Author’s Note: I wrote this in 2016. Most of it is still true. I’ve updated it slightly.
Hi there! Back for more. People seemed to like my first round of Q&A, so I answered some more questions that I either saw in the feed or made up myself. Isn’t being a writer great? You can just make stuff up, and people call it art. In this case, it’s more like ‘psychotic ramblings.’ But those are close to the same thing. They both have letters in them. If you missed part 1, you can see it here.
Do you prefer 3rd person or 1st? I write in 1st past, mostly. But I read in everything. Even 2nd (Seriously, read The 5th Season — it’s awesome). Tell the story the way you need to tell it. When in 3rd person, I do prefer a tight 3rd, but it’s not a deal breaker. Dan writes in both 1st and 3rd.
How will you handle it if you and another mentor both want my MS? Like adults. Most all of the adult SF/F mentors know each other. When I read a submission, I’m going to immediately know who else is going to love it. And I’m going to talk to that person early and often, to see what they think. And we’ll work it out. Here’s what I know. We all want what’s best for you. And if there’s another mentor who is better for your book, we’re going to give it to her, no matter how much we love it. And I trust that the other mentors will do the same. In an extreme case, the other mentor and I will lay out our plans for the book, and decide. And in the end, if I can’t convince them that we’d be a better fit, we’ll let them have it. But we all kind of know where things fall out. There are things that Jami and Michelle and JC and Hayley are going to fit better than Dan and me. And we all have a pretty good idea of what those things are. I don’t see myself in a ‘battle.’ I’m a lover, not a fighter.
What are your thoughts on word count? I think Dan and I hit this pretty well in our wishlist. It’s good to be inside industry norms, and you should know if you’re outside it. The farther outside you are, the better your book has to be. Both for Pitch Wars, and for querying. So yes, your book can be longer than the guidelines, but if it is, people are going to judge it more harshly. You have to earn every word of it. For Pitch Wars, we may take a book that’s a bit short if I can see immediately where you should add to it. For example, Dan’s recent WIP finished at just under 70K words. But as I read for him, I read with that in mind and noted places where I thought he could expand. I’m betting that his next revision will come in right around 80K, which is perfect.
Other than yourselves, which mentors would you sub to?
Great question. I think if you’re subbing to Dan and me in fantasy, you probably should be strongly considering Michelle Hauck. Her tastes run really similar to mine. If you’re subbing in SF, it has to be Jami Nord and KT Hanna. Or maybe Hayley Stone. True story — Jami and I actually worked on the same book. I CPed it, she edited it. I don’t know yet for 2017.
Can you really make my book better? Well…we haven’t read it yet. But…yes.
You know that sounds really arrogant, right? Huh. I guess it does. But any book can get better, especially at this stage. We’re going to make it better. Then later, your agent is going to make it better. Then your editor is going to make it better. Then your copy editor is going to make it better. So yes, it’s arrogant. It’s also not a big stretch to say we can make your book better.
Some mentors are saying they’ll request partials. Some are saying they’ll request fulls. Why the difference? Partials stem from a time when people in publishing requested partials because you had to mail them, and the postage was less on a partial than a full. This obviously doesn’t apply in the internet era, so now often people just ask for fulls. The reasons I’m going to ask for partials is as a discipline device for myself. I want to read more pages of more manuscripts, and if I take the partials, it will force me to decide whether I want more or not. I regularly say that this contest is about you, not the mentors, but in this case, this one is about me. It’s just how my brain works. BTW, if I request a partial, it will be for about 50 pages.
How many requests will you make? I don’t know. I’d like to say around 10 partials, leading to maybe 3 fulls. But I have no idea what’s going to be in our inbox, and until I do, then I can’t say for sure. I’m planning to read a LOT of pages. If your first chapter is good, then I’ll probably read more.
Will you request a synopsis? Yes. I don’t care if it’s one page or four pages. Send what you have. I just need to know how the story goes after the first 50 pages. Because if I’m in love with your writing, I need to take a quick look to make sure it’s not going to fall apart on me after I read another 250 pages. For example, I want to make sure I’m not going to get to the end of the book and have you say ‘and then I woke up. Oh! It was all a dream!’ Because if that happens, and I just read 300+ pages to get to that, I’ll have to then waste time flying across the country to smack you with your own manuscript. And nobody wants that. So really, the synopsis is here to protect you. Embrace it.
So if I get a request, what should I do? The first thing you should do is send the requested materials as soon as you can. I’m not saying stop in traffic and send it, but get it there as quick as you can. We’ve got a ton of stuff to read, so it will help. Second, don’t stress it. If it says send 50 pages, send about 50 pages. Don’t worry if it’s 51 because that’s a chapter break, or if it’s 48. Nobody is going to count, anyway. Third, here’s what to *NOT* do. Do not go on social media and talk about all your requests. I know you’re excited, but there are people out there who didn’t get a request yet. Some who won’t get them at all. Have some consideration. If you want to share it with your close friends, do it via DM. But even then, be wary that maybe your friends aren’t in a good place, if they didn’t get a request they wanted. This is a tricky business. You’re happy for your friends, but at the same time you may be sad for yourself. It’s confusing, and it’s hard. Fourth, do a little private happy dance. You got a request, which means somebody saw something in your first chapter that made them want to read more. Congratulations. There are no pity requests, I promise. You earned it.
