3 Things I Learned From Entering Pitch Wars

It’s that time of year again.

I’m not talking about back to school, but hooray for that too, I guess (good luck, kids).

Rather, I’m referring to the review and selection period for the current cycle of Pitch Wars.

Pitch Wars is an annual writing mentorship program wherein un-agented writers pitch their completed novels to up to four volunteer mentors in hopes of being chosen as a mentee.  Each mentor selects only one mentee, and once chosen, works with their mentee over the course of five months to get their manuscript query ready.

Each cycle of Pitch Wars ends with an agent round, where the mentee’s logline and first page are posted on the Pitch Wars website, and participating agents make requests for the mentees to send them more material.

The program is hugely popular because it produces results.  Over the seven years Pitch Wars has been running, a number of former mentees have gone on to sign with agents and have the books they were mentored on published.

In 2016 alone, 50 writers were offered representation, with many obtaining book deals soon afterward.

Because of this, the number of Pitch Wars entrants has steadily increased over the years.  Last year, there were 3000 from all over the globe.  This year the number rose to 3500.

I was one such entrant, a first timer.

It’s how you play the game

Currently it’s too soon to know if I’ll be chosen as a mentee, although I’ll be the first to admit that for a number of reasons—not the least of which is simple mathematics—the odds are not especially in my favour.

Still, the process of preparing to enter—which includes writing a query letter, a synopsis, submitting your first chapter, and having your entire manuscript completed and self-edited in case a mentor requests to read it—has taught me some important lessons.  These include the following:

1) I’m not just writing for myself

Initially, when I write something, I’m writing for myself based on my specific interests, on the type of book I want to read but can’t find, on the type of story I feel I can improve upon, etc.

But my ultimate writing goal is publication—and published authors don’t exist without an audience to read and appreciate their work.  This means that however much I’m writing for myself, the interests and expectations of my target audience also need to come into play.

Submitting to Pitch Wars really helped solidify this realization, for one’s choice of which mentors to pitch to is based solely on the mentor’s posted wish lists.  In these lists, mentors discuss their favourite genres, tropes, and other story elements they like best and want to work with.

Some mentors, it’s been revealed, received anywhere from 150-200+ submissions this year.

Faced with such a bounty of possibilities, beyond choosing a story they think they can actually help, mentors would no doubt choose a story based on personal taste.  Much like a reader in a bookstore trying to decide which book they want to buy.

2) I need to keep a better handle on my word count

Usually when writing, I disregard word count, to the point that I’ve actively removed the live word counter from the status bar of all my writing programs.

I did this because I already know that I write long—that I’m an over-writer and will always have to do some cutting in subsequent drafts.

Because of this, I like to just follow my natural sense of story and pacing wherever it initially takes me, rather than restrict myself and feel like I’m trying to write haiku.  I always want to have rich, detailed material to work with come revisions, even if a portion of it ends up getting the chop.

However, in the course of preparing for Pitch Wars, I finally checked my most recent word count … and oh my.

I’ve since made the decision to turn the live counter back on—or at least to check my word count far more often than I have been.

Because this was a later draft of my WIP that I was working on—a draft I was already supposed to be making shorter.  Not, ahem … longer.

Clearly my “natural sense of pacing” is not to be trusted, and only quantifiable metrics will rein me in as required.

3) I need to keep my next project top of mind

I’ve yet to formally query any writing.  However, entering Pitch Wars kind of felt like what I imagine querying to be like in that, immediately after clicking Submit, I was faced with an overwhelming sense of “Now what?”

On top of that, in order to have my submission materials and a full, workable draft ready by the submission deadline, I spent most of August writing at a pace that, for the moment, has left me kind of sick of my WIP.

I actually told my critique partner that if my WIP was a romantic partner, I’d recommend we take a “break” and see other people for a while.

It’s times like this that having another project waiting in the wings becomes so valuable.

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018 was to continue researching about Ancient Greece in support of my next project.

In both my February and July resolution check-ins, I was forced to admit I’d done very little in support of this goal, in part due to a general lack of motivation to make it a priority.

But suddenly, hitting those books (plus a really great podcast that I’ve found!) is feeling mighty good right about now.

So too have I been daydreaming about my new characters, and making plans for how I can take the lessons I’ve learned from my current WIP and try not to make all the same mistakes again in my next one.

BONUS) It doesn’t matter if I’m not chosen

Although the possible rewards of becoming a Pitch Wars mentee are paramount, and the risk of entering exceedingly low, the chance of actually being chosen is miniscule.

It’s just silly to pin all my hopes and dreams and self-esteem as a writer on a four in 3500 probability, because those are some truly terrible odds.

If I don’t get chosen, it doesn’t mean I’m a terrible writer.  It doesn’t even mean that I’ve written a bad book.  It will just tell me it wasn’t meant to be—that I need to pursue my publication dreams through one of the myriad other paths available to me.

And I will.

What have you learned from entering writing contests?

(Image source #1 and #2)

5 thoughts on “3 Things I Learned From Entering Pitch Wars

  1. Everything moves you forward – so congratulations on getting another process going, and best wishes getting a mentor. If nothing else, it should be evident to agents how hard you work and how much thought you put into your writing.

    And learning to write shorter/tighter is not a bad side effect.


      • An excellent exercise is to take a chunk of writing – start with something someone else wrote – and keep paring it down by a chunk, and then compare the resulting paragraphs.

        You lose SOME detail in cutting, but in some cases not much – that’s what to aim for in your own writing. It’s a process that people who write like they speak (me – with qualifications and asides) need to practice.


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