Would you turn down a Pitch Wars entry because it’s too good? I would turn down an entry if I didn’t think I could help it. One possible reason is because it’s already perfect. And every mentor says this, and means it. But seriously–this is a really, really small subset. There may be one entry in the entire contest that this applies to. It’s probably not you. I’m sorry. But if it *is* you, I’ll tell you. And I’ll help you figure out how to best move forward from there. The more likely thing is that your book needs something, but I can’t see it. It could be a good book that needs work to be great, but if I can’t see how to get it there, I can’t help you. This isn’t likely. But I could see it happening, in a rare case. And again, I’ll tell you. If your book is good enough to have this apply to you, you’re going to make it. It’s just a matter of how. Again, this is very unlikely. Because even if your book is query ready, we can make it better. I got an agent with my book last year, then promptly made it significantly better with her revisions.
What if I’ve already queried my book? Would you still take it? Yes. Maybe. Unless you’ve queried everybody. If that’s the case, then we don’t have anyone to send it to once you revise it, which is part of the point of Pitch Wars. Adult SF/F is a pretty small group of agents. So we’re going to talk about it with you, probably when we request pages. We need you to be honest. Because we need to build a strategy for you and your book, and we can’t do that without knowing everything. Also, if you’re reading this, stop querying now. You’re using up agents before you get a chance to revise with a mentor. That’s against your best interests. You want to go to agents with the best possible book, and that’s after you revise it with us. I’m going to set this next part aside, because it’s that important. If you read nothing else, read this and please follow it.
If you submit to Dan and I for Pitch Wars, and you already queried, and you get an agent request for materials between the time you submit but before the mentees are announced, STOP. Please do not answer the agent immediately. I mean, you can if you want. But if you contact Dan and I, we’ll be happy to advise you. We will do it quickly, and then you can still make your own decision with that advice in hand. I mean it. I will personally stop whatever I’m doing, look at your pages, and give you my honest advice. You may not like my advice. It may hurt your feelings. But it’s free, and you can use it or discard it as you see fit. This offer is open to everyone who submits to us, but especially applies to people we’ve requested material from. Trust me on this: the agent isn’t going to get upset if you take a few hours to get back to her. And agents in general are very flexible on when you send something to them. If you tell an agent you’re working on revisions and ask if you can send them the better version when it’s done, you’re going to get an enthusiastic yes 99% of the time. Agents want the best possible material. Why would they say no? Again, obviously you can make your own decisions. But it’s free advice from guys who have been there. And if we don’t know an answer, we have people we can talk to who will help.
Are you going to post hints from what you’re seeing in your inbox on Twitter? I am not. Some mentors will, and that’s totally cool. It’s not my thing. That kind of thing stressed me out when I was an entrant, so it’s something I don’t want to do. What I will post is data. How many entries we got, how many requests we made. Anything that is pure fact that will help you know where you stand without talking about any specific entries.
I see a lot of mentors asking people not to unfollow them on Twitter after the contest. What’s that about? As I understand it, every year after Pitch Wars there’s a mass unfollowing by people who didn’t get in. One school of thought on that is that people follow, right up until we can’t help you anymore. That bothers some people. For me? Eh. You do you. Hopefully I’ve tweeted enough interesting or helpful stuff that you still want to follow me. If not? Glad to have had you while it lasted. However, let me lay out a few reasons why you may want to keep following mentors, even if they don’t pick you. 1. A lot of mentors run or help with other contests throughout the year. 2. All of the mentors are at some stage of the publishing game that’s ahead of where you are right now. They’ve been where you are, and they know things. Often they share those things. 3. It’s a good community, even when it’s not ‘in season.’ With that said, if you need to unfollow for self care purposes, please, by all means, do that. Maybe you’re just so mad at me for not picking you that you don’t want to see my stupid name in your timeline. I get that. Your feelings are yours, and they are totally valid. Maybe someday, when you’re past it, you’ll come back. Personally, I don’t even use the tools that let you tell if somebody unfollowed. I don’t need that kind of angst, so I prefer not to know. Ignorance. It’s a valid life strategy.
Mentors are saying there’s no difference in whether I submit early or late in the contest. But seriously, what’s the real deal? Are they just saying that? Every mentor is different. Every mentor is going to have a different method for how they go through their subs. But every mentor is going to read every sub. So is there a difference? Maybe. But the difference is mentor by mentor, and it’s impossible to say which gives you a greater advantage with any given mentor. Somebody stop me before I start explaining dependent change theory. Seriously. It doesn’t matter. One thing I will say, based on my experience the last two years watching the hashtag very closely. Rabidly, even. Mentors are more likely to squeal with excitement about early entries. Why? Because we’re excited, too. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to pick it. It just means we’re happy to see that somebody subbed to us. I imagine that feeling will wear off a bit once we get into the grind of reading. We’ll still read your stuff, we just might not take the time to tweet our emotions. Which is fine — for Dan and I, this will not be an emotional decision (people who know us right now are laughing at the notion.) There will be spreadsheets.
How much difference will there be in how you consider an entry that went to six mentors vs four. No difference. The only minor thing is that if I’m liking something, I’ll send notes to the other five mentors instead of the other three, to gauge their interest. All of those mentors will be pretty much on speed dial anyway, so it’s not a factor.
