Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#Pitchwars: What I learned from being a mentor.

So today Brenda announced the teams and alternates. And most of the interwebs goes back to their lives while the mentors begins digging into their top picks.
But can we take a minute? Pull yourself away from the chocolate consolation prize and unfollowing mentors, and let's talk about what we've learned in the past week.

I was stunned by how good the majority of applications were. Sure there were a lot--which was also a little surprising, but I expected some to be not ready for querying. And for the vast majority, that wasn't true. There were some really talented people out there.

The excitement from the participants -you guys were amazing. Just so full of nerves and laughter and willingness to learn. It was so much fun connecting with y'all--and the dude who wrote that poem deserves a chocolate cake.

But how 'bout useful stuff, right?

  • Saying  'this isn't right for me' sucks almost as much as hearing it. I was told during the past two weeks that it's just a false platitude, and I'd like to address that--it's not. There were several applications that were good--query ready, nice premise, well written pages, consice pitch. But for whatever reason, it just wasn't my cup of tea. I hated saying that, knowing that it wasn't helpful. But there's something to learn here, y'all. It's that what you write--it won't be for everyone. And that's okay. What's not right for me, could be JUST right for someone else. (Point in fact--one of mine was a pick for another mentor.)
  • A form letter? It's not fun, but I totally understand it. I won't discuss numbers, but lets say this: the sheer amount of applications in some mentors folders rivaled the query numbers I've heard from agents. That's a lot of 'this is why I quit readings' (especially when you consider that each of those takes a good five-ten minutes). No one likes form rejections. But after writing my own personalized passes--and I was one of the mentors who did--I totally understand why agents use them. 
  • Genre. Oh my gracious. Little tough love, y'all. KNOW. YOUR. GENRE. Fiction isn't a genre. Thriller/Fantasy/Sci-fi is not a genre (it's three). Conceptual retelling of Abraham Lincoln's biography? IS. NOT. A GENRE. Look, when reading a query, and I got to the housekeeping and saw the genre that you assigned your book? If it was something crazy, off the wall that I'd never heard of? I passed. Because you should know enough about your genre, be widely read enough, to know what your book is. And none of those ARE. (Also, those are made up examples.)
  • Word count matters. Look, I get it. You have an EPIC and the amount of words that takes is...well...EPIC. But when I had my list narrowed down and I was trying to decide which to mentor, word count mattered. 353K is not reasonable. And just like too high is a red flag, so is too low. I beg of you--go find Jenn Laughran's blog and read her post on word count*. And then read the one on genre*. And then bookmark both. 
  • Sometimes, the choice comes down to not which one I like, or even love, but which one I think will gather agent interest. There were a lot of subs to love in this contest. Too many to take, obviously. And when it came time to weed out, I had to look at that. Again, hearing 'there isn't a market' from an agent might suck--and they might not even say that to you--but it's also true and something to be aware of. 
  • While there were a LOT of great subs, there were some standout applications that...well, need work on their query. It rambled, or told me what the book would teach me or what it was about without ever telling me the story. None of those things interested me. At all. All I want--all an agent WANTS--is a good story. Deliver that, and your golden. 

The best thing about Pitchwars, though? The community. I've connected with writers on Twitter who are so awesome and down to earth, people I am so excited to see succeed. Mentors and contestants alike, it's an amazing community to be in and I'm so glad that this has reaffirmed that for me. And no--not everyone got chosen for a team. Not everyone COULD. 
But if you connected with someone--ANYONE--or learned anything at all, even if it's just letting go and putting yourself out there, which is so hard to do--well, than you won. And that's by far the BEST thing about Pitchwars.

So huzzah, and congrats to mine and Liz's teams and come back soon--I think we're going to have a query workshop sometime in January. :)


*Jennifer Laughran's Word Count Dracula
**Jennifer Laughran's Big Ol' Genre Glossary


  1. Great comments about the process! I've loved watching #PitchWars go down from the sidelines. So much to love and even more to learn. :)

  2. Thank you for the link to Jennifer Laughran's Big Ol' Genre Glossary. I've been hesitant to label my book magical realism, but now... hmm... :)