So, You Want to Enter a Mentorship Program, Part 2: Choosing What’s Right For You

Previous post: Part I: The Programs

All mentorship posts: https://kay-s-beckett.com/mentorship/

First, a gentle reminder: There are many paths to publishing. A mentorship might be yours. It might not. But that’s okay. I promise, it’s okay. There are plenty of writers who applied to programs and were rejected only to get their agent and publishing deal through cold querying (including my PW mentor!). And just because you get into one of the programs, does not guarantee you an agent or publishing deal.

Again, being in a mentorship program DOES NOT GUARANTEE an agent and a publishing deal. This is something that I’m constantly reminding myself on my PW journey. There are PW mentees from past years that get agents and deals. But there’s also plenty who don’t get agents. Or if they do, it’s with their next project. Or they get agented, but their PW manuscript (MS) has no luck on subs and their next project does. There are some mentees who never get an agent, but decide to self-publish. There are many paths to publishing and a mentorship program is one of the many. It’s less of the Fast Pass (RIP) at Disney World, and more of the single-rider line. It might get you on the publishing ride sooner than waiting in the regular line, but does not guarantee you a faster wait time.

Finally, please remember that this is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or mentorship program.

With that out of the way, let’s get to how to know what programs and which mentors to apply to.

Not All Programs are Equal (And That’s Okay)

It can be really easy to fall into the mindset that, “I’m going to apply to all the programs, because one is better than none”. I’ve done it. You just want somebody to see the same potential in your MS that you do, and you don’t really care who it is.

Not only is this not the best attitude to have when trying to get published (re:schmagents) but it’s also not the best idea to have when applying for writing mentorship programs. They all offer different things. Some are mentored by editors. Others by agented/published authors. Some have agent showcases and others don’t. What they offer vary, as does the revision timeline. If you really want what’s best for yourself and your MS then you should think twice before clicking the ‘submit’ button.

Also, while my last post discussed the bigger, more well-known programs, always do your own research before submitting to any type of mentorship program. Know what you’re getting into, how reputable the mentors are, and rights status. That’s not say don’t ever submit, but do your research and ask your writing friends for feedback if you have your doubts. This goes for submitting your writing for any kind of consideration– mentorship programs, specific agents/agencies, publishers, contests, anthologies, etc.

Alright, you’ve done your research but still know for sure which program should enter or how many.

How to Choose a Program

Be Honest About Your Time Commitments

The programs with agent showcases require a quick revision turnaround that range between 2 – 4 months depending on the mentorship. Others, like AMM have no showcase and therefore are more flexible. If you have a lot going on your life– family, children, school, work, other commitments– completely rewriting your MS in under two months might not be doable. RevPit and Write Mentor usually take place over spring/summer, whereas Pitch Wars (at least the cycle I’m in) occurred over several holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Depending on your schedule, one time of year might work better for writing than another.

When applying it can be very easy to just think, ‘This is a long-shot, if I get in then time management is a problem for future me. Who care, I got in!’ I’ve done the same. But while PW might say you get three months, by the time you factor in getting your letter, completing your new outline based on the letter, you have closer to two months to get through at least two revisions and finalizing your showcase entry. And that’s not factoring in spending time researching agents at the showcase, updating your query and synopsis, waiting for your mentor to get back to you with notes for your next revision and dealing with any unexpected life events that might pop up and delay your schedule which will inevitable happen.

On the flip side, if you’re the type who needs a regimented schedule and deadline to write, then maybe the programs that offer an agent showcase with a tight deadline are the best for you.

Be Honest About What You’re Open to Change

The type and amount of revisions vary by MS, wordcount, age group, genre, mentor, mentee, etc. But if you think revisions will be quick and easy, just lightly sprucing up your MS before sending it off to an agent, you’re wrong. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but from my experience, all mentees have had to do major revisions of some type. A complete rewrite, cutting or adding characters/words/subplots, tweaking the climax, character motivation, and more.

If you are the type of person who doesn’t react to critical feedback well or there’s a lot of things in your MS that you refuse to change, then think twice of what you’re applying to. That’s not to say you can’t say ‘no’ to your mentor’s suggestions or that your mentor won’t be wrong– if you think this is the case reach out to fellow CPs/mentees– but keep your willingness to change things in mind.

When I got requests for fulls, I also got some basic questions to answer about my MS and one common was what I wouldn’t change, or what was the ‘heart’ of my book. My answers in early spring to RevPit/Write Mentor was a bit longer than Laura’s in PW. By fall I was at a healthy distance from my MS and knew it needed a lot of work, but didn’t know what, so there was only one thing I refused to change (my MC’s character arc). This is important for potential mentors to know and to be up front about. True, it might dissuade them from choosing you if what you refuse to change is on their list of things to do, but it could also force them go in a different direction with your MS or give them a better idea of the soul of your book.

If you’re asked for something similar, again, be honest. Don’t tell your mentor you’re good with whatever when in reality, you’re not. All you’ll be doing is wasting their time and yours. Some programs might be more up front about any intense revisions/changes than others. Pay attention to what they’re offering and how it might fit in your willingness to change.

Be Honest About Your Publishing Path

It’s entirely possible you have no idea about what path you’re on. You know you want to publish it, but don’t really know or care how, be it braving the query trenches to get an agent and then a deal, going straight to small presses, or even going the route of self-publishing. But if you do find yourself leaning more towards one way or the other, then you might take that into consideration when applying to a program.

If you want to go the more traditional approach of agent+publishing deal then definitely consider programs that feature agented/published authors as mentors. While they might only be required to give feedback on your MS, they should be able to provide feedback on your query and synopsis (which you’ll need while querying) along with giving valuable insight on how to navigate the query trenches and agent and publishing deals.

If you’re thinking about the self-publish route, then seriously consider RevPit or Rogue Mentor. Rogue Mentor is the only program I know of that includes self-published authors as mentors (although experience/success may vary). Self-publishing can have a bad reputation due to authors skimping on editors. If you want to smash that reputation and have your MS be taken seriously, then you will need a professional editor (CPs/betas can only do so much and even the best will miss things). A decent one will probably cost several hundred dollars if not a grand plus, depending on your MS length, package, and editor (like most things, you get what you pay for). RevPit is the only mentorship program that features editors who actually edit MSs for a living. If you’re selected in RevPit, you get a chance for your MS to be professionally edited for free. Even if you’re not selected, most editors go on to offer a slight discount to all those who submitted to RevPit. So even if you don’t win, if self-publishing is something you’re considering, then RevPit might make it easier to afford an editor (before paying for any editor and service, always do your research!).

If you’re thinking about going traditional, don’t be dissuaded from entering RevPit. General consensus seems to be you shouldn’t have to pay for an editor (your publishing house will do so) but getting a chance to have your MS professionally edited to get into the best shape possible before querying isn’t something you should pass up. Some of the editors are writers or have experience with traditional publishing that could be valuable as well.

How to Choose a Mentor

While there are things to consider when deciding if/which mentorship you should apply to, there’s a lot more that goes into picking a mentor. You might see the name of somebody you’d love to work with when the mentors are announced which is great– but only if they’re the best fit for your MS. Most programs only allow you to pick 2 – 4 possible mentors to apply to out of dozens. While there’s always the chance they could pass along your MS to another mentor they feel is a better fit, you should be focusing on the mentor that’s best for your MS, not which one you want to work with the most.

So how exactly do you know if a mentor is the best for you? Well…

First Consider Those Open to Your Age and Genre

One of the parts I love most about mentorship programs is when wishlists and mentor profiles are released and going through them all. The first thing I do is concentrate on only those open to my age group and genre. There’s no point in reading everything on their wishlists or favorite books and falling in love, only to discover they won’t even be mentoring my group.

Each mentorship website is a little different. Some have pages for each mentor, others links to their websites and info. There’s even a few in recent years that have included spreadsheets with all the mentors and their info. I usually start by opening up a tab for each mentor within my age group and category and begin narrowing it down from there. If a spreadsheet is offered, I’ll save a version for myself to edit in where I can add notes as I finalize my decision.

