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