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What to Do If You Don’t Get Selected for Pitch Wars

I’ve got some bad news for you, Pitch Wars hopefuls. Most of you aren’t getting in. No offense intended…it’s just a numbers thing. Dan and I received 141 entries. We get to choose one. You don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out your odds. Overall less than 10% of entrants will get in. So if you’re sitting there on selection day, and you don’t see your name, the obvious question becomes this: What do I do now?

First you indulge in whatever baked goods/adult beverage therapy that works for you. But how long can you really do that? A couple months? A year, at most.

Seriously, take however long you need. When I shelved my first book after Pitch Wars 2014, I didn’t write again for a couple months. But then I did. And that’s the key. At some point, if you’re serious about doing this writing thing, you’re going to write again. It’s okay if it’s not today.

You will see a lot of tweets in the next week that tell you that ‘Contests are just one path. There are many different ways to success.’ These will be paired with examples of people who didn’t get into Pitch Wars, and still found their agents. And all of this is true. Let nothing I say here take away from that message. What I’m here to tell you is that there are *many* other paths. And not every path fits every person. You have to find *your* path. The one that will lead *you* to where you want to be. You’ve worked hard to get this far. There may yet be more hard work left to do.

My one piece of advice that applies to everybody. Everybody. It’s so important, I’m going to set it off in its own paragraph.

Take your time.

There’s no rush. I’ve heard many, many writers with every lament you can imagine. I’ve heard a hundred writers say ‘I queried my book too soon.’ But I’ve never once heard someone say ‘oh, I queried that book too late. I wish I’d sent it out sooner.’ Analyze what you have, make your plan, and deliberately execute it. When you send your work to an agent, you get one shot. Make sure you’re taking the best possible shot you can. Maybe some mentor will give you a piece of feedback and that will be the thing you need to take your book to the next level. Maybe it will be a new Critique Partner.

There are a lot of different ways you can go. But the reactionary ‘Those mentors are all idiots! I’ll show them!’ is mostly not going to be your best choice. Because hey, there’s a chance that every mentor who read your book missed the greatness in it. There’s also a chance you need to write a better book. So take your time, let the emotion pass, and look as objectively as you can. If you later determine that your book is great as is, and indeed the mentors *did* miss it…you can still query then.

To help you think about it, here are three different paths taken by me and two of my closest critique partners when we didn’t get in, and some hard truths about each of those paths.

Query Anyway. This is one you’re going to hear a lot. People are going to tell you that selection for PW is subjective, and that agents might feel differently. And that’s true. If you think your book is ready, this might be the right path. It can work. Last year my CP Rebecca Enzor got several requests for her book from PW mentors, but ultimately didn’t get in. She tidied up a few edits, started querying, and signed with her agent the same time I signed with mine, after I finished Pitch Wars. It can happen. Every year there are a few books that fall through the mentor cracks, then find success elsewhere.

The hard truth: Be careful. There are going to be more than 1500 books that don’t get into Pitch Wars. While some of them will have immediate success, it’s going to be a very small number. So consider why you didn’t get in. In Rebecca’s case, she got four requests from mentors (we got 5 picks last year.) So four different people saw *something* in her book. Did you submit to four mentors and get zero requests? If so, take a hard look at why. Get whatever feedback you can, and think about it. I mean *really* think about it. Sometimes mentors miss, but if all four missed completely, that might be telling you something.  I’m sorry to say it, but maybe you’re not quite ready yet. I don’t say that to squash your dream. It’s a hard truth. Your dream is still alive. It’s just that this particular dream takes a ton of work, and maybe there’s some more work left to do.

Write a Better Book. I entered Pitch Wars in 2014 with a book that wasn’t ready. I figured that out about three days after the submission period closed, when I started to get feedback for the first time from real writers and understood that my writing didn’t measure up. Oops. I revised the book, got some more feedback and it still wasn’t where it needed to be. I tried a few agents, and got some very nice requests for more materials, which turned into pretty quick rejections. Then I quit writing for a bit. I absorbed the excellent feedback I got from a few readers (and especially from Colleen Halverson, who to this day has my undying gratitude for reading *all* of that book.) When I was ready, I started writing another book in a totally different style. That book got me into Pitch Wars the next year, and I signed with my agent a few months later.