Look at Anti-Wishlist/What they Don’t Want (if Available)

So you’re looking at all the mentors available in your age group and genre. Surely the next step is to look at wishlists, right? Nope. Did you not read the heading? Next is looking at their anti-wishlists/what they don’t want. You do this for the same reason you look at their age groups and genres– don’t fall in love with a mentor only to discover your MS has something they don’t want.

What that might be varies among mentors and programs. The same goes for how flexible they are. Serious issues that warrant trigger warnings, like not wanting sexual assault depicted on the page, are usually hard no’s. Respect that and the mentor’s boundaries. They could also not want certain tropes or characters– like pirates– because it’s too close to what they’re working on/have worked on. They might need a break from a certain topic or don’t want to risk having your MS influence theirs. Again, respect it. It might also be a matter of personal choice, they could be tired/not enjoy certain tropes. Respect it. Being in a mentorship is about what’s best for your MS and if they don’t like major elements if your MS, then they’re not the best mentor for it.

I’ve seen mentors encourage potential mentees to DM them in regards to items on their anti-wishlist, seeing how firm there are or giving more info on how it’s presented. Feel free to do so if they put it out there you can. And if they say no, accept no. Don’t badger them, tell them your MS is great otherwise and you’re sure they’ll love it. Respect their boundaries. They’re giving up their own time and energy to be a mentor. Let them do so to an MS that’s right for them and not one they might hate.

Then Look at Wishlist

By this point hopefully you’ve been able to narrow just a little bit further. Now is when you look at the wishlist and see how many mentors are practically begging for your MS. If there’s really none that your MS seems to match, don’t worry. Wishlists ar just to give an idea of what a mentor is looking for, not requirements. Laura’s was rather broad and I still subbed and was picked by her.

Usually mentorship programs will have AMA sessions on Twitter where you can ask specific mentors if they’re interested in specific tropes, or they might be open to questions at any time. If so ask, but be respectful of their responses.

Consider Other (Mentorship Style, Offering, Favs)

Programs have different things they list for each mentor, but there’s usually something about a mentor’s mentorship style, what they’ll specifically offer (going beyond the basic requirements) and their favorite books/shows/movies/etc. It might be easy to skip over at first in favor of their wishlists. A mentor is a mentor, who cares about everything else?

You should. Again, it’s about getting the best mentor for your MS. If you’re choosing between your dream mentor and one that lists worldbuilding as a strength or what they love doing, and you know your MS just so happens to need some worldbuilding, then go with that mentor. If a mentor states something that you really want like video chats, go with that mentor. That’s not to say the others won’t do those things or aren’t good at worldbuilding, but the fact remains those mentors choose to call those out over ones who didn’t.

Favorites can be a good indicator of their taste and how similar or different it is to yours, and some might be things you can comp your MS to. When it comes to the ‘Dear X’ part of your query usually for programs you don’t have to personalize them and keep it generic like ‘Dear Editor’ or ‘Dear PROGRAM NAME’ but if you know a mentor has specific favorites you can comp your MS to, you could put those in your query. Don’t stress if you can’t do that, but if you can, it might help your query leap out from the others. Of course, it also means they might have high expectations, so if you comp to a favorite it better fit your MS.

Consider Experience

Similar to mentorships, not all mentors are created equal, and that’s okay. RevPit features editors, some of which are authors and some aren’t. For others like AMM, Write Mentor and Pitch Wars, they could be industry professionals (like junior agents/interns) or agented authors or published authors. Agented authors are authors who have agents but are still early in their writing journey, either working on revisions themselves or on submissions with publishers. But just because they might not have a publishing deal yet doesn’t mean you should discount them. They could have years in the industry, or experience with being a CP, editing MSs, or being a mentor. Pay attention to their background when deciding if they’re the right mentor for you and be honest about what your MS needs.

A published author might sound like– and even be a great mentor– but pay attention to their background as well. Do they have much experience mentoring? If all they’ve published are Adult thrillers but they’re open to YA fantasy or rom-coms, would they be the best fit for your MS? There might be something in their background indicating they have experience with that age group/genre, but there might not be. Again, do your research.

Also, if they are published, it’s okay if you haven’t heard of them or read their book. In these contests, there’s always some names I recognize and others I don’t. Publishing is such a wide field, it’s okay if you don’t know all the names. If you have time and access to their books to read them and get a sense of their style, strengths and weaknesses, that’s great. Use that knowledge and critical eye to judge if they’re the right mentor for you. But if you can’t, don’t stress over it. If you get selected you could read their books while waiting for your edit letter or in between revision feedback. Or not at all. Ideally, they shouldn’t have become a mentor to boost sales or readership, but because they wanted to give back to the writing community so don’t feel pressure to gush about their books with them at all during the mentorship.

Be Honest About Must Haves

It’s quite possible you still have quite the list at this point that needs to be narrowed down. So be honest about what you’re looking for in a mentor. My MC is ace, and while my MS is fantasy, real-life historical heroines influenced it. Therefore it was important to me to have a mentor that mentioned being open to an ace MC and/or not needing romance to be a major part of the MS, and listed historical among their genres or at least didn’t bluntly state they didn’t want historical.

But just because they don’t specifically call those things out, doesn’t mean you should discount them. Laura didn’t, but I got the vibe she was open to both from her wishlist. She had experience with writing historical fantasy so she clearly has a passion for it, and while she was open to romance it wasn’t a requirement– not like some of the other mentors who mentioned it on their wishlists.

You might have other requirements. Maybe you want a mentor who’s really into romance. Or specifies wanting queer or BIPOC stories. Or maybe there’s a certain aspect of a mentorship style or strength you really want– or they state they suck with pacing, and that’s where your MS has issues.

When going through mentors, being honest about your must haves, dealbreakers, and elements you’re more flexible on can help you narrow down many possible mentors to a few. (And prepare you for the query trenches and finding agents.)

Look at Social Media

I wouldn’t say this is as important as the others, but if you have time, are curious, and really need to whittle down your lists, social media is a good place to start. Browse their website, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else they have public links to. Social media can be a good place to learn more about their tastes, personality, and figure out if they’d be a good fit for you. Remember, it’s not about choosing the mentor you like the most and want to be bffs with (although that can factor into your decision) but is about the best fit for your MS and you. Social media might provide more clues confirming that yes, this is who I want to apply to, or could make you go, yeah, I don’t think it’d work out.

You don’t have to interact with them or even other mentors and the mentorship community at all. AMM, RevPit, Write Mentor, and Pitch Wars all have events for hopefuls including AMA for mentors, going over submission advice, or teasing info about your MS with other hopefuls and potential mentors. These can be great events to connect and make writing friends, but never feel like you have to interact. I’ve seen announcements featuring mentees who were heavily involved pre-announcements, and others with mentees who have no online presence. Personally, I’ve interacted with several hopeful communities in the past and saw no results. For the sake of my mental health during Pitch Wars I didn’t interact at all, thinking it’d lessen the sting of not getting in.

I’ve seen mentors say that some teasers have definitely raised their interest in a submission, but it wasn’t the deciding factor, or that they may have gone through a potential mentee’s posts in the days leading up to the announcements as exciting was building. I’ve also seen some admit they may have decided not to take on a mentee based on their posts, so be aware that when you post something publicly, everybody can see it. EVERYBODY.

Create Spreadsheet and Ranking System

After looking through all the profiles and gathering all the data your mentor list might still be too long. Now it’s time to organize that data and finalize your picks.

RevPit was nice in 2021 because they actually provided a spreadsheet which I copied and pasted in my own. Once I got it narrowed down to my top 4 – 6 editors I added in additional columns to note my must-haves, favorites that my MS were similar to, and other relevant data. I got very technical with it and assigned them point values for things like mentioning ace MCs, or history. I also added a column and points just for overall vibes/feelings they gave me. Then I totaled them up and sorted, and the ones with the highest point totals were the ones I submitted to.

You could do something similar with a spreadsheet. You could also change how things are weighted (being open to high fantasy weighs more than their favorites list) or take away points based on certain criteria. It’s your spreadsheet, your MS, nobody has to know your criteria for picking a mentor.

