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:

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

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