The hard truth: Ask yourself what’s changed. What are you going to apply to this next book that you didn’t know when you wrote the previous? What did you do to improve? For me, the list was extensive. I studied voice, dialogue, showing instead of telling, and a ton on plot structure. I got serious, painful feedback on my first book and I applied those lessons to the next book. I had to change, because the first book wasn’t good enough. I had to write a better book.

Rewrite Your Book. This might appeal to a lot of people. You love your book, you love your characters, and you can’t bear to let them go. You recognize that your book isn’t where it needs to be, so you decide to make it better. This is the path that my CP, Colleen chose. She got a ton of feedback from a bunch of great writers (and me, too!), learned a bunch of stuff, then got to work and rewrote. That book that didn’t get into Pitch Wars in 2014 eventually got re-titled Through the Veil, got published by Entangled in a two book deal, and you can buy it here.

The hard truth: When I say rewrite, I’m not talking about moving a few commas. Colleen cut 40,000 words from her book, and completely rewrote every chapter. Forty. Thousand. Words. She basically cut an entire MG book. She cut sub-plots, gave her main character more agency, and reworked just about everything. And that landed her an R&R (Revise and Resubmit). So she rewrote it again, this time with feedback from the editor, before finally getting the deal. More hard truth: You need to look at what agents have already seen your book. A lot of them aren’t going to want to see it again (unless they specifically mentioned it in the rejection.) Make sure there are still avenues you want to try for your project before you spend all that time rewriting it.

Conclusion: These aren’t the only three paths. I chose to write about these three because they worked for me and my friends. This isn’t meant to discourage you. I hope it didn’t. Because you can do it. You wrote a book, and that’s amazing, so I know that you can put in the effort. But there are no short cuts. There’s always more to do, more to learn. More work. Even after you get an agent, even after you get a book deal, you have to keep growing as a writer. So ask yourself: Are you willing to work for it? If so, nothing is going to stop you.

4 Comments

  • Jenni says:

    Thank you for the post! I’m still hopeful that I’ll get in, but I’m working on my ‘what if I don’t’ plan too. Basically, I’m going to put tons of work into editing, revising, and possibly rewriting sections of my manuscript for the next two months anyways. There’s a conference I’m going to in September, and a writing retreat in October where I hope to absorb knowledge and writing vibes. It won’t be as good as Mentors, but I have CPs that have already helped me bring my MS out of the dregs of ‘oh god, what have I done?’ to where it is today (which is more like ‘heey, this is starting to look pretty shiny.’)
    On top of that, I’ve been plotting my next WIP!
    I wish the odds were better, but what you said is sooo true! Not getting into Pitch Wars isn’t the end!

  • Jane Gilmartin says:

    Great post and all very good advice.

    The problem I am facing is this: last year, with this same manuscript, I got two requests right off the bat. One mentor told me he thought the query was one of the best he’d read. Ultimately I didn’t get in, but had lots of feedback from three mentors, one of whom read the full.

    I took that to heart. I edited. I revised. I revised again. I joined a writing group. Edited and revised.

    I started querying agents. Got two revise and resubmit. Two full requests. Lots and lots of agent feedback. Edited again! Added two new plot threads this time.

    But this year… nothing. No requests… nothing.

    I honestly don’t know what to think… do I question my revisions? Did I select the wrong mentors? Something about the stars? I am clueless.

    I am really hoping for any sort of feedback, but, because there were no requests, I don’t know that I’ll get any.

  • Feedback from mentors is probably the best result from PItchWars. One lucky person in 140 will get two months’ worth of feedback. Hopefully a double-handful of the others will get two minutes feedback.

    For me, feedback points out those things I didn’t know or can’t see (for whatever reason). Every little bit helps an author improve their ms. I’ve already received valuable feedback on my query letter from a fellow mentee hopeful. For me, that’s a win on a level. A discussion about voice on Twitter helped me open my eyes about an element of voice I needed. That’s another win.

    Kind of hard to lose PItchWars, really, unless one is being an unprofessional jerk.

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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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