When it came to Pitch Wars I was not that ambitious. I did my usual thing of narrowing it down and I had like 6 – 8 possible mentors. Rather than the points system I kept reading their wishlists and mentoring style and just reordered my open tabs and applied to the top four. Laura was either 1 or 2 because of the general vibe of her page and website. She just seemed so down to earth and enjoyable I could see myself working with you.

Discuss with Writing Friends

If the spreadsheet method doesn’t appeal to you or your still having issues narrowing down mentors, talk things through with your writing friends. They might be able to point out things you overlooked or need to take into consideration. They might also have heard things about the mentor or their work that would make them the perfect mentor for you, or not the right fit.

Leave it to Chance

If you still can’t narrow down your mentors, you could always let chance decide. Flip a coin. Pull names from a hat. Ask a Magic 8 Ball. Do a Tarot reading. Assign them random numbers. Decide based on some random variable. Randomly select on the application. Crude yes, but at least you’ve completed your application. Don’t let your indecision prevent you from experiencing life.

Sharing is Caring and it Can be Stressful

Mentors can share submissions behind the scenes with those they think might be better suited or if they’re really rooting for a project to find a home. Usually there’s a question on the form you can check stating you’d be alright with it, or you’ll be contacted by the program asking permission to share with another mentor. Based on your notes, if you’re okay with the mentor, you can say yes but you can also say no. Keep in mind that just because they ask to share doesn’t mean you’re automatically guaranteed a mentor. The new potential mentor might decide its not right for them, or they don’t have thoughts on how to improve it, or there’s a better submission for them.

And ultimately…

For Mentors, it’s not About the Best MS

From a mentee perspective, it’s about what mentor is the best fit for your MS. Leading up to submission you want to polish your MS as best as possible and submit to a mentor who’ll love it and can help polish it even further. From a mentor perspective, it’s not always about the MS they fall in love with. They could truly love a MS, but if they feel there’s nothing they can help with– maybe it’s query ready or needs work outside their specialty– they’ll decline. Or maybe they don’t feel they can do so within the time frame, or just can’t connect with the MS.

This has no bearing on you as a writer or on your MS. Sometimes mentors might reach out if they have suggestions or explain why they had to pass, but they’re not obligated to do so. All you can do is do your research ahead of time and know you gave your MS its best chance at the right mentor for it.

Next post: Preparing Your Submission

Pitch Wars: First Round Revisions

Previous Posts:

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part I (my entire journey leading to Pitch Wars).

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part II (specific to Pitch Wars)

On Mentorship:

Unagented Writing Mentorship Programs Google Doc

So, You Want to Enter a Mentorship, Part I: The Programs

A brief reminder… This is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or their board. If you have no idea what Pitch Wars is, I just you check out one of my previous posts. A basic recap of those posts is that I was chosen by Laura E. Weymouth as her Pitch Wars 2021 Mentee and in November 2021, was waiting for my edit letter. This post will cover the time period from getting my first edit letter to submitting both halves of my first revision. While it does cover my journey, I’ve also included writing tips for writing mentorship hopefuls (be they Pitch Wars or other similar programs) sprinkled throughout.

Mentee Tip # 1: DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER MENTEES

First off, the edit letter isn’t really a letter, at least in the traditional sense, something I had to explain to my husband who expressed disappointment the first week when it didn’t appear in the mail. In my case, it was an email with some general notes. From what I’ve gathered, they vary depending on the mentee/mentor and MS needs. They could be general notes like mine or line comments on the entire MS. Like I said, it depends. Also depending was the wait for it to arrive. Some mentors had their letters ready to go, other took the full week leading to the deadline. During that time, some assigned their mentees craft books to read, creating a reverse outline, or other tasks to help with their MS.

While waiting, I learned probably the most important lesson that has served me well during PW, which is, don’t compare yourself to other mentees. It can be disheartening to see mentees already chatting about their revisions less than 24 hours after announcements. BUT, it’s important to remember that not all MSs are equal. They vary in age range and word count. An edit letter for an MG Contemporary will be different than one for an Adult Fantasy. They also vary by revisions needed. Some MSs only need some light editing. Others, complete rewrites. Comparing yourself to other mentees who have different needs than you is exhausting and can lead to Imposter Syndrome, although the temptation begins early on.

So about that edit letter…

Mentee Tip #2: You Don’t Have to Accept Everything From the Edit Letter (Although you Should Give Everything Consideration)

I had roughly five things to work on. Some I had expected based on previous feedback. Some I did not. Some were easy fixes. Others required more thought. There were a few things that almost made me go ‘no’ outright because they would retcon established canon in my previous MS set in the same world.

Then I realized that saying ‘no’ because of canon that only existed in an unpublished MS was an absurd reason to turn the suggestion down. I spent quite a bit giving it serious thought, how it would play out in this MS and how I could pull it off in the other, should I ever go back to it. I did come up with a way to make it work in the previous MS, but ultimately felt that it’d create more issues in my current MS when I already had enough going on.

In my initial response, I explained all of that, including the background with my previous MS (probably more than I should’ve to be honest), and reasoning for accepting/not accepting her suggestions, which Laura was completely fine with. Ultimately, it’s my MS and my vision. Ideally, if you’re ever in a mentorship program (or have an agent) you do have a right to say no to suggestions. But, you should still give them some serious consideration. For all you know, that one crazy suggestion might be just what your MS needs.

On the flip side, just because you can say no, doesn’t mean you should say no to all of your mentor suggestions. If you think a mentorship is nothing but being patted on the back hearing ‘well done’ while maybe rearranging a few commas before snagging an agent, then mentorship is not for you. Mentors don’t only choose MSs they love– that is part of it– but also ones they have a vision for to help and which can be done within the allotted amount of time (in PW case, under three months). If your MS isn’t in need of some TLC, then it most likely won’t be chosen. If you go into any mentorship with the mindset that it’s perfect as is, dismissing every single suggestion or have issues taking critical feedback, then you’re wasting your mentor’s time and your own.

If you do have issues with the feedback and think it’s wrong, run it past your beta/CPs or fellow mentees. They’ll let you know whether it sounds sensible or if maybe the issue is actually that you and your mentor aren’t good fits. It’s generally a good idea to take a day or so to reflect on feedback– be or good or bad– before reacting to it. Sometimes things don’t seem as much of a big deal the day after as they did in the moment.

As I stated, there were things that I was blinded to, but were easy fixes. Others were just suggestions that I could take or not. The biggest though was a complete rewrite of the first half. The first five chapters would remain the same and I could still reuse some dialogue and scenes in certain parts, but based on Laura’s feedback, I was going to be working towards a brand new midpoint.

Mentee Tip #3: It’s YOUR Story

I don’t know if it was the case for all mentors, but generally, most mentees created a new outline based on their edit letter. I did the same, just focusing on the new chapters of the first half. I probably responded sooner than I should’ve (within a day of my initial response) but Laura’s suggestions really got my creative juices flowing and I wanted to get started on the revisions ASAP.

I actually sent two outlines. The first was more general, suggesting several different ways a situation could go to get the MC from Point A to Point B, with various pros/cons, and where the story could lead. Laura responded (and rightfully so) that ultimately it was my story and she couldn’t tell me what to do– although that’s what I really wanted in the moment. Because I couldn’t screw up my MS if she told me what options to go with, right?

Except that if I wrote what she told me, it wouldn’t be my story, it’d be hers. Mentors are supposed to guide you to the best writing path for you, not drag or push you reluctantly down it. Even while writing the first outline, I knew what options I was hoping she’d tell me were the ‘right’ ones. They felt like a better fit for the story and I was getting exciting imaging writing them. After her initial feedback, I sent her a new outline with no different scenarios, just everything laid out chapter by chapter. It was word vomit heavy in some places. Not just detailing the main action in the chapter, but giving some insight into certain character’s motivations/thoughts my MC couldn’t know at the time, but I should know. There was also room for improvising (which did end up happening). Laura approved my new outline, and I was ready to go.

Or so I thought.

