We’re in the final stretch of the Pitch Wars 2020 selection process. One more week before mentee picks are announced! How’re you holding up? Calm? Collected? Waiting patiently? So stressed your body is excreting a strange, purple liquid that’s slowly staining your entire wardrobe shades of amethyst and ick? Cool, me neither.
A few weeks back I wrote a post about my process for sifting through my submissions inbox. In that same spirit of transparency, here’s a rundown of how I’ve been assessing the partials and fulls I request as I zero in on my pick.
In said previous post, I talked about how I marked 62 of my 225 submissions for a second look, with the goal of whittling that number down to the top 10. Yeah, that didn’t happen. This year I requested 16 partials (so far). Of those, 3 have been upgraded to fulls (so far).
When assessing partials (and assessing fulls is similar, albeit to a more scrutinizing degree), I look for five main things:
- Do the character(s) continue to hold my interest?
Sometimes another POV beyond the original didn’t intrigue me. Sometimes I found that POV more intriguing. Part of that is voice (hello, it’s your old pal Subjectivity again), but a large part of what held or lost my interest came down to character motivation. If I could clearly understand a character’s stake in the conflict or their reasoning for their actions, I was more likely to become invested in the outcome.
- Does the plot continue to engage me?
While the synopsis in the submission packet provides a decent look at the overall plot, it’s no substitute for a boots-on-the-ground, line-to-line view as a reader. Sometimes a plot point I found fascinating in theory was less so in practice. Sometimes a meh sounding plot detail blossomed into something enthralling. Yet again, subjectivity!
- What are my notes like?
Essentially, how much and what type of work do I think this book needs. Some have a strong emotional core, but need structural work. Some have fantastic big picture plots, but the characters behave nonsensically. Sometimes there’s a villain problem. Sometimes there’s too many POVs and not enough attention given to each. Some stories have amazing worldbuilding but not enough work done on character arcs. The list goes on.
Assessing this is a judgement call. Given the work I think this book needs, is the three-month deadline realistic? Often yes, but sometimes it’s a clear no. (For the record, if I’m not 100% certain–as there’s only so much you can tell about a writer’s process without seeing it in action–I err on the side of yes.) This isn’t a major deciding factor, but it is a consideration moving forward.
- How does my vision compare to the author’s?
When I make a request, I send along a questionnaire intended to help me assess, among other things, what the author thinks of as the book’s strengths and weaknesses. One question involves the author’s line in the sand, the one element they won’t change. The majority of the time I find myself agreeing with and loving that element, but occasionally there’s mismatch. If I think a specific POV character needs to go but the author insists they need every single one of those POV’s, that’s an issue. It doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong; it simply means our visions for the book differ.
- Can I help this book?
This is the big one. Every year there’s at least one book I request where I reach the end and I have almost no notes for it. This year there’s been several. In each case, I honestly have no idea what help–if any–that book needs. Often it might be a minor tweak or two that could be a relatively simple fix. Certainly nothing requiring the exhaustive three-month whirlwind that is Pitch Wars.
Something worth remembering is that Pitch Wars isn’t about picking the best book. I know it seems like that at times, but it’s not. It’s about picking the one we mentors personally see the most potential in, the one we think we can help improve the most (in the allotted time). If I barely have any notes and could only offer a tweak or two and a new coat of paint via line edits, that simply doesn’t mesh with Pitch Wars.
Individually, none of those factors (except #5 and a sharp divide on #4) determine whether I request more or pass. I read all of the partials, and weigh them against one another. Sometimes there’s a clear “Oh hell yes, I’m requesting more,” and sometimes it’s trickier to judge. There are books I rule out as ‘not for me’ other mentors are absolutely in love with. Or something I love, someone else was lukewarm on. There are books I pass on based on category #5 which other mentors have buttloads of notes for. End of the day, it all comes back to the joys of subjectivity.
It’s always an agonizing decision. There are amazing stories and authors I have to pass up that I adore. The reason I volunteer as a mentor is because I genuinely enjoy helping writers. I’d mentor all my requests if I could. Hell, I’d mentor everyone who subbed to me, but there’s just not enough time in the day.
I mentioned this on Twitter–and I’ll make another post when I have details finalized–I will try and offer feedback as time allows. If I requested from you and you aren’t snatched up by another mentor, I’ll have notes and feedback to offer after picks are announced. For those hopefuls I didn’t request from, I plan to have an open call for feedback via Twitter. When time allows, I’ll invite you to DM me there and I’ll send you the notes I took while reading your entry. Exact time and date to be decided, but it’s likely to be a window of a few hours on a weekend in mid November. I’ll hopefully have the details worked out in the next week or so.
Hopefully this further glimpse into my thought process as I read has been at least passingly handy. For now, back to reading and waiting for Nov 7th!