The Road to Pitch Wars Part 1: What to Expect

Some of you may remember me talking a bit about Pitch Wars earlier in the year. It’s the competition that earned me 15 agent requests (including ninja agents and referrals) and six offers of representation. (You may also remember how completely dumbfounded I was by all this. I spent most of January and February wandering around with a dazed look on my face.)

Anyway, Pitch Wars is being held a little early this year, and to celebrate, I thought I’d write a post about the experience in the hope it may help or inspire this year’s entrants. Last week I put a call out on Twitter for any questions or topics people might like me to cover, and you all gave me so many ideas, I realized they wouldn’t all fit in one post.

Here’s the plan as it stands:

– Post One (today!): What to expect when you’re entering Pitch Wars, including the pitch I sent to mentors.
Post Two (next week): Working with a mentor, including the pitch I worked on with Stacey.
Post Three (in a fortnight): Life after Pitch Wars, including The Call(s), choosing between agents and what I’m up to now.

Sound good? If you guys have any more questions I’m happy to add them on to subsequent posts, or answer in the comments.

*Note: I’m only one person, and I’m certain everyone who entered Pitch Wars experienced the competition differently. If I give any advice, it is purely my own opinion. Take it or leave it — completely up to you 🙂

What to expect when you enter Pitch Wars

Last October I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes as I sent my manuscript out to my critique partners for the first time. I wasn’t thinking of querying or competitions — I was just hoping my CPs didn’t hate the (admittedly strange) story too much. Well, they didn’t hate it. Not at all. In fact, they were all pretty adamant that this story needed to be sent out right now, and that Pitch Wars was the way to do it.

At this stage, I really knew nothing about the competition other than my CP Jaye Robin Brown was going to be a mentor. But, with her support, I scrubbed up my manuscript and put together a pitch to send to the four mentors I thought best suited my manuscript. Honestly, I really wasn’t expecting much. I’d entered competitions before without a great deal of success, but I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring anyway.

So, after you send in your applications, the pitches are sorted into folders by Brenda Drake and her hard-working assistants (It may work differently this year. Gmail gave everyone a lot of grief last time around). Then the mentors are allowed in and they start reading through the applications. Some of the mentors request further material from the applications they like. Some don’t need to — maybe they know potential when they see it, or they have instant favorites.

The mentors last year were allowed to go into each others’ folders and poach favorites. They also shared around entries they liked but weren’t quite right for them. All this to say: if you don’t get a request for further material from your chosen mentors don’t think that means you’re out of the game.

I ended up getting requests for further chapters from two of my chosen mentors, as well as from a third mentor that I hadn’t applied to. All three wanted to know a bit about me and what kind of writer I was. Mentors aren’t just looking for excellent stories — they’re looking for writers who are pleasant to work with. Difficult people don’t make good mentees.

Sometimes two or more mentors might want a manuscript. You saw a bit of this on the Twitter hashtag, and it’s fun to watch, even when they keep the manuscript anonymous. In cases like this, the mentors work it out among themselves. They might trade a first choice for a second and a third, or they might fight to the death. Completely up to them. The one caveat here is, if a mentor you applied to wants your manuscript, and one you didn’t apply to tries to fight for it, your entry will automatically go to the mentor you applied to.

On announcement day, a post will go up listing the mentors’ choices: one mentee and two alternates. If you’re successful, this little group becomes your Pitch Wars family. I’ll go into more detail about working with my Pitch Wars team next week, so stay tuned 🙂

Choosing Mentors

Firstly: Don’t stress. Seriously. It’s an important decision, but it won’t completely ruin your chances if you pick wrong. Mentors are great about sharing applications around and, chances are, more than your four will see your pitch over the course of the competition.

Choose mentors who like your genre, of course, but also take personality into consideration. Read mentor blogs, chat on Twitter, ask questions. If you’re successful, you will be working very closely with this person, and it’s important you get along. For example, I’m fairly easily intimidated and overwhelmed by strong personalities. I needed someone who would keep me calm and wouldn’t expect too much from me in terms of communication. Stacey and I sent a few emails a week, but I wouldn’t have been able to handle three or four a day. That’s just me, though. Know yourself, know who you are applying to.

My strategy when choosing mentors was:
1. Personal recommendations. Ask your writing friends if they know any of the mentors and if they can recommend someone who might suit you and your story.
2. Blog and twitter stalking. What does the way they communicate online say about them?
3. Book recommendations. When I had a shortlist, I asked each of the mentors if they could list their favorite books. I wanted my mentor to have a similar taste to my own.

Other Tips

– I’m kind of cringing giving this one, because it won’t be true for everyone, and I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but if you’ve already entered a whole bunch of online competitions and half the agents have seen your entry already, Pitch Wars may not be the best competition for you. I say this because I don’t think it’s fair on the mentor who chooses you if half your chances are already gone, and it’s not fair on the applicant who may have a fresh manuscript who didn’t get in because of you. Again, this is only my opinion. Every situation is unique. Trust your gut.