Mentee Tip #4: Know Your Writing Style

Some writers can churn out several thousands words each day no sweat. Some need sprints to get them through. Some work best in coffee shops or book stores. Others in their secret writing nook. Some are early morning risers while others are night owls. There is no right way to write, all that matters is that you know what way works best for you.

In my case, I need deadlines. If it wasn’t for Author Mentor Match (AMM) or RevPit last spring, I never would have pushed through my first draft and revisions. I need some kind of goal to work towards, otherwise I’ll just float around editing the same chapter over and over again because I hate drafting new words. You’d think that the submission date for the showcase (January 28th) would be enough if a deadline, but it wasn’t in mid-November. That was over two months away. Plenty of time to do everything.

Too much time to do everything. So I gave myself an original deadline of December 7th. Laura said she supported me, but it’d be okay if I missed it, there was still plenty of time. I responded by basically stating deadlines help me concentrate and that I knew I’d probably need to adjust it and would let her know.

In the end, she was right. It did need adjusting. But not for a reason either of us could have guessed.

Pitch Wars Tip #5: It’s Okay to Take a Break

The first few chapters were light revisions, so I breezed through them. The next few chapters took a little longer because they were completely new material, but I got through them. It was the following chapters, which were also new, where I lost about a week. The night before Thanksgiving my dad got admitted to the hospital and was nearly there for a week. Being a major holiday (not to mention COVID crisis) they were running on a skeleton crew which meant waiting on tests and results. What was originally thought be gout, turned into a blood infection diagnosis, and finally a staph infection. During that time it was nearly impossible to manage his pain, he was having breathing attacks, and there were concerns about his other health issues. My mom, who sounded a little more exhausted with each phone call, called me every night with updates. And every night I expected the call to begin with, “You need to get here, NOW!” That’s how serious things were.

During that week, I tried writing, but at most I might have written a sentence a day. My mind was elsewhere. Maybe other writers could have pushed through. Maybe I would’ve made more progress if it was nothing but light revisions. But I couldn’t.

Thankfully Laura understood when I sent my weekly update, explaining what was going on. She wished my family the best and said since the revisions would take longer than expected (in the end, I didn’t send until Christmas Eve) she’d combine line edits into my first round of revisions.

Her understanding and compassion helped a lot during those days. Eventually they diagnosed my dad, found an antibiotic he responded to, and released him. Over a month later he’s doing better, having finished his antibiotics and doing physical therapy, and fingers crossed nothing changes.

Mentee Tip #6: You Won’t Be the Worst Mentee Ever

Once my dad was feeling better, I thought I’d easily get back to writing. i did get a few more new chapters written, but it felt like I wasn’t making any progress. Remember Mentee Tip #1, Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Mentees? Guess what I did during that time. And guess what reared it’s ugly head.

Imposter Syndrome struck hard. Other mentees would post updates on making it to their second revisions or through X amount of their MS, while I wasn’t even with the first half of the first revision. I did have fears of going down as the worst mentee ever, being unable to complete my first revision, and disappointing Laura. There were over 4,000 hopeful writers who submitted to Pitch Wars, and who knows how many applied to Laura. Any one of them would love to have my place. How dare I struggle with something any one of them could do. There were a lot of thoughts like that. Along with feelings of guilt over taking the opportunity from someone who could’ve done better than me.

What got me through it was sharing my feelings with Laura and the other mentees. Laura assured me there was still time to get everything done. The other mentees shared that some of them were feeling the same way. I wasn’t the only one who was struggling with my first revisions, or feeling unworthy of being in PW or guilt at the feelings I was having. Just knowing I wasn’t alone, made me realize I wasn’t the worst mentee ever and helped me push through those harder chapters.

Once I got to some of the later ones, things began to go more smoothly and I was able to send the first half on December 24th. I did take a few days off from writing, mostly after completing one big chunk to work on Christmas presents or baking. Part of me did feel bad for taking those days off, but I needed them to recharge. Just like the few days I took off in between revisions.

Mentee Tip #7: It doesn’t have to be Perfect

The second half went so much faster than the first as it was really just some light editing. I got through it just under a week, sending it on January 2nd, 2022 after beginning December 27th. Stats wise, I wrote approximately 31,000 new words (nearly a third of my MS) during my first revision, and 24,000 words (78%) were in the first half I struggled through.

Besides just struggling with writing new material, there was also the struggle not to constantly edit it. After spending the past year working in a somewhat polished MS, it was hard not to grimace at all the new material. There were crutch words, lack of descriptions, vague details, dates needing fixing, new chapter names chosen– so many things that made me squirm and not want to send it to Laura. It felt weak compared to the material I was keeping. But the thing about that kept material is that it’d been edited several times so of course it felt stronger. I had time, but not enough to spend a month tweaking the new words. That’s what my second pass was for. Accepting that those 31,000 new words wouldn’t be perfect was a mini-challenge, but once I did (and kept reminded myself) I felt more confident continuing my writing and sending it to Laura.

As of finishing this post, I have yet to hear back on my first revisions, but should within the next few days. The wait is on-par and maybe worse than that for the edit letter. This time I know she’s sending comments on every scene and line. Yeah she loved my outline, but what if she hates my execution? What if I made things worse, or didn’t live up to the new outline’s promise?

Realistically Laura has been great so far and I don’t seeing her being really harsh.

Next post: 2nd round revisions, Pitch Wars takeover, and tackling my showcase pitch, new query and synopsis

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part I

I’ve been going back and forth over when I should post here on my Pitch Wars acceptance. I’m a very private person and really don’t like to share anything until I have NEWS. So was it too soon to post anything, before I even got my edit letter? Should I wait until after the showcase? After I (fingers crossed) get an agent and publishing deal? Next year as the submission window for Pitch Wars 2022 was underway? When I have 10 best sellers under my belt, aka, never (most likely, stranger things have happened)?

Ultimately I decided on just chronicling my experience with Pitch Wars and sharing what I can. I’ve always found such blogs/posts helpful when deciding if I should enter such mentorship programs, so maybe I can give somebody else the nudge they need to enter (and hopefully win) or just shed more insight in the process and the work required as a mentee. I’ll be writing these in the moment, but then posting once I’ve moved onto the next step. For example, this was mostly written pre-edit letter, but posted after revisions part I.

Please remember that this is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or their board. To kick my Pitch Wars Journey off, I’d thought I’d begin with my journey to Pitch Wars itself and the manuscript (MS) I submitted.

Like most writer journeys, it was not smooth and quick, but bumpy and full of blind curves, dead ends, and one that I honestly was beginning to think went nowhere (and it still might). But, as the old tired phrase goes, writing is a marathon, not a race. So despite the many obstacles, detours, and feeling like I was forever stuck to the slow lane, I continued on my journey which eventually led to Pitch Wars.

The Early Years

If you read the profile/background of a lot of authors you’ll see stuff about how they’ve always had a love of reading and been writing from a young age. Same. The first book I can remember writing was in the first grade. It got me to my state’s Young Author Conference. The only thing I remember from the experience being served McDonald’s for lunch. More books, well, attempts, followed. I was an editor for my school newspaper and even got a few articles published in my local newspaper.

But as college approached, my writing fizzled. Despite my dozen attempts at an original story I never got more than a few pages. While I did love reading and writing, I also loved science and math. They challenged me more than my Lit classes did. Also there was something appealing about being one of the few woman in a male-dominated field. So I stopped reading (at my height I could easily read a book from the school library before the end of the day) and writing. Until at my friend’s urging I began writing fanfiction for a book series we both liked.

While I prefer some of my early work to remain buried, fanfiction did teach me a lot about how to complete a story and create original characters. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. After a year of fanfiction, I began attempting to write original fiction and eventually did NaNoWriMo for the first time. Writing 50,000 words was a struggle, and the story is in desperate need of editing before ever being ready to share, but I had finally managed to complete an original story for the first time since first grade. Go me. It also led to a few more NaNos with varying levels of success.