What if I don’t get any requests? Hang in there. Maybe they’re coming later. Some mentors do all their requests at once, some do them as they go. There will be new requests throughout the entire consideration window. Yes, some mentors will be done early. But some will be asking for pages right up until the last day. Wondering how that could happen? Take a category where there are lots of mentors, like romance. Maybe a mentor has picked 3 books she loves. And then she learns that someone else wants each of them. All of a sudden she needs another book, so she starts requesting more. This WILL happen at some point. What you shouldn’t do is go onto social media and trash the mentors for their horrible decision to overlook you. I wish I was joking. It will probably happen. Don’t be that guy. Don’t complain about it, don’t take passive aggressive shots at it. That’s what DMs and critique partners are for. Complain all you want, but do it in private. Here’s why: Publishing is a small community. All of us know people, and we all talk. Who knows what opportunity might come up for you down the road, in the near future. What you don’t want is that conversation to go like: “Wait…wasn’t he the guy who went on that rant about mentors having the brains of snails on the #Pitch Wars feed?”
But Mike, I don’t want to work with someone if I’m their 4th choice. Stop. Yes you do. This contest is binary. You either get in or you don’t. You want to get in. There are no rankings. Nobody is going to put an asterisk next to your name. You still get the same chance to work with a mentor on your book, and the same agents are going to look at it at the end.
I’ve been interacting with some of the mentors on the hashtag, and several of them are arguing about who I should sub to. What’s that mean? Unfortunately, not much. It means they want the type of book you wrote. For example, if you write adult SF, and I saw you tweet about it, I probably told you it’s mine. I may have threatened other mentors to back off. There may even be a video of me holding your childhood stuffed animal hostage until you submit your MS to me. Sorry about that. Really. I really do want your book. I want it like I want to see
Rogue 1 Star Wars Episode 8 when it comes out. I’m excited for it. But what happens if I go to Rogue 1 Episode 8, and it’s just okay? That’s how it is with Pitch Wars. We’re really excited to see your book, but the book still has to deliver. And even if it delivers, something else could deliver even more. So please, we’re having fun on the hashtag, but take it with a grain of salt. And if mentors haven’t reached out to you about your book, don’t despair. Trust me, there are a ton of mentors waiting for submissions who haven’t been active on Twitter. Maybe they have deadlines and are writing their fingers off so they have time to read PW books next week. Maybe they had a book debut yesterday, and have to do promotion. Maybe they work for a living. Maybe their cat puked on their keyboard, and it’s really gross. You just don’t know. Trust this: It’s the submission that matters. 2017 note: I was not even aware of our eventual mentee’s manuscript last year until after it arrived in our inbox.
I have four mentors that I think are good fits for my book, and one other one who I absolutely love, but is a bit of a stretch as a fit. What should I do? Send it to the four (or 6) best fits. Look, it’s really easy to fall in love with a mentor through reading their books, or interacting on social media. You know why? Because they’re really pretty great people. It’s going to happen. But I need to address the concept of ‘dream mentor.’ It’s great. You can have one. You’re just probably not right. There are mentors who aren’t engaging with you right now who might be a perfect fit for your style, and you don’t know it. You can’t know, and you won’t know until you get an edit letter. So pick the mentors that give you the best chance to get in, and trust that the mentors will pick books that fit them. See, you don’t know about us and what we can do with a book. But we have your book in front of us–so we know what you can do. Incidentally, this same concept applies to ‘Dream Agents.’ I am repped by my dream agent. She is absolutely perfect for me. But I didn’t know that until I worked with her. I had a pretty good idea after we talked on the phone, but it took a couple of months before I knew for sure. And I definitely didn’t know it when I sent her my query.
How many submissions will each mentor get? I don’t know, how long is a piece of string? Impossible to say. But let’s guess. Last year about 1600 people entered, up from the previous year. So let’s say more will enter this year. Let’s call it 2000. Say half of them donate to PW and get the extra entries. So that means those 2000 people are going to pick 10,000 mentors. If there are 160 ish mentors, the average mentor is going to get about 62 entries. But this is a vast oversimplification. For example, if history holds, fantasy will have the most entrants. So if you mentor fantasy, you probably expect to get somewhat over the average. Which means somewhere, someone is going to be below average. I would expect about 90% to 95% of mentors to get somewhere between 30 and 120 entries. Then there will be outliers who get fewer or more. 2017 Update: I was really close with my prediction. We got 1977 entries last year. Dan and I got 141 entries. We were not the highest.
There aren’t four mentors who want what I wrote. I can only find two good fits. Find the ones who are closest, and use your other picks on them. If your writing is really strong, maybe someone will take a slight reach out of their comfort zone for you. Sorry. That’s the best I’ve got. Do make sure it’s inside the same age category. Because an adult mentor CAN’T take a YA, no matter how much it fits. It’s against the rules. I’ll offer this, as consolation. Last year my book didn’t fit five mentors. It fit maybe two. I sent my SF book to Kellye Garrett, because it had some mystery elements and she asked for mystery. She didn’t choose it. She couldn’t. She doesn’t read Sci Fi, and in the end, that’s what my book is. But now we’re friends, and she’s super cool. So I’m calling it a win. And one of the mentors my book did fit picked it. So even if there’s only one or two good fits, you’ve got a chance. And hey, if you only have two good fits, THIS would be a time to send it to your dream mentor with one of the other picks, just to see what happens. You get four. You might as well use them.
What will you do if you love two books equally, and no other mentor is going to take one? This, if it happens, will be the hardest thing to do in the contest for me. For most mentors, I think. First, I’ll try to talk someone else into one of them. Either one. But that’s a cop out answer. So if I have to, I’m going to pick one. It’s easier for me, because I have Dan as a partner, and he’s also going to have an opinion. If I can’t pick between two, maybe he can, and vice versa. Then, after the winners are announced, I’ll let the one we didn’t pick know how close it was. And if there’s time, after Pitch Wars is done, maybe I’ll get a chance to read for them. I say maybe, because maybe they’ll have moved on, and it really depends on timing. I’m putting off a lot of stuff to do Pitch Wars, and by November I’m going to owe some reads to my long term CPs–the people who read for me–and they have to come first.