The Sum of All Awesomeness: or, Who I Picked and Why I Didn't Pick Other People, and What I Learned From Pitch Wars
A behind-the-scenes post from the 2013 Pitch Wars
First of all: WHEW. Pitch Wars was definitely an amazexhausting experience. (What? That's a word!) Last year I was chosen as an alternate and landed my agent as a result. This year I had the privilege of being a mentor--and it was eye-opening to see things from this side. Although I've been beta-reading and helping other writers edit for quite a while, Pitch Wars really brought home how much I love it.
Now, on to my Pitch Wars mentor experience, and what I learned from it!
A total of 58 writers applied to me. The process of choosing took about a week (I think--my memory's pretty fried at this point). In my mentor bio post, I'd offered feedback to everyone who applied to me, so as I started filtering through the entries that weren't a good fit I drafted their critiques.
• The First thing I Learned: Dude. Feedback takes a long time. I estimate that it took me a total of around 20 hours just to draft rejections. I loved doing this (and the many of the writers blew me away with their gratitude), but next year I'll be certain to carve out an appropriate block of time for it.
I was able to cull perhaps 15-20 entries right off the bat, and slowly whittled down the rest. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why I passed on manuscripts:
Why I Passed:
1. The manuscript wasn't ready (amateur writing). 5-8 entries
2. The author wasn't ready (unprofessional). 3-4 entries.
3. There was no obvious "hook" (nothing to set story apart). 5-8 entries.
4. I really liked it but didn't *love* it--lack of chemistry. 20-25 entries.
5. It would have been a conflict of interest for me professionally. 1-2 entries.
6. The topic repelled me or didn't interest me. 2-5 entries.
7. Another mentor fought for it (and I'd already fallen in love with my own pick). 4-5 entries.
8. The pages started at the wrong place. 3-5 entries.
In the end, I came across perhaps 6 or 7 entries that fit the bill and intrigued me enough to read more, so I sent off requests for the first three chapters.
• The Second Thing I Learned: Publishing is SO subjective. A manuscript that I loved but couldn't take was passed on over and over until it finally got taken in as an alternate at the last second. Another that I passed on in my first round of culling was enthusiastically snatched up by another mentor and got half a dozen requests in the agent round.
Next I started reading the requested partials, and a particular one just completely stole my heart. The author and I exchanged several emails and she turned out to be just as fabulous as her manuscript. At this point, I staked my claim. Several other mentors had been eyeballing her book, so I sent out an email to the mentor group (as we'd been doing to keep track of our picks) in which I threatened violence in various creative ways (death by cuteness via baby penguin gifs, shanking, that sort of thing) if anyone tried to steal this manuscript from me. Fortunately, I scared them off and successfully landed:
My Top Pick: HOWARD WALLACE, P.I., a hilarious MG mystery noir about a kid detective, by Casey Lyall.
Then it was time to look at alternates. I had a harder time choosing these than I did my top pick, mainly because there was a lot of scrabbling and haggling by all the mentors at this point. Most of us were swooning over one entry (which we chose as our top picks) and then we really liked a lot of other entries, which we thought deserved to be someone's top pick. There were a lot of emails trying to convince undecided mentors to take THIS ONE, THIS ONE. Once the dust settled, I had two alternates who are great writers with some absolutely lovely manuscripts:
TUNNELS & TRAITORS, a West Point-set MG mystery by Amy Moellering (I chose this one because of the cool setting and the voice-filled opening page),
and THE TROUBLE WITH FROGS, a fairytale-esque MG fantasy by Nicole Mogavero (I picked this because of the fun tomboy character, the good writing, and the fairytale angle).
And then it was time for revision! From the outside, it must have looked like that month between the mentor round and the agent round was the lull before the storm. NOPE. We were hard at work, reading and revising, pitches and queries and pages and manuscripts. I estimate maybe 40-50 hours of work during this time on my part, including readthroughs and edit suggestions and correspondence/advice. I got lucky with #TeamNaominator, who were great to work with--but unfortunately, it wasn't that way for all the mentors. I won't go into it detail because other mentors are planning to post on this topic, but suffice it to say: be professional, respectful of other people's time, and confident in your own writing/edits. Don't make us ("us" being any industry professional involved with your writing) do extra work.
• The Third Thing I Learned: You are the writer. You are the ultimate person responsible for this book, and the only one who can make it amazing. Industry professionals (mentors, agents, critique partners, editors, etc.) can offer guidance and suggestions, but in the end, it's all on you.
Then it was time for the agent round! All my picks got requests, so the whole team went home with improved manuscripts, a valuable learning experience, and the ears of some agents. (Not literally. That would be weird. Also probably illegal?) After flailing over my own team's requests, I went to check out other entries--some of my favorites. I planned to celebrate the huge amount of requests they were certain to have garnered, and I was shocked to see that many of them had NONE. These were entries that we mentors were squeeing over behind the scenes, books I would buy if I read that pitch and first page on the shelf. And they didn't get any requests.
• The Fourth Thing I Learned: Even if your manuscript is amazing, it doesn't guarantee or entitle you to anything. It's always hard to be passed over when you know you've got something great, but it happens, and here's why: agents don't get paid unless they sell your manuscript, and all the work they do with an author until then is an investment. To invest that much time and as-yet-unpaid work in a project, they need to be passionate about it and believe in it. And this is in your best interest; you don't want an agent (or an editor, for that matter) who isn't passionate about your work. Never, ever settle in this regard.
Then Pitch Wars was over. WOOOO FLAILING SQUEALING CONFETTI-CANNONING!!!... and then the mentors talked. This is where I learned about the horrible/fabulous experiences some mentors had, and this is also when we started talking about which rules might be changed for next year's contest based on that.
• The Fifth Thing I Learned: Guys, the stuff you do will follow you, and it affects other people too. This is a small industry, and we tend to be a vocal lot. It is NOT in your best interest to burn bridges.
That brings us to the present, in which I generally stare glassy-eyed at the television with my fingers twitching toward my phone every few minutes until I remember there's no Pitch Wars work left to do. And I was only one mentor with a team of merely three writers to look after. And that brings me to my final point:
• The Sixth Thing I Learned: Brenda Drake is an angel of patience (or a steely-eyed general capable of directing a vast horde of writers, mentors, assistants and agents at all hours of the day and night with nary a break for coffee or a moment away from her trusty keyboard. Depending on who you talk to). Also, Gmail sucks.
Lastly, I'd like to give a shout-out to two of my favorite middle-grade entries who didn't get any agent-love during the contest:
PROFESSOR PLUTONIUM by Jeff Chen, a hilarious adventure about a boy who wants to be a super-spy;
and THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan, a very cool-looking contemporary verse novel about a class of student poets determined to rescue their elementary school from a scheduled demolition.
Naomi Edits | Naomi L. Hughes