2016

2016 was important to my writing journey in that it introduced me to a hobby that would greatly define and influence my Pitch Wars MS. I’ve crocheted for years, but that was pretty much all the needlework I did. In 2016 I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding and we were given those cute little pouches with ‘Bridesmaid’ embroidered on them. I liked it, but thought it was a shame the black fabric didn’t really match our dresses. A month later I was engaged and knew I wanted to give matching zippered pouches to my bridesmaids. When I couldn’t find anything online, I decided that I’d just make them.

Keep in mind I had no idea how to sew. At all. So I took a class. One in which I was terrified the entire time of the sewing machine– either hurting myself or breaking the machine. But it went okay. Enough so here I am four years later with two sewing machines of my own (one is more for quilting).

Sitting on a wooden chair is a square pillow with light blue flowers. Slightly seen around the edges is the back of the pillow, a dark blue paisley print
Behold, my first ever sewing project: a square pillow that started it all

And one class soon turned into a dozen as I progressed from making pillowcases to those zippered pouches, and eventually even quilts.

Four light blue zippered pouches lying on top of another, on a tan background which is really just a couch cushion. They measure roughly five by seven inches with dark blue thread running diagonally creating one inch squares for textures and have dark blue zippers. In the lower left corner is a large silver sparkly initial in cursive which was ironed on. From left to right: T, L, K, and J.
All those lessons for these four zippered patterns, some of which are still used by their owner.

2017 – 2019

In August 2017 there was a solar eclipse and I just so happened to I live smack dab in the path.

Blurry photo of a solar eclipse taken from a cell phone. Mostly gray at bottom, darkening at the top. In the middle of the top of the photo is the sun, quite blurry, but the moon can be seen in the lower left slowly crossing with a ring of light around it. Or so the author hopes...
As it turns out, the camera on your cell phone is not the best to take pictures of an eclipse. Lesson learned for 2024.

About a week after the eclipse, I was trying to brainstorm my next project. The eclipse had just occurred, so why not incorporate my personal experience? It also lent itself nicely to some sort of fantasy story, with a solar eclipse playing a huge role. From there my brainstorming tried to include every fantasy cliché and trope imaginable to make the most ridiculous story ever. A prophecy. Chosen One. Magical MacGuffins. Old wizard mentor. His evil counterpart. An epic battle. But what started as a crack story quickly turned serious as I begin developing the characters, world, and even themes and truly exploring a world in which magic is outlawed and the implications, fuller than Disney Descendants ever did. It was a proper story. One that took me over a year to write (to be fair, I did take time off in 2018 to plan and make decorations for my book-themed wedding which is another post of its own).

By Fall 2018, I was getting into Booktube and Authortube and learned about Author Mentor Match (AMM). That MS was the first quality(ish) one I had ever completed and that I wanted to be published. Actually allowed myself to have dreams of being published. It was going to change the industry, I just knew it (spoiler, I was wrong). And Author Mentor Match seemed like the perfect place to start. So I wrote my first query and synopsis letter ever and sent it off just waiting for the requests.

They never came. Neither did ones from RevPit or Write Mentor. Which, looking back, is not much of a surprise. My first query letter was a mess, extremely bloated and named like five characters and locations. It was also trying to cram in two MCs/two timelines and that’s not even touching how messy the MS and first chapter was.

But I’m still glad I submitted. It introduced me to the writing community on Twitter. I made writing friends, swapped critiques, joined writing forums on Discord. If it hadn’t been for that initial experience I probably would’ve never submitted my MS to Pitch Wars. After the rejection, I got a CP and tried to implement her feedback. It was good, but ultimately I realized the major issue with the MS was that it was several stories in one, needed a narrator, and I had no idea how to do it. So I shelved it and took a break.

Because I needed a break from writing, I focused on other aspects of my life such as passing the Professional Engineering Exam (PE) in order to get my civil engineering license. It’s a national exam currently offered twice a year and is eight hours long with a total of 80 questions– 40 in the four-hour general morning session, and 40 in the four-hour specialized afternoon session. I had failed it my first time, and spent my entire summer studying to ensure I wouldn’t fail it again (and I didn’t! I’ve officially been licensed since January 2020). But during all that time studying, I still needed breaks, and gradually my mind went back to writing. I bounced around between different projects, different genres, until two little plot bunnies came along.

Fall 2019

The first, was wanting a story that actually portrayed traditional female skills such as embroidery, sewing, quilting, crocheting, etc. in a positive light. So many heroines tend to equate those skills with weakness. They’re not like other girls, because they prefer a sword to a needle. Some of those characters I love. But do those characters not question where their clothes come from or know how to fix their inevitable holes? Saddle and bridle for their horse? How about the belt holding their scabbard? Sewing by hand isn’t easy, it’s a strain on one’s eyes and fingers, and that’s not even touching some of the complex and intricate patterns and designs women would make. I wanted a book that celebrated those skills while taking advantage of everybody who dismissed them.

Image of a quilt. At first glance it appears like alternating black and white squares, with a small one at the middle and growing outwards. However, the strips making up the squares are actually small pieces of fabric artfully arranged by color in smaller squares to make up the larger ones.
Look at this beauty. From my 2019 trip to the Smithsonian and their exhibit: Everyday Luxury: Silk Quits From the National Collection. Technically about 100 years later than my MS setting, but the majority of surviving fabrics from that time are well to do clothes that were seldom worn and not quilts which saw heavy use.
In the background, a small corner of the above quilt and a placard explaining the quilt's origins: “Log Cabin” Parlor Throw, 1870 – 1890. Marian Frick (1829 – 1908) Pennsylvania. Pierced silk top, cotton filling and backing. Marian Frick was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, and lived all her life in the vicinity. Frick worked as a dressmaker; this vibrant “barn raising” variation Log Cabin quilt displays her skills in both needlework and design. The quilt includes dress fabrics popular in the 1870s and 1880s, probably scraps from clothes she made for her clients and herself.
In small print hard to see, indicates it was a gift of a Mrs. (name too small to make out in picture).
Specific info on the above quilt: “Log Cabin” Parlor Throw, 1870 – 1890. Marian Frick (1829 – 1908) Pennsylvania. Pierced silk top, cotton filling and backing. Marian Frick was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, and lived all her life in the vicinity. Frick worked as a dressmaker; this vibrant “barn raising” variation Log Cabin quilt displays her skills in both needlework and design. The quilt includes dress fabrics popular in the 1870s and 1880s, probably scraps from clothes she made for her clients and herself.
In small print hard to see, indicates it was a gift of a Mrs. (name too small to make out in picture)..

I also wanted a book where the MC wasn’t the Chosen One, had no magic, and was just a background character in a much larger world. I had just written a book with those things, and I wanted something different. An introverted girl who’d rather be left alone, but uses her skills to save the day. Somehow. Beyond that I didn’t have much. Well, other than a world and background already created from my shelved MS.

So I researched. The idea of her being a spy took root pretty early, as I’d often had the idea of how easy it would be to hide something in a quilting project, or turn crochet into code. I began with one of those basic articles about women/spies in history which soon led me down a rabbit hole. I read books on women from the American Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II. All of which quickly shaped the plot and characters in my PW MS. I also tore through every book I could get on fabric from the 1700’s, fashion, and daily life as Colonial America/Georgian England was the setting for my MS. Maybe someday I’ll create a post with all my references.

For the plot, there was an event which was referenced and occurred between the two timelines, but the details were vague. It also worked perfectly for the main conflict and gave me a chance to further flesh out the world. I got to about Chapter 6 when I realized I needed to restructure my story as the inciting incident was happening far too late. So Chapter 3 became Chapter 1, and after reshuffling a few things, I continued working.

Spring 2020

Until Covid. March 2020 my writing came to a halt. Like so many others, I just didn’t feel like writing .There was too much going on in the world. I needed a break. AMM, RevPit, WM were clearly not an option. I distracted myself with more research. Started my Master’s. Participated in Writer in Motion, which if you’re interested, can find all my posts here discussing WIM.

