It’s that most wonderful time of the year: PITCH WARS! It’s an awesome, amazing mentorship program designed by the incomparable Brenda Drake. Seriously, check out the site and become a part of this community.

I had the tremendous honor of being a Pitch Wars mentee in 2017 and it was incredible. I loved my mentor, Natalie Mae, loved the community and met some of my best writing friends during the competition. I had a blast during the agent showcase and it was just such a learning experience and one I’ll cherish. 

So in honor of Pitch Wars being right around the corner, I’m going to have a bit of a party here on the site and feature past mentees to share how they got ready for submission, revised, and survived this crazy lil’ thing called PW. 

Read on, friends!

Next up, Emily Paxman

Thanks so much for chatting with me today. Alright, let’s start from the beginning!Tell me about your Pitch Wars PRE experience. How did you find out about it,and what made you decide to enter? 

Pitchwars first came on my radar years ago, some time around 2014, I think? At the time, I was gradually starting to follow other writers on Twitter and get myself more into the online writing community and honestly, it did not take long for Pitchwars to appear in my search. At the time, I was in the middle of editing a manuscript that needed serious reworking on my own part, so I didn’t enter for the first few years I knew about it. I think my first time entering was in 2016, with a book that got zero requests from mentors. 

In 2017, I had a new book *almost* drafted. In many ways, I entered Pitchwars because it was a helpful deadline for finishing my first draft. (Note: I draft slowly and rework a lot as I go, so though it was a first draft, it was pretty clean, comparatively speaking.) I had been too busy having fun that summer, but then a week before the submission window closed, I realized I needed to get my butt in gear and just FINISH! I only looked at a handful of mentor profiles before hastily sending my book off. Time constraints being what they were, I didn’t have many other options. I did most of my mentor research on lunch break on my work computer, so arbitrarily, I only applied to mentors who didn’t use too many GIFs or crazy fonts because I didn’t want my passing co-workers to worry I was on an unsafe website. Not that I don’t love GIFs!

I know it can seem like a super long wait between submission window and actually seeing if you were chosen. How did you stay sane? 

Did I stay sane? Lol! I did a lot of email refreshing, for sure. I was lucky enough to get a couple of requests right away, as well as some detailed questions about my MS from Lianne Oelke, who would eventually become my mentor, so I had a sense that she was at least seriously considering me. But after the rush of getting requests and questions from Lianne on the first day, there was radio silence until the announcement two weeks later. Working full time helped. Going on adventures after work with my friends helped. Basically, I recommend just keeping yourself busy, whether with family or friends. I know some people jump immediately into writing something else, but I’d also just finished drafting a book, so it felt like a natural time for a quick break, and that proved to be the best survival strategy.

Once you were chosen, what happened from there? 

Once I was chosen, Lianne and I sent each other a lot of emails that read with things like AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH SO EXCITE!!!!!! Then she gave me some homework where I described character motivations, which eventually became how she pointed out that some of my characters required more motivation 😛 Eventually, her ginormous edit letter came and it was honestly a blast to read. Yes, there was a lot to work on, but she was also so encouraging with her love for my work. Plus, she mostly wanted me to ADD things. I’d never drafted short before, and it was exciting going through and fleshing things out rather than slaughtering darlings left, right and center.

After you got all your notes or phone calls from your mentor, what was your game plan? How did you take all of your mentors advice and boil it down into doable steps? 

I’m a pantser, and that influences how I revise too. Basically, I started at the beginning and chipped away. If I was unsure how something would fit in, I would write Lianne again and ask for her take. As we neared the submission date, we compiled everything into a Google Doc and Lianne went back over it, giving feedback and line edits as I added new material. I can’t thank her enough for how willing she was to look at things again, and how flexible she was with timing. I wasn’t in a position where I could be flexible, due to unforeseen circumstances. 

As the Pitchwars revision period was going on, I was dealing with some very stressful work situations. My work and I had been talking about cutting back my hours to part-time (something I had wanted for a while, to allow more writing time), but right as we were making those plans, a colleague of mine with cancer suddenly deteriorated. It was an emotionally brutal time, watching a friend I cared about deeply grow so ill, and since we shared the same position, I ended up needing to pick up more and more of her hours. I wasn’t as “there” as I’d hoped to be during Pitchwars, but Lianne never made me feel badly about it. She was a mentor, support and friend always. Eventually, we DID get everything done, right before the submission window, for which I’m grateful. 

