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Pitch Wars Questions and Answers

Hi there. I figured I’d answer some common questions here so I don’t clog up the Twitter feed. Plus, some people aren’t comfortable actually asking the questions, so hopefully I answer some that went unsaid. These are my answers. If you want Dan’s, he’s very open to you asking. In some cases, where I know how he feels about something, I try to answer for both of us. Trust that he and I are pretty similar in our tastes, and there’s going to be very little that I say here that’s way out of line with how he sees things. If you have follow up questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Will you give feedback to everyone who enters? Probably not. Sorry. Although if I have time, I’ll see what I can do. I would really love to. My current intent is to give at least some feedback to anyone we request materials from, but even that is contingent on how many requests we make and how much time I’ve got. The mentee we select has to come first. What I *will* try to do is write a post of common things I saw.  And I may do a contest for people who submitted to me where a certain number who submit to us get full feedback. And if there’s something really special in your work but we don’t select you for some reason, I will go out of my way to let you know.

We’re sending our queries to multiple mentors. How can we personalize? Should we reach out on Twitter to tell you why we subbed to you? I’ve seen this question asked a lot. First, you really can’t personalize a query because it’s going to every mentor. Reach out and tell me why you picked Dan and me if you think you need to. But it’s not necessary. It will be obvious from your query and first chapter, I think. And honestly it’s all about your first chapter, anyway. If it’s great and makes us want to read more, we’re going to ask for more. If it’s not for us, then no amount of personalization or reaching out is going to change that. It’s not what your book is about that will do it for us, it’s how you execute. If you create tension and make me care about your character, I’m going to want to see more.

You followed me/didn’t follow me on Twitter. What does that mean? I have no idea. I followed you for some reason that struck me at the moment. Maybe it was something in your bio. Maybe you said something interesting. Maybe we interacted. Perhaps I was drinking. You should read nothing into whether I followed you or didn’t follow you, as it relates to whether or not Dan and I might pick you. If I request pages from you, I will probably follow you. Because at that point, you’re writing is clearly interesting enough where I want to see where you go in the future, even if it’s not with me. No matter what, it’s nothing personal. One person I followed because I was following 666 people, and that seemed like a bad idea so I followed back the next person to follow me. I followed another person because she’s a veteran. To reiterate, my random twitter habits have nothing to do with if we pick you or don’t for Pitch Wars.

What are the things that if you see them in a submission are an automatic no? There aren’t really any that are 100%. There are some things that I’d rather not see, but there are exceptions to every rule. For example, you shouldn’t start with a wake-up scene. But one time in a hundred, it works. Plus, it’s easy to edit out later, so it’s just not that big a deal.

What are your thoughts on formatting? I don’t care. I’ll read it, however you send it. If I don’t like your font, I’ll change it. It’s 2016. This stuff is easy. If we select you, we’ll make it right before it goes to agents. With that said, please put it in Times New Roman 12. And some people don’t like it when you use tab to indent in your manuscript. Why? Because if you transfer a file to an e-reader, tabs make them do funny things. Since I don’t use an e-reader for subs, it doesn’t bother me.

To Prologue or not to Prologue? Dan wrote a good post on prologues here. If you have a prologue, submit it. If we hate it, but like the rest of your work, the first question I’m going to ask you before we consider selecting you as a mentee is whether you’re willing to lose it or not.

I’ve heard that some mentors stalk social media to check out their mentees. What might you find that would make you say no? Don’t be an asshat. If you are hateful online, especially toward other writers, then I don’t want to work with you. You don’t have to be a suck up. Just don’t be a dick. You can even disagree with a mentor, if you feel you need to do that publicly. But again, don’t be a jerk. Here’s a sign for you – if you’re ‘discussing’ something with a mentor and another mentor feels the need to step in and warn you to back off, then you’re over the line. Let it go.

What might you find on social media that would make you say yes? If the pages aren’t good, then nothing. But if you’ve got a good story, what I would look for that would help your case is a demonstrated willingness to accept criticism. If your critique partners love you, that’s a good sign. Also, helping other writers, even if they can’t help you, is always a plus. With that said, it’s around 98% about your book, 2% about you.

How are you going to screen your initial entries? First I’m going to read the pages. If the pages are solid, I’m going to look at the query. The pages are more important. By a wide margin. On my first pass through, I’m going to rate everything on my secret rating scale and enter it on our super-secret spreadsheet. Then we’re going to make requests for more materials for the things at the top of the standings. We’ll go from there. But we will read all the entries before we make requests.