It really wasn’t until Fall 2020 did I finally get back into writing and figured out how to balance it and my classes. With all the political upheaval at the time, and really for the past four years in America, writing was an outlet for all my feelings that I could channel through my MC. AMM, RevPit, and Write Mentor were in the spring, and I used those as a deadline to get my MS into shape. I found a great beta, who’s been more of a CP, through a Twitter match event. Not only did she give amazing feedback and suggestions, she also patiently waited for the last half of my MS which was still very much a WIP. The genuine interest and encouragement from her pushed me to completing my MS at last.

Spring 2021

For AMM, I didn’t any requests. I took the time between AMM and RevPit to rewrite my beginning and climax based on my CP’s comments. The version I had post AMM was much stronger than the one before. So much so I had requests from both of my RevPit editors and from Write Mentor.

It was insane. While I had hoped, I didn’t think I would get any interest, but I had gotten three requests! I was so excited and anxious over the next few weeks, I actually kept a small diary in my Scrivener MS file to get my feelings down. I began daydreaming of the announcement day. Of working with an editor/author. Of getting an agent and a publishing deal, and–

And nothing. Nothing from RevPit. Nothing from Write Mentor a week later. It hurt. A lot. One of my journal entries basically stated I wished I hadn’t had any requests. No requests meant I wouldn’t have spent all those weeks stressing and hoping for something that wouldn’t be. No daydreams. No hurt. Imposter Syndrome struck and I questioned whether or not my MS was good enough to continue. Some of the winners I knew, and while I was happy for them, I was also disappointed I wouldn’t get to be right there with them as a fellow winner.

To do something, I did a light editing again. And again. Figuring my query and first pages were decent based on the fact I did get some requests from the contests, I decided to do PitMad. Maybe some agent out there would say yes. One is all it takes after all, and I did get some nibbles. While waiting on responses, I put some distance between myself and that MS. I wrote a short story for an anthology and came really close to acceptance, but ultimately was rejected. I bounced around between projects again. And then September was fast approaching and with it, Pitch Wars.

Next Post: Pitch Wars: The Long Journey Part II (where I actually discuss Pitch Wars)

Take Two

So… it’s been a while. Not that anybody probably noticed other than spammers. And not just a little while, but a full year in which I haven’t posted anything. Part of which was due to studying for several professional exams, followed by the holidays, and then a family vacation and wedding. Just when I was finally getting ready to back to this blog, COVID-19 struck.

Up until March, COVID seemed like a far away thing. Sure I was aware of it when I flew in February, but it was confined to incoming travelers from Europe and other places so I wasn’t too concerned. Then March came in and things got crazy.

As stay at home and quarantine orders started to roll out, I remember going to the store and waiting 20 minutes in line to check out as people were stocking up on food, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes, and more. The atmosphere reminded me of a bad winter storm approaching and everybody panicking and trying to stock up on supplies. It was eerie, and will stick with me. On St. Patrick’s Day, I was sent to work from home and have been doing so ever since.

The weeks that followed I didn’t have much interest or passion for writing. I was still on edge and nervous. Every time I coughed I wondered if it was a symptom of something else. Every time I heard new numbers on the news, I thought of my dad who has to take medication to live, but lowers his immune system, putting him at risk. I even started trying to cut back my snacking just in case there was a food shortage.

Then George Floyd was killed and Black Lives Matter exploded and all I could do was watch as history continued to unfold. My WIP seemed so insignificant to the world around me. Make no mistake, 2020 will go down in history as a year of change and be studied and analyzed for decades to come.

In the meantime I worked on creating a craft/sewing space in a spare bedroom, got addicted to Animal Crossing New Horizons, and started on my Master’s. Gradually I adjusted to the new normal and got my writing groove back. I joined Camp RevPit (go hedgehogs!) and got an editor spot for Writer In Motion. I also started the Plot Exchange which is a Google spreadsheet full of plot ideas for writers and has a form allowing writers to submit any plots they don’t have the background, time, etc. to write.

For the remainder of this year, I want this blog to focus on three areas important to me: writing, engineering, and sewing/quilting. Each one has a different goal:

Writing: Gear up and complete Writer In Motion.

Engineering: Post PE studying guide.

Sewing/Quilting: Blog as I make my mom’s quilt Christmas present.

And finish editing my WIP so I can move onto betas and writing contests in the spring. That’s it for now. May the remaining months of 2020 be better than the rest, and stay safe.

Kay S. Beckett

Why You Should Include a Holiday in Your Novel

December is here, which means spiced pumpkin flavored goods have been exchanged for hot cocoa and peppermint. The days are growing shorter and darker, and traffic is becoming more chaotic as everyone tries to squeeze in their last minute holiday shopping. As crazy as it may be at times, December is also a time for family, friends, to say goodbye to the old year and hello to a new, and hopefully better year.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, no holiday, or a different one completely, if you’re having plot issues with your novel you should consider adding a holiday to it. You can go beyond the traditional holidays found in December, writing about Easter, Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, April Fool’s Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, or whatever holiday is close to either you or the characters in your novel. Below are a list of some of the reasons why you should include a holiday, and how you can incorporate into your story.

Holidays Can Provide Background on the World

If you’re writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, than odds are you’ve had to do some serious world-building. You need to convey certain information to the reader so they can better understand the world and plot, but have to do so in a way that avoids having large amounts of exposition or info dumping. Holidays provide a great way to do that.

No matter the holiday, certain traditions are always involved or associated with that holiday. Things like food, colors, symbols, activities, and even religious practices. By showing how the characters observe a holiday, a reader can learn more about their culture, beliefs, value system, and even more about the character themselves. Character A could be really excited about the holiday, while Character B doesn’t really care— and they might have their own reasons, which could be foreshadowing a bigger event.

Think of the Hunger Games which opens with the reaping. It might not be a holiday by our normal definition, but it is an annual event that is observed by everybody in Panem, with major implications. By reading about how Katniss goes about her day and what happens during the reaping, the reader learns about the world’s history and what’s at stake for the characters without it being a complete info dump.

Holidays Can Help With Character Growth

Usually people spend holidays with family, sometimes only seeing them at a certain holiday which can lead to interesting situations and reveals. How a person relates to their family, whether they’re close and looking eager to the reunion or wants to avoid it, can be interesting subplots to explore, and possibly explain a character’s actions so far, or foreshadow how they’ll react to future events.

They could also stumble upon some long hidden family secret or receive a gift that will come in handy later (think Hagrid’s flute or Harry’s invisibility cloak, both of which were received as Christmas presents).

Or maybe their lack of celebrating or returning home can be an opportunity for growth as well. Maybe it’s revealed that they have no family (by situation or choice) to celebrate with, so they either stick to themselves or spend time with friends, who they consider family. Perhaps they got stuck working, or just don’t celebrate the holiday period. Holidays don’t have to be spent in the traditional way, and could still serve as an opportunity for growth.

Holidays Can Kick Off the Plot

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to start your novel, consider adding a holiday. The beginning could be a catalyst for events, or just serve as a background for the rest of the novel. Character A could be expecting a fancy meal or engagement on Valentine’s Day, only to break-up and start on a journey of self-discovery. Character B could return home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, only thanks to a drunken relative discover they’re not really family at all, or an equally unknown, but devastating family secret.

This could also double up with the world-building example. When does the reaping first appear in the Hunger Games? Towards the beginning, not only providing readers with context and background knowledge on the world, but kicking off the plot as well.

Holidays Can Provide a Lull

Sometimes after a big reveal or action scene you need a breather and holidays can certainly provide that. They’re typically times of relaxation, spent in locations where one feels safe and with people one loves. If a character has just gone through some major change or action, they might need a break (as well as the reader) from the plot and having a holiday is a natural excuse for doing just that.

Of course, you could always pull a bait and switch. Just as your characters and the readers think things are calming down, BAM! Unexpected twist or action. Dear old sweet granny isn’t as sweet as you think, or just when your characters think they’re safe, the plot shows up at the front door, not even bothering to knock politely, but kicking it down instead.

