’m exhausted mentally and emotionally in the absolute best way possible. Molly Lee kicks all sorts of ass as a mentor/editor type person and Brenda Drake has put together a contest that I will be throwing my writerly buddies at with a vengeance every year it comes around. And me too, of course. If I don’t end up getting an agent from this round, then it’s pretty much a done deal that I’ll be entering whenever I can (I may have to wait a year since I was a mentee this round? I’m not sure?) Anyway, that gives me a year to finish drafting it and get it as polished as I can on my own. Again, assuming I don’t end up getting an agent (Though lord knows I will still have all the rounds of edits if I get an agent and eventual book deal too – this kind of writerly crazy never really ends, y’all).
But yeah, you know it’s been a whirlwind when NaNoWriMo sounds like a relaxing month of writing in comparison LOL.
We’ll just see what happens next! Feel free to tweet me if you want any info about Pitch Wars or impetus to enter next year (which you totally should!) @C_L_McCollum