A #PitchWars Inbox Breakdown Part II: Now With Extra Screaming

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Yesterday I wrote a post detailing my process for sifting through the slush in my #PitchWars inbox. It focused on many of the common mistakes I saw that put me off an entry. Today, I’m flipping the script and want to gush about some of the elements of entries that made me sit up and go, “Oh shit, this is awesome!”*

*Disclaimer: This is gonna be vague as hell to avoid any real hints about requests, both current and upcoming. Not that it’ll stop anyone from running screaming off a cliff labeled Wildly Inaccurate Conclusions. But hey, I tried.

You like stats? I’ve got stats. Nothing but the finest statistical analysis this side of a preschool classroom bead abacus. Now with 42% less bullshit and profanity! Maybe.

As previously mentioned, I didn’t read every single entry to completion. “But Ian,” you ask, “how many did you read?” An excellent if nosy question! Because I like you (yes, you over there reading on your computer, phone, and/or tablet device), I went back and tallied up the breakdown:

Read the whole thing – 52%

Read several pages – 37%

Noped out on Page One – 11%

See? I told you I read far more than I didn’t. And that noped out percentage includes the 6% flat-out wrong genre, and the handful with unfeasible word counts given the PW time limitations. There was only the barest fraction that contained problematic content or eye-twitching quantities of typos. Which is to say, the vast majority of you are pretty awesome writers. High-five!

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Now for the step-by-step:

Step 1: Genre Did you send me some flavor of SFF? Come on in!

Step 2: Word Count Did you fall within +/- 10k of the 70k-150k SFF comfort zone? Great! (There may or may not be trimming or bulking up in your future, but it’s cool.)

Step 3: Page One Yesterday I listed some common missteps that turned me off. For the record, even if you committed one or more, I still read another page or two. At the very least, I jumped ahead and skimmed to see if the writing improved. But enough of the negative, here are some positives I saw in those opening pages:

– A kickass first line instantly made me sit up and pay attention. (One particular entry has one of the greatest first lines I’ve ever seen.)

– Opened with a vivid or visceral description that made me ooh or squirm? I’m in. Bonus points for sensory descriptions on that first page beyond sight/sound.

– Fun dialogue and/or witty banter in the first few paragraphs? Why hello there.


– Basically, if you made me laugh or chuckle, grin or smirk, I was fully on-board and likely read your entire entry.

Step 4: The rest of the pages This is where I became a little more discerning, but it’s also where I had the most fun reading.

– Cinematic action sequences. I ran across several entries that contained fun, descriptive scenes that felt like they’d be right at home on a TV/movie/game screen. Balancing a good fight/chase is like Goldilocks with a machine gun, and some of you wrote ones that were juuuuuust right.

– Awesome dialogue. Give me quips, tickle me with snarky tongue-in-cheek sass, bludgeon me with unrelenting sarcasm! Many of my favorite entries delivered this and more.

– Confident characters screwing up. I love it when a character who thinks they’re on top of their game suddenly has an oh shit moment. Particularly one of their own making.

– Deeply flawed characters. Especially if said flaw is revealed by one of the situations in the last bullet point.


– Dysfunctional relationships. Functional and well-adjusted is overrated, at least when it comes to a good read. Be it a friendship, a romance, or a character and their cat, I love me some dysfunction, and my Pitch Wars inbox delivered.

– Epic fantasy in non-medieval, non-Sword&Sorcery settings. I was hoping for some really wild, vibrant, and unique fantasy settings, and I was not disappointed.

– Complex magic systems with severe limitations. Think the various systems in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books. Suffice it to say, you all are some creative motherfuckers (Okay, I lied about the 42% less profanity thing).

– Many entries contained tropes I realized I’m physically incapable of not loving: superheroes, Not-So-Imaginary friends, thieves, assassins, necromancers, broken gods, broken worlds, really just broken anything, villain protagonists. The list goes on and on and on.

Step 5: The query Did you comp a book I love? How about a show or movie? Shit, how about a video game? As I’ve said, zero fucks given about whether a query is good or bad, but if you referenced a thing I love, I rubbed my greedy little hands together.


Like that, but less sinister. Or maybe more. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Step 6: Decision time! Honestly, half the entries I read to completion (26% for those playing along at home) are books I wouldn’t mind reading. But that’s … a fuck-ton of books, and we only have a month to choose a mentee. As a result, fun and/or funny were the biggest deciding factors for my Yes/Maybe pile. It’s where the venn diagrams of Ian Likes and Laura Likes contain the greatest overlap.

Not gonna lie, whittling that list down was tough. There’s quite a few borderline Maybe’s I passed on that I plan to go back and give a second look soon.


Step 7: Lob Yes/Maybes at Laura (and vice-versa) Not much has changed here since yesterday. We made another request last night. Might make more today or tomorrow.

How about we end things with a proper teaser?

I’m currently reading one of our requests. It’s the first one I’ve read, but it’s not the first request we made. I’m 39% in and it’s pretty great so far.

What, you were expecting more? Too bad! And don’t think I don’t see you out there in the bushes, trying to catch a glimpse of my screen with your mind-powers. Quit it.


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