Holidays Can Set Up the Climax

The novel could also be working or leading to a major event as well, which also doubles as a backdrop for the climax. Throughout the novel, preparations have begun, decorations must be bought or put up, but it’s in the background and seems minor. Then as the plot begins to accelerate, the holiday suddenly takes center stage. Some holidays involve large public gatherings (parades, New Year Eve Countdown, Easter and Christmas mass) which would be the perfect target for an evil doer up to no good, and the heroes must stop them and save the event. Or perhaps they’re using the event as a distraction for their true plot, using a mob of people as the perfect getaway, or Santa’s sack to make off with their ill-gotten goods.

You can make it obvious that the big holiday or festival event is the setting of your big climax, or try your best to conceal your plot (but don’t forget to include a few bits of foreshadowing so it won’t seem like it’s coming out of nowhere). Either way, using a holiday as your climax could be an interesting ending for your novel.

That’s all for now, stay tuned for my next post which will focus on creating your own holiday for a fantasy or science fiction story.

— Kay S. Beckett

Final Thoughts Before Showcase & Managing Expectation


Previous Posts:

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part I

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part II

Pitch Wars: First Round Revisions

Pitch Wars: 2nd Round Revisions, Instagram, Preparing for Showcase

Pitch Wars: Final Revisions and Agent List

On Mentorship:

Unagented Writing Mentorship Programs Google Doc

So, You Want to Enter a Mentorship, Part I: The Programs

A brief reminder… This is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or their board. If you have no idea what Pitch Wars is, I just you check out one of my previous posts. A basic recap of those posts is that I was chosen by Laura E. Weymouth as her Pitch Wars 2021 Mentee.

T’was the night before the Pitch Wars showcase, and the scent of waffles had finally dissipated from the kitchen.

At least for Young Adult. Adult and Middle Grade have already dropped and they’re all awesome. You should go read: https://showcase.pitchwars.org/

I thought I wouldn’t be nervous in the lead up. Yet on Tuesday, the eve of the showcase, I had a minor freak-out over something not showcase-related. I’m better now, but it made me realize I wasn’t as nerve-free as I thought. Tonight I’m just anxious for it all to be over with. It’s been a blast cheering on my fellow mentees as they celebrated requests, but I’m ready to celebrate or commiserate with them.

I don’t know how the showcase is going to go. Sure, I’ve run through a dozen scenarios in my mind. Getting all the requests. Getting none. Getting requests, but ultimately rejections. Shelving my MS completely, starting a new project and never getting this far again.

The last couple are bummers, but it’s how I cope. I’ve always come so close to things, only to have them slip away. By keeping my expectations low, disappointment hurts less. It’s how I managed my expectations going into Pitch Wars and it worked. I was pleasantly surprised when I got a request and even more when I actually got in.

So for the showcase, I’ll be happy if I get one request. I’ll be ecstatic if they ‘re an agent on my list. But if not, I’ll be okay. I still have my newly revised MS, and a pretty decent list of agents to query next week. Even if this book doesn’t get me any requests, an agent, or even make it to sub, I’ll be okay. I don’t know where my writing journey will go, but I do know it’s not over yet.

This is short, but I’ll be playing Pokémon Arceus for the next few hours until the showcase drops. I still need to get back to my tips for entering a mentorship series, but I also plan on doing a post once the showcase closes summarizing my experience.

Pitch Wars: Final Revisions and Agent List


Previous Posts:

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part I (my entire journey leading to Pitch Wars).

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part II (specific to Pitch Wars)

On Mentorship:

Unagented Writing Mentorship Programs Google Doc

So, You Want to Enter a Mentorship, Part I: The Programs

A brief reminder… This is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or their board. If you have no idea what Pitch Wars is, I just you check out one of my previous posts. A basic recap of those posts is that I was chosen by Laura E. Weymouth as her Pitch Wars 2021 Mentee.

Final Revisions

From mid to late January, I did two final passes and revisions. The first was to address Laura’s comments on my second round of revisions, along with clearing up some continuity/plot hole issues from the rewrite I didn’t catch previously.

The second pass was line edits and catching crutch/filter words. Filter words such as see, hear, smell, feel, etc. Filter words can take a reader out of a story– especially if it’s a first person POV like mine. Instead of writing, “I saw the cart and heard the bells…” it can be rewritten as, “The cart rolled by while the bells rang…” Overall I was pretty good about not having many filter words except when needed, even in the completely new scenes and chapters. My real issue were crutch words– words you don’t really need such as ‘just’ or ‘that’, or words/phrases that are repeated too often.

Reducing Wordcount

I started with these two resources to compile a list of words to check:

https://savvyauthors.com/filler-words-to-remove-from-your-novel-by-meg-latorre/
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OS_88lWHIr8DJ_uVORNqsUWuX-zPeQr0/view

I also added my own as I kept encountering them such as hands, fingers, left, right. As going through 96,000 words (95k when I was done) can be taxing, I used the find function and went chapter by chapter with my word list. Completing a chapter gave me a better feeling of accomplishment than getting through one word out of dozens. In some cases I replaced or rephrased a word if it appeared too many times in a chapter or close together. In other cases I deleted the word or sentence completely after determining it really wasn’t needed. I reduced my wordcount to 95,000 that way, which is awesome considering my new first half has more things occurring plot wise than the old which I submitted to Pitch Wars at 96,000.

Another way I reduced my wordcount was by keeping a close eye on my wordcount tracking spreadsheet. I’m an over writer and my very first draft of my MS was over 100,000. Whenever I begin a new project I do a rough outline to get a feel for the total number of chapters. Then I look at the ideal wordcount for my age and genre, and calculate an average number of words for each chapter. I can go over/under as needed, but it does help me spot which chapters might need to be trimmed if my wordcount is too high.

Those numbers can change throughout revisions. For my first draft I was aiming for under 100,000 for YA Fantasy with 30 chapters, so roughly 3,333 words per chapter. While my first draft blew past 100,000 I got it back under with revisions. When I entered Pitch Wars I had 32 chapters and 96,000 words. When I was plotting my new first half I determined I really needed 36 chapters, but they’d be shorter than the previous versions at 2,777 words each. Depending on how plot heavy a chapter was there were chapters that went into the low 3,000 range, but they mostly fell at 2,777 or under, keeping me on track to be under 96,000 words. It also helped me see if I was having my act breaks in the right spot. There was a sense of accomplishment watching angry red cells turn green when calculating new totals.

Excel spreadsheet tracking wordcount by chapter with chapters under targeted wordcount in light green and chapters over targeted wordcount in light pink/red
Snippet of my wordcount progress in Excel from second round revisions to final totals

When i finished combing through each chapter for crutch/filter words, I then followed Laura’s advice to read the chapter aloud. Both Scrivener and Word offer read aloud functions. This was great because it caught things my eyes would gloss over like missing words, extra words, placement of commas, wrong word usage (causalities in place of casualties). It caught basic errors I would have sworn weren’t there when I read through a few minutes earlier. There’s also something rather soothing about listening to a voice (even a robotic one) read your story aloud.

Each pass took about a week, and I finished right before the deadline for showcase materials. Not because I had to, but because I wanted plenty of time for the next bit– researching agents.

Creating a Query List

While I’ve learned that the Agent Showcase is not the most important part of PW, it’s still a huge part. It’ll start on February 9th with Adult entries, Middle Grade on the 10th, and finally YA on the 11th. The showcase will then close on the 14th. During that time agents will leave requests on pitches and excerpts they want. Mentees can know if they get requests and by whom, but not what (first chapter, first three chapters, first 50 pages, a full request, etc.) to prevent them querying earlier. Once the showcase ends, requests are made public and mentees are free to query the requesting agents. PW doesn’t vet agents– something they’re pretty up front about– and a mentee doesn’t have to respond to an agent’s request. They’re also free to send requests to agents outside the showcase, or to agents who participated in the showcase but didn’t request theirs as long as the agent is open.

Because PW doesn’t vet agents, mentees are highly encouraged to begin researching agents ahead of the showcase and to query agents in large batches after. That way they won’t potentially be missing out on their dream agent because they only submitted to agents in the showcase.

