#PitchWars 2020: The Great Readening

I have officially completed the first pass through my Pitch Wars inbox! I will now go drink and pass out for a month.

Except wait, I have to do more! So … maybe later. When returning mentors comment how high the quality of submissions we received this year is compared to previous, we aren’t joking. There’s some seriously great stuff. But first, context!

This year, 225 of you sent me your word-babies. I was honestly hoping ditching SF entirely and limiting the fantasy genres I’m after would cut that to the 100-150 range, but it’s less than the 300ish from The Before Times, so I’m happy. Plus, I got to read a ton of really awesome, creative first chapters. (And no one sent me pure romance this time. Another win!) But wait, more context!

Of those 225 entries, I flagged 62 as catching my eye. 28%! That’s incredible, and a far, far higher percentage than last year’s 12%.

The writing quality itself was high across the board. Most of my reasons for passing simply boiled down to the always dreaded and subjective “Not connecting with the voice.” Which is absolutely a me thing and not a you thing. You’re great. Promise.

Since several people have asked about my evaluation process on Twitter, here’s how I’ve approached my inbox:

Step 1: Read the query – Simply to get a general sense of the plot and make sure the genre described (roughly) matched the genre selected.

Step 2: Read the sample – This is always the big one, and the most–here comes that word again–subjective. If something about a character or the writing caught my eye, it was flagged. If I laughed, it was flagged. If it creeped me out, it was flagged. If it did some combination of the above, flagged!

Step 3: Rate it – I use a 4-tiered system:

Tier 1 = Definite Request. I loved everything about this entry, and was left absolutely wanting to flip the page and find out what happens next.

Tier 2 = Strong Maybe. I greatly enjoyed this entry, but wasn’t head-over-heels instantly for one reason or another. Maybe it felt like it was starting in the wrong place. Maybe the sense of overall plot from the query didn’t hook me. Often it was simply a gut reaction that made the difference between this tier and tier 1.

Tier 3 = Take A Second Look. Something in the entry caught my eye. Maybe I loved the character but was meh on the plot. Maybe the plot was amazing but I didn’t like this particular character. Maybe something about the worldbuilding hooked me but the current POV left me cold. Maybe the writing was lush and all-encompassing, but the scene it depicted didn’t do much for me. Going in for a second pass over these once I’ve gotten a full handle on the entire inbox often helps solidify things.

Tier 4 = Pass. Again, this was the subjectivity thing. Often I simply didn’t connect with the voice or plot in a way I’d need to in order to keep reading. The good news is, many entries I didn’t connect with other mentors are loving (and vice-versa). What one person enjoys, another person won’t. It’s the sad-yet-unavoidable reality of any creative field, and publishing is no exception.

Now, remember those 62 submissions I flagged? Here’s the breakdown: 35 in Tier 3. 23 in Tier 2. 4 in Tier1.

Step 4: The Second Pass – This is where I re-read my Tier 2 and 3 entries, being far more critical of them all. Often there will be quite a bit of movement. Some 2’s will become 3’s. Some 3’s become 4’s. Some 3’s become 1’s!

Step 5: Requests! – Anything that ends in Tier 1 gets requested. In the past, I’ve requested fulls immediately because why would I want to stop and wait if I hit the end of a partial and am loving the thing? An excellent thought, past-Ian. Except that never happens. I always end up reading the first 50 pages of everything first before circling back to the ones I continued loving. So, this year, I’m starting with partials for everything. First 50 pages, to be precise.

My aim is to request only 10, but past-Ian is giving me the side-eye and shaking his head because he knows I’ve said that every year and the final total ends up north of 20. Given the high quality of entries this time, I fully expect history to repeat. (But hope springs a turtle, or something like that.)

I’ll also be requesting in waves over the next few weeks, spreading out those initial Tier 1’s. So, don’t read into whether you get a request from me today (Spoiler alert: I’m sending out some requests soon), or in three weeks. Everything gets a fair shake. Even if I love an initial entry, I keep reading and requesting right up until the end, because you never know! (And one of my past mentees ended up being the very last book I requested one year.)

Step 6: The Great Readening Part II: Electric Read-A-Loo – This is the fun part! Now I get to settle in and read and fall in love with some truly amazing books.

Speaking of which, I’ve rambled enough for a supposed ‘quick’ blog post, so back to reading (and requesting!) for me.

Good luck in the weeks to come, and remember: chosen for PW or not, you wrote an awesome book and should be proud! If I could mentor all 225 of you who subbed to me, I would, but, much as in Highlander, I can only choose one.

One thought on “#PitchWars 2020: The Great Readening

  1. I am simply amazed at the amount of work entailed in deciding a mentee. I had NO IDEA there were that many pitches. That many hungry authors. I did ask one time about the odds of finding a mentor. The responses I got ragned from winning the lotto to jumping off a cliff and hoping you fly.

    I laughed.

    But boy were they right! Best of luck Ian to you and everyone who submitted to you.


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