What To Expect When You’re Expecting (To Enter #PitchWars)



Hey, folks. I bet you’re here because you’re trawling the depths of the internet for any scraps of advice about Pitch Wars. Good news! You’ve hit rock bottom (and possibly found some nuggets of wisdom. Or maybe that’s an ancient Hyperborean toilet). If you don’t know what Pitch Wars is, I’ve gotta wonder why you’re here reading about it instead of going to pitchwars.org. Go on, I’ll wait.

Everyone up to speed? Good! For a bit of background, I was a hopeful in 2015 and a mentee in both 2016 and 2017. This is my first year mentoring, and I’ve teamed up with my good friend Laura Lashley. You can find our mentor bios here and here. We’re mentoring the adult category this year. If you poke around you can probably find the kinds of books we like, but, unfortunately, I can’t say more before the blog hop on August 14th. Trust me, I’d love to, but the PW committee has assassins on speed dial in case any of us mentors get out of line. Maybe. Probably not. Point is, they’re all real good at plotting murders, so I’m not gonna push my luck.


Moving on!

This post is going to be a brief run down on what you should and should not expect regarding Pitch Wars during this entire process. The disclaimer here is that this is all based on my experiences (with some insights from friends), and thus some of the bits pertaining to the mentoring itself may not apply to everyone. Good chance it’ll apply to whoever Laura and I work with, however. So hey, forewarned, forearmed, foreeyed? Wait, that’s not right. Maybe I should jump into the list:

DO expect to go insane during the submission window

DON’T expect to find out anything by stalking mentors

I say this as someone who relentlessly stalked mentors on Twitter, reading into every teaser, every follow, every pic of their pet that maaaaaybe has some hint in the way that dog’s glowering at the camera. Some mentors follow everyone, some don’t. Some tweet teasers that are vague to the point of uselessness (“My favorite entry has vowels in it”), some will be radio silent. You’ll drive yourself batshit with no payoff. It happened to me. It’ll happen to you. Or hey, maybe you’ve got more willpower and less crippling self-doubt than I do, in which case, HOW DO YOU DO IT PLEASE TEACH ME YOUR SECRETS DO I HAVE TO EAT YOUR HEART TO GAIN YOUR POWERS? Point is, don’t expect to know anything until the day of the reveal.

DO expect to work

DON’T expect a gold star and a lollipop.

Pitch Wars is about learning to be a better writer. That’s it. If you think you’re already amazing and wonderful and that a mentor will select you merely to rave about how awesome and heartbreakingly beautiful your words are, well, good luck? If that were true, you should be querying already. Don’t get me wrong, your mentor absolutely will rave about how much they love your book, but there’s gonna be room for improvement. If you didn’t think you needed help whipping your book into shape, you wouldn’t be here.

As for the work itself, that varies. Some mentees will make a lot of small changes. Others will rewrite half their books (if not more). Some mentors will read your monstrosity five times and you’ll do a round of revisions after each. Some won’t. (For those wondering, our mentee will likely be doing several passes.) Every mentee is going to work. A lot. So strap in and buckle up, we’re going wording!

Also, I might be wrong about the lollipop thing. I don’t know how the MG mentors do things, and I’ve heard the romance mentors have some … interesting anatomical molds. Your mileage may vary.

DO expect to have a better book by the end and a shiny query

DON’T expect to get an agent

If you’re entering Pitch Wars with the sole goal of the agent round, you’re doing it wrong. The agent round is nice, but it’s the cherry on the sundae. The dinky toy at the bottom of the delicious sugary cereal box. It can be wonderful and exciting, or it can be awful and soul crushing. Some mentees will have dozens of requests, others will have zilch. Some mentees absolutely will get agents off of the agent round, the vast majority will not. Many who didn’t (and many in the Zero Request Club) will still find agents. In both my 2016 and 2017 classes, of those who found agents, most did so by querying the old-fashioned way. Myself included (and I obviously didn’t find one after PW2016).

DO expect the opportunity to join an amazing community

DON’T expect you have to be selected as a mentee to do so

Pitch Wars is a great learning opportunity, sure, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a community. A community of writers, all going through or having been through the same shit you are. You’ll need them. They are your people, your cheerleaders and drinking buddies. Your critique partners and beta readers. You may think writing is a solo experience—and it can be—but it doesn’t have to be. (Note: Even as an introvert terrified of people—because hey, it me—simply stalking the hashtags and soaking up all the advice and realizing there are other people slogging through the same shit you are can be a huge help.)

In 2015 with my zero requests, I became a better writer. I shoved aside my introvert tendencies and dove into Twitter. I connected with other hopefuls on the hashtag. I read the advice mentors put out. I found critique partners and readers. I learned and made friends. In 2016, I put what I’d learned to use and wrote a book that got me selected as a mentee. There, among the other dumbstruck new mentees, I found more friends and another community. Different than the 2015 community? Of course. Better? Nope! And the same applied again in 2017. And again in 2018 as I connect with my fellow mentors and all the new hopefuls this year.

There is no losing at Pitch Wars. Sure, it sucks not to be picked. (Trust me, I know.) But as long as you go in with the expectation of coming out a better writer, you’ll win. This community is the real prize, not the mentorship and certainly not the agent round.

DO expect to panic

DON’T hyperventilate yourself into a coma

Getting that edit letter from your mentor can be overwhelming because HOLY SHIT THERE’S SO MUCH TO FIX WHY DID THEY PICK ME IN THE FIRST PLACE I CAN’T WRITE I SHALL BECOME A GOAT AND LIVE OFF THE LAND AVOIDING ALL HUMAN CONTACT SO NO ONE CAN SEE MY SHAME. Or maybe you’re waist-deep in revisions and suddenly realize the thing you thought was amazing doesn’t work at all and oh shit OH SHIT (see the caps from above). It will happen. To everyone. It’s normal. Grab your towel, scream into it for a good thirty minutes, then go talk to your mentor (or your critique partners, friends, loved ones, cat, etc because this goes for everyone, not just mentees). I promise it’s not as bad as it seems. And even if by some twist of fate it is, you can fix it. Remember: you can fix just about anything in revisions.

DON’T be a dick

What, I broke the expect format? Whatever. It’s my blog, I can do what I want. And this is important. Publishing is a mind-blowingly small field. Far, far smaller than you think. Agents and editors talk. Agents and writers talk. Writers and editors talk. The voices inside my head talk. Basically, everyone knows everyone (or knows someone who knows everyone—it’s Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but more like 2.5 degrees). Word gets around, so, seriously, don’t be a dick.

Be someone people actively want to seek out and work with.

And that’s it. In case you hadn’t noticed, I have a tendency to ramble, so I’m gonna cut myself off here. I hope this helps. Good luck in the months to come!

4 thoughts on “What To Expect When You’re Expecting (To Enter #PitchWars)

  1. Pingback: Pitch Wars 2019 Wishlist | Ian Barnes

  2. Ian,

    You have definitely got to make a T-shirt out of the ‘I Shall Become a Goat’ rant. I laughed so hard, I was afraid I”d busted some vital organ. Thanks for this. I really needed a good laugh. Seriously.


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