Query List 1.0

Last summer, before PW, I did a little querying. I was at a point where I did what I could revision-wise and thought that if my query and first pages were good enough to get requests from RevPit and Write Mentor, then maybe they were good enough to begin querying. So I did some research, got QueryTracker and sent out my first round of queries. After getting rejections that were mostly along the lines of ‘great writing/voice/story, but it isn’t for me and good luck’ I distanced myself from my MS, not continuing further with more query rounds.

At least not until I did another revision and evaluation– was it truly a case the agents not being the right fit, or was there something wrong with my MS? If so, would another round of revisions fix it, or was there no market for my YA historical fantasy? I had written it because I wanted something different than what was currently available on the market, but was it too different?

Submitting to PW gave me a reason to delay having that honest conversation with myself, as I truly didn’t think I’d be selected. But I was. Laura showed me there was somebody interested in my YA historical fantasy and identified ways to improve my MS that I’d been missing. Thanks to her, I was able to create a stronger first half and improve the current last half. I found a new love for my MS and was ready to head back into the query trenches.

Query List 2.0

Because of my efforts last summer, I already had a head start with a list of agents, knew the basics of submitting, and had a QueryTracker account. Because PW, I had more agents to go through and access to a Whisper Network. Whisper Networks are important for authors as they can share valuable information like which publishers are legit or scams, and which agents those in the querying trenches might want to stay away from based on past bad behavior, selling history, being schmagents, etc. Such information you can only learn through Whisper Networks. There were some agents I removed from my list based on information I didn’t have when I was a querying newbie.

This time, I started with the PW agent showcase list and identified agents open to YA fantasy. Some names were familiar to me, while others were new. A few mentees also had SFF or YA agent lists they were willing to share. Between all the lists, I had roughly 200 agents to sort through.

Next I checked their wishlists either on manuscriptwishlist.com or their own agency website to make sure they weren’t just open to YA fantasy, but my YA fantasy. I also noted certain aspects of their wishlists that stood out such as wanting female friendship, historical, badass woman, spies, crafts, etc. I marked whether they were open or closed to queries, meaning some agents on my list I might only be able to respond to if they requested my material from the showcase.

For the first time ever, I treated myself to a Publisher’s Martketplace account, which can be rather pricey. It costs $25.00 per month, which is what you get for a year’s subscription to QueryTracker. But it allows you to look at an agent’s deal history and their agency’s to see who the top agents are in certain categories (young adult, sci-fi/fantasy), who they sold to, and an idea of how much. Not all agents report their sales to PM, but it is a good source of information to verify agents, even if it’s rather pricey and limiting on how many pages you can look at a day and how many IPs you can be logged in with (I had no issues, but have heard of them from others). Between PM, wishlists, the Whisper Network, I managed to reduce my agent list to about 50.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to submit to 50 agents total after the showcase. As noted, some are closed, and there are several agents who work at the same agency so I can only query one agent at a time there. I went through my remaining agents and categorized them as ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’. ‘

A’ being agents in the showcase who I think could request, and if not, who I’d cold query anyway. Just because an agent doesn’t request your material in the showcase doesn’t mean you can’t request period, and some past mentees have seen success that way. ‘B’ agents are those in the showcase who might request and I would respond to, but can’t cold query due to being closed, previous rejections, or being at an agency with other listed agents that I’ll have to decide which to query first (a decision that will be influenced by showcase requests). ‘C’ agents are those who aren’t in the showcase, but I still wish to query anyway.

Showcase agents outside the list who I thought might not request me still could, forcing me to decide whether or not to query them, especially if there’s another agent at their agency already on my list. So the final query number is still undecided. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the showcase and all my hours careful hours of research could be thrown out because I underestimated or overestimated an agent’s interest. But, worst case scenario in that I get 0 requests (which supposedly hasn’t happened for a few years) I still have a fresh agent list and a new query and synopsis ready to go.

That’s all for now. Next post: Final Thoughts Before Showcase & Managing Expectations

Pitch Wars: 2nd Round Revisions, Instagram, and Preparing for the Showcase


Previous Posts:

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part I (my entire journey leading to Pitch Wars).

Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part II (specific to Pitch Wars)

On Mentorship:

Unagented Writing Mentorship Programs Google Doc

So, You Want to Enter a Mentorship, Part I: The Programs

A brief reminder… This is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or their board. If you have no idea what Pitch Wars is, I just you check out one of my previous posts. A basic recap of those posts is that I was chosen by Laura E. Weymouth as her Pitch Wars 2021 Mentee and in November 2021, was waiting for my edit letter.

2nd Round Revisions

I’ve never been the type to like feedback. I can take it and respond to it, but just the anticipation of waiting makes me want to snuggle up in the biggest hoodie possible and zip it tight. Even if I know it’s going to be positive or the feedback isn’t writing related, I’m like this. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and gradually look at it. I’m so convinced it’s going to be bad and terrible I have to mentally prepare myself in advance.

As expected, Laura had nothing but positive feedback. The problems she identified had mostly been fixed and her few suggestions I completely agreed with. I got through them in no time at all and sent the latest version off, waiting for the next round of feedback so I could complete my next pass. Compared to my first round revisions, the second was a breeze.

But I didn’t do nothing while waiting.

Instagram Takeover

Part of being a Pitch Wars mentee is the chance to do an Instagram takeover of PW’s Instagram for a Day in the Life (DitL). You are not required to do a DitL, but it is a fun thing to do, getting to learn more about your fellow mentees and sharing your MS with others. I started an Instagram account when I started my Twitter one. At the time I was new to both so figured I’d get to know Twitter first, but never got around to really doing Instagram. Therefore I decided that the DitL would be the perfect time to push me out of my comfort zone and try it.

And I’m glad I did. Mine occurred in January which has been archived here, allowing me time to observe other mentees and figure out what I’d like to share. It also gave me time to prepare posts in Canva. I will admit it actually took me several days of looking at posts before realizing I had to click the rainbow circle to see the DitL posts. It wasn’t until the day of did I realize I couldn’t post DitL content from my computer, but actually had to download the app on my phone. The other hiccup was when I went to go save it, I accidentally archived it which made me panic, thinking I’d deleted everything. But I got it all worked out eventually. You can view it right here: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17958783367560523/ along with my post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CYbihUerboo/.

Like I said, I’m glad I did it. It was exhausting keeping up with all the posts and comments on my breaks and lunch hour, but it did force me to try something different and connect with people who I might miss out on because I prefer Twitter and they prefer Instagram. For now I’ll stick to an occasional post, but I do recommend either going through and reading all the DitL (because there are some great ones) or giving the DitL a try yourself should you be a PW mentee in the future.

Showcase Materials

In January I was not only busy with revisions, but also my showcase materials which were due at the end of the month. A mentee has 300 words to write a pitch for their MS and provide an excerpt from the first hundred words. A pitch can be 30 words with the excerpt then being the first 260 words. A pitch can also be 120 words with the excerpt being the first 130 words. All that matters is that together they are less than 300. Here’s last year’s showcase if you want to see some examples: https://showcase.pitchwars.org/.

Depending on your age group, genre, plot, you might prefer one to the other. General consensus is that sci-fi and fantasy typically requires more detail than say, a rom-com. Same goes for whether or not you add comps which aren’t required and up to the mentee.

Other than some tweaking, I was pretty confident in my excerpt. My first chapter does a get job setting up the world, Liddy’s place in it, while dropping hints of the bigger stakes and there was a natural spot for me to end at near the beginning. It was the pitch that gave me issue. I’m not the best with pitches to begin with and it always seemed so impossible with my current MS. But I managed to write about nine different ones with varying similarities that Laura condensed into one. A few more tweaks by me and my fellow mentees (who are awesome at creating pitches and giving advice, so keep an eye on the showcase).

Besides the showcase I worked on my query and synopsis. They were mostly in decent shape but with a new first half they needed to be tweaked, plus a new line for my bio– Pitch Wars 2021 mentee. Like my pitch, Laura was able to give good feedback for both.

Conclusion

Compared to December, January was much milder. I still accomplished a lot, but it wasn’t as stressful. Thankfully there was no family health issues, vast sections of complete rewrites, or bouts with Imposter Syndrome.

Next: final revisions and creating an agent querying list