– Get on Twitter! If you put the agent side of Pitch Wars aside, it’s still incredibly worthwhile because of the connections you make with other writers. These people will become your best friends. They will be there to critique your pitches, cheer on your entry, and commiserate through disappointments. Trust me, I wouldn’t have made it this far if I hadn’t been lucky enough to find amazing friends and critique partners, and this is an excellent place to find them.

– Have fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t whinge and don’t bug the mentors unnecessarily. This isn’t your last chance to get your manuscript read. I truly believe all the mentees who had success through Pitch Wars would have found agents the traditional way (querying) as well. The benefits of Pitch Wars lie in the connections you make with other writers — both mentors and your fellow entrants.

My entry

As promised, here is the entry I sent to Stacey and three other mentors. I hope you find it helpful, because I’m kind of cringing here!

Name: Bethany Smith
Category/Genre: YA Literary Thriller
Word Count: 80,000

Dear Stacey,

People are dying on Skana Island, swallowed up by the icy sea. For seventeen-year-old outsider Anna Delmore, this stirs memories of her own father’s drowning death on a research dive only a year ago. The islanders believe hanging whalebone over their doorways and stringing red beads in their hair will save them from death, but Anna doesn’t believe the islander’s stories. No, she believes the threat comes not from orcas or ancient magic but from the islanders themselves, and that their superstition blinds them from the human killer among them.

When another girl goes missing after secretly contacting Anna, Anna enlists the help of Jeremy Renwick, the faithful son of the local sheriff, in order to disprove the islander’s beliefs. But the closer she grows to Jeremy the more her conviction wavers. Time is running out and when the islanders mount a hunt to kill the orcas they believe responsible for the deaths, Anna is forced to choose: stop the killer from taking another life, or save the whales her father tried so hard to protect.

THE SEA WOLVES, complete at 80,000 words, is a YA literary thriller based on Pacific Northwest folklore surrounding killer whales.

Next week: The Road to Pitch Wars Part 2: Working with a Mentor

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The Road to Pitch Wars Part 1: What to Expect

17 thoughts on “The Road to Pitch Wars Part 1: What to Expect

  1. This is so great!!! I’m so glad you entered but still ruffled you couldn’t choose me! (Dang ethics!)

    I can’t wait to hear all your future great news with your writing and read the rest of your posts.

  2. I entered last year and spent time doing the things you said to do but didn’t get a mentor. This year I’m entering again and hope to get in because I want my new mss to be the best it can be. It’s a dark YA contemporary and because of the subject matter I might have trouble finding someone but I’m going to try! Thanks for this article!

  3. […] Last week I spoke a little about the process of entering Pitch Wars, the contest that led to me signing with the wonderful Ammi-Joan Paquette back in February. A lot of things happened between those two events, and that’s what I want to talk about today. For me, the singular draw of entering Pitch Wars was the chance to work with a mentor for five weeks, to improve my writing and come out the other side with a stronger manuscript. […]

  4. Jennifer D. Bushroe says:

    Thanks for the informative post; this is my first year participating in Pitch Wars, so any guidance is appreciated!
    I really like the premise of your novel! I immediately went to Goodreads to see if it was pubbed, but not yet. Soon, I hope. 🙂 I’ve always enjoyed Pacific Northwest folklore–have you heard of the wasko/wasco? Is that what your story’s about?

    1. bethanyrsmith says:

      Oh, thank you, Jennifer! No, my book is not published yet. I’ve been working on revisions and will hopefully have more to tell soon. The wasgo (how I chose to spell it) does make an appearance, actually!
      Best of luck with Pitch Wars! 🙂

      1. Jennifer D. Bushroe says:

        Cool! I look forward to reading your take on the myth.
        And thanks for the well-wishes. Good luck with your revisions!

  5. Silvia says:

    As a Pitch Wars noob, this post was so incredibly helpful. It really gave a good picture behind the scenes, especially how mentors swap around MSs to see if anyone might be interested. I also greatly appreciate you posting your entry. It sounds like an incredible story from just the summary.

    1. bethanyrsmith says:

      Thanks, Silvia! I really appreciate you taking the time to comment 🙂 Best of luck with Pitch Wars! Let me know if you have any questions.

  6. Kim says:

    In regard to your thoughts on not entering if your ms has been in a bunch of contests and half the agents have seen it, what’s your opinion if the ms has been in contests and gotten interest from some of the agents, but it’s been more than a year and it’s undergone substantial revisions?
    I’m passionate about this ms and would LOVE the opportunity to work with a mentor on it, but at the same time, I really don’t want to do anything underhanded.

    1. bethanyrsmith says:

      Hi Kim!
      I suppose it depends on how substantial the revisions were. If you think the agents would be likely to recognize your story by the pitch alone, it’s probably in your interest to re-query rather than go through a contest. In a contest there’s no place to explain that you have revised and are presenting a fresh manuscript.
      Good luck with whatever you decide!

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