The emotional exhaustion from the work stuff also meant that I wasn’t as involved in my Mentee class community at the beginning as I would have liked. I watched a lot of my fellow mentees commiserate and trade manuscripts, but I didn’t have the energy for any of it. When I finally reached the other side, I tried to make up for it by getting involved with the mentee group then, but I’ve always wondered what I missed out on in those early days. Some of them seem so tightly bonded, and I get a bit wistful, wondering if it’s because they shared that first experience in a way I couldn’t back then.

Alright! The fun/agonizing part! The agent showcase! How did that go for you and what did you do to pass the day? It can definitely be a whirlwind!

The Showcase was a bit underwhelming, honestly. I didn’t do too badly, getting 7 requests, but those all turned into rejections and Pitchwars IS the one occasion where 7 requests can feel like peanuts, seeing as some people were getting dozens. My entry was buried all the way back around post number 70, which I doubt helped. I talked to an agent afterwards who freely admitted she didn’t have time to read every one, so entries that were towards the back of the pack and didn’t already have a ton of requests on them weren’t likely to get read.

In general, I was so pleased to see the changes they made to the agent showcase in 2018. Hiding requests until the date of the reveal seemed to help share the love a bit more, as there were no tip-offs about which were the “hot” entries for the agents to see. I don’t begrudge any of the agents who didn’t read every entry, mind you! That’s a lot of entries! I mention it more because there were agents involved in Pitchwars who didn’t request then, but who I queried later and WERE interested, so if you don’t take the lack of a Pitchwars request as a rejection. They are not the same! Like most people who do the contest, the real value for me came in doing the revisions, and in growing my writing family through the mentee group. Yes, I didn’t get to participate as much as I would have liked in the beginning, but they were still there after the showcase, and every bit as willing to love and support me. Your Pitchwars class is just about the best part of the experience. I can’t overstate that.

The PW community is one of the best, most generous writing communities out there! I highly encourage everyone to enter and be a part of the community. How was your experience with all the writers in PW? 

DO IT DO IT DO IT!!! I live in an area that’s fairly small and isolated. I am quite literally on an island, so I’ve often had to turn to social media to find writing friends. Pitchwars is like the mother load for that. The first friend I made through Pitchwars came a couple years before I ever got in – we simply were people living in British Columbia, Canada who frequented the same hashtags on Twitter and joined into the same sorts of contests. I’ve since met her at a writing conference, and we’re now both Pitchwars Alums (though from different years). Of course, the absolute jackpot came when I got into Pitchwars and got a whole “class” of mentees to work with. We talk about everything. Plot, character, genre and why Americans don’t boil their water in kettles. But even if you don’t get in, be brave and go on the hashtag looking for critique partners! You never know what friends you might find.

Finally, what advice would you have for someone thinking of entering this year’s Pitch Wars? How can they best go about it, increase their chances of success, and overall have a great time participating? 

It’s my firm belief that your best bet for increasing success is to focus on the book and write the very best book you can. As someone who got in without doing most of the Twitter games or mentor obsessing, I feel strongly that THE most important aspect is the book. That being said, if you do have the extra time, by all means, participate online! It can be so much fun, plus you may get a better idea about who will be a good fit for you. I just don’t want someone to feel intimidated by the size of the community, or by the fact that maybe they’ve been struggling to finish a book right before the deadline. That was me. It doesn’t hurt to throw your hat in. Obviously, it helps to give them your best, polished work. But it also doesn’t hurt to “apply anyway” if that’s what you can do. 

If you don’t get in, you’ve lost nothing. It can feel that way, (believe me! I’ve been turned down from Pitchwars before too!), but this isn’t like getting rejected by an agent, where you might wonder if you should have waited and sent a better version. Since the contest comes once a year, if you’ve got a complete book, it’s worth shooting your shot, rather than waiting. There’s nothing to be gained having a perfectly “ready” book a month late. Get it into the best shape you can, then send it an hour before the sub window closes. Then, when results are coming in (both for who got in and for the Agent showcase), be humble and be grateful, regardless of the out come. Either way, you did it! You shot your shot. Insert Hamilton reference here.