What is something that would turn you off during the submission process? Not having materials ready. We’re likely to make our requests late on the night of the 6th. I’ve got the whole day the 7th set aside to read material. If I don’t get yours that day and I want it, you’re not putting yourself into the best situation. I’ll still read it. But it won’t get it’s natural spot in order (my natural plan would be to read the ones I’m most excited about first)  This will change for 2017. I don’t yet know in what way.

What books do you like? Please. Where do I start? I’ve read about 15 books in the last four months. Most of them have been great. I posted the front page of my kindle on twitter. If I showed you the second page, it would be a lot more SF than the fantasy on the first page. My goodreads is here if you want to see what I’ve read lately. (2017 note: The books have changed, but the sentiment has not.)

Is there a chance that you’d pick a mentee without reading the full book? No. This does not apply to every mentor–a couple might pick off of a partial, or even just a first chapter. But we will read the full. I may read it twice.

How much cursing is too much? What if I don’t have any? After the second draft of my last book–the first time I showed it to anybody–my brother told me I had used up my quota of F Bombs. He was at chapter 11 at the time. Did I mention my brother spent eleven years in the infantry? So yeah…there were too many. I cut them down. But I swear a lot in my books. Dan swears less in his. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter, if it fits the voice. It’s all about voice. Some characters curse, some don’t. It’s up to you to make the character believable, which ever way you decide to go.

Should I have comps in my query? There are a dozen permutations of this question, but only one answer. It doesn’t matter to me. Have them if they fit, or don’t have them if you don’t want to. It will not affect our Pitch Wars decision at all. If your pages are good, once we read them, if we think there are comps that help for your query, we’ll add them in before you query agents. Queries are easy to fix.

You’re a soldier and Dan’s a scientist. Would you be interested in modern thrillers about war or science? Definitely no on modern war. Lots of reasons I don’t care to discuss, plus one reason I will. I can’t watch war movies because I spend the entire movie picking apart what’s not right. For science, it’s more complicated. We are definitely interested in near-future techno thrillers, but if you’re writing ‘hard’ near-future SF, your science has to make sense. Like you probably need to be a scientist. This wouldn’t apply universally — we can suspend disbelief for something like cyborgs or cloning or neural implants or whatever cool thing you come up with. But Dan is a geneticist. So that can work for you, if you’re close–he can help you dial it in–but it can work against you if your science makes us cringe. Sorry — that was a complicated answer. Because, you know, it’s complicated. But there is zero chance that I’m going to take on a military book set in modern times as part of Pitch Wars.

Do you foresee yourself becoming CPs with your mentee beyond Pitch Wars? That’s the hope. That we’ll be in sync enough where that makes sense. I figure after we work together for two months, we’ll know. And regardless if we fit as CPs, Dan and I will continue to work with our mentee through the querying process. And there are other factors. Timing, being the big one.

What would make you stop reading an entry before you finished the first chapter? I’d like to say nothing. But I’d be lying. I will read most first chapters all the way through, but would quit if there was something in the material that let me know we can’t work together. Examples: Racism, sexism…really any of the ugly isms. If it’s a minor slip, I’ll read on and see if there’s a way we can address it. But if it appears inherent to the author, then I’m out. Also–and this is less clear–if the writing doesn’t reach a basic level of competency. This would have to be pretty significant, and I don’t expect it will apply to most people. It would be only in the extreme case, like where I read the first page or two and I feel like I need to read them again just to understand what the author was trying to say. There just isn’t time for me to read entries multiple times.

What is the most important characteristic you’re looking for in a mentee? Honesty. If I give you notes and they don’t work for you, I need you to tell me. If you try to spare my feelings, this isn’t going to work. Trust me, I’m not going to try to spare yours. Nobody gets better unless there’s a big dose of truth. We can still be nice about it, and we will. But we’ve got to trust each other.

I don’t interact on Twitter. Does that mean you won’t pick me? This is not a factor. Some people are more comfortable than others. Now if we *do* pick you, we’re going to push you to get more involved on social media. It’s always going to be your choice, but the writing community has so much to offer. I encourage everyone to reach out of his/her comfort zone a little. It’s worth it.

See Part 2 HERE

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I am a Soldier and a Science Fiction writer. Usually I write about Soldiers. Go figure. I'm represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. If you love my blog and want to turn it into a blockbuster movie featuring Chris Hemsworth as me, you should definitely contact her.

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