Is it super important to hook you with the first line? Not for me. I mean, I love a great first line, and if you’ve got one, that’s good. But you can have the best first line in the world and if the rest of the chapter doesn’t hold up, that’s going to probably be a non-request. On the other hand, a mediocre first line with a solid first chapter is going to likely have me asking for more. With that said, to me, the best first lines are the ones that immediately connect me with the character or make me want to know what’s going on.
How are you going to draw the line on what you request more of and what you don’t? On my first pass through, I’ll be rating the books on a few different criteria. This will sort of lump them into tiers. Then, depending on how many we’ve got in what tier, I’ll request everything in the first couple tiers. Two of the criteria are writing quality and premise. With that said, if your writing isn’t at a certain level of quality, no premise on earth is going to be enough for us to take it on in Pitch Wars. Because if you’re below a certain level, I can teach you a ton, and I guarantee you’d come out of it a much better writer. But I can’t teach you enough to get agent ready in 2 months. 4 to 6 months? Yes. Because you’re going to have to learn things, then practice them a few times to get them down.
You keep talking about writing at a certain level. What does that mean? Well, it’s complicated. Because it could mean different things for different people. For example, one sign that you’re not quite ready is if you’ve got a lot of passive writing. This includes but isn’t limited to passive voice. We probably wouldn’t take it. But at the same time, if you wrote amazing, vivid description using only a few words and you created a ton of tension with your plot, and your pace was awesome…well in that case, we could spend our time working on active writing, and it would be a possibility. So if there’s one or two holes in your writing, that’s fine. If there are many, or if the hole is too big, that’s the line I’m talking about.
But how can I know? That’s the tricky thing. You probably won’t. I didn’t, back when I did those things. Because if you (I) knew, you’d (I’d) have fixed it. But here’s one objective measure that you can apply. Take your first 250 words. How many times do you use is/was/were/am/be/been/being? Count them. If it’s a double digit number, then there’s a pretty decent chance you’re writing passively. Not 100%…there are exceptions to everything. But eliminating to be verbs and using stronger verbs in place is a good start toward making your writing more active. Now just because you’re under 10 doesn’t mean you’re writing actively. Being down closer to 5 would be better. But it depends on many things (voice, whether you’re in dialogue or action). I’m sorry, I can’t break it down any better. Personally, I’m not going to count when I’m reading your pages. I doubt any mentor will. We’ll just know from reading that it’s not popping off the page. Want more advice on writing craft? Try these posts from Michelle Hauck. Tags and Beats, Qualifying Words. Yes, I know she’s one of our chief rivals for your fantasy submission. Yes, I may have taken some shots at her on twitter in the #Pitchwars hashtag. Yes, maybe I said that she wants fantasy that features only mimes. Wait…I didn’t say that one? Huh. Totally true. Forget I mentioned it. Mimes. But seriously, she’s a great writer and these posts are solid craft. And there are a hundred other resources out there, and somebody who isn’t as lazy as me probably even aggregated them somewhere. Ask around.
There are three long weeks between when we submit and when we find out the winners. What should I do in that time? Okay, this is going to come off wrong, so bear with me. But get used to it. You will be waiting for things for the rest of your writing life. So start figuring out what works for you. Some people say work on another project to take your mind off of the wait. Great advice, but personally I can’t do it. If you can, then go for it. But do whatever you need to do to get through it. Read for fun, hang out and talk with other writers, binge watch something on Netflix, exercise (that’s always a good one!), stress eat cookie dough (not as good, but tasty!). Experiment. Use the time to figure out what works, because soon you’re going to be querying agents, and that can take a lot longer than 3 weeks.
Some mentors are really active on Twitter in the #Pitchwars hashtag. Some aren’t. What should I read into that? Nothing. I’m in the hashtag because it’s fun, and I like it. Plus I live alone 5 nights a week, and don’t have a lot of demands on my time. Others are busier, often trying to get their work done now so they can dig in hard when subs come. Some maybe just don’t like social media. I would suggest that a mentor’s social media presence doesn’t have a whole lot of correlation to their ability as a mentor. The same way that social media presence doesn’t have much to do with how good your entry is. It’s a fun way to join in the community, which I encourage for many great reasons, but it’s not that important in the end. It’s all about the pages. And for mentors, it’s all about how they communicate their vision for your book. And on that note, if you’ve worked with editors extensively, maybe you know what works best for you as far as style. But you know, maybe you don’t. In the past year I’ve read for at least a dozen people. The way I communicated my thoughts to them was different in every case, depending on what they needed and what I thought I could bring. For more on what you can expect from Dan and I, I wrote a post.
What are your expectations of the person you ultimately pick? Don’t worry, if it’s you, you’ll know. We will be very clear about it from the start. But to sum it up, hard-work, honesty, and discretion. The first two I think are obvious. The third is important, because we will share our opinions with you on things ranging from writing, to agents to publishing in general, and those aren’t opinions that we generally share publicly.
What else do you want to say? Just this. Mentors want you to be successful. ALL of you. We can only pick one, but we want you all to excel on whatever path you choose. If we’re giving advice, it’s meant to help. If you disagree with it, that’s fine. We’re not always right. But we mean well, so please accept it in that spirit.