Author’s Note: For those who are not aware, Pitch Wars was a well-known, all volunteer-run mentorship program that paired unagented authors with published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns. One mentor (or mentor pair) to one mentee. Over the course of several months, the mentor(s) and mentee pair worked together to prepare the mentee’s manuscript, query letter, and synopsis for querying. At the end of the “revision period” was the infamous agent showcase, a one-week period where the mentee could post a short pitch plus the first page (about) of their book on the Pitch Wars website for agents to review and (hopefully) request. For the entirety of the revision period and the week of the showcase, no mentee was allowed to query the work. During the showcase, no one but Pitch Wars volunteers involved with running the website could see what agents requested whose work. Limited information about requests was conveyed to the mentors, who conveyed it to their mentees. At the end of the showcase, it all went live for everyone to see. Read more here.
One year ago today, me and about 114 other of my peers were officially thrown into the query trenches. The same day, the Pitch Wars Committee announced that after 10 years of mentorship, the program would be shuttering.
I think it goes without saying that was one hell of a day.
As I’ve mentioned, the agent showcase did not go well for me. Still, I grit my teeth and buckled down. Maybe my book was not a one-line pitch type book. Didn’t make a lot of sense considering the amount of people who told me how “high-concept” it was and oh so “hooky” but you know, who knows what those things are, anyway? I would win the agents with my query.
If you’ve read my How I Got My Agent post, you’ll know I didn’t really win the agentS with my query. I did, however, win one. Well, maybe. I’m not sure it was the query that did it. I never asked. Nor do I want to know.
Truly, I never thought I would be writing a one-year reflection blog. If anything, I thought I might be writing a one-year reflection thread on Twitter about how pissed I still am about the showcase and how SO MANY querying authors think the showcase is the real loss of Pitch Wars and how fucked that is because agent exposure is not the reason to seek mentorship, mentorship is the reason seek mentorship thus mentorship is the real loss. And those feelings are all true and real and still very, very raw even one year later.
But since Pitch Wars is gone railing about the showcase seems less applicable. What is applicable is how much I learned from one year of watching 115 separate writers start one place and 365 days later be in so many different places. The following observations are things I hope will help all writers but especially those still querying.
I tried to get into Pitch Wars for 5 years. It wasn’t until 2021 I actually opened up and started engaging with the online community a bit more. Invaluable. I’ve said this before, I will say it again, some of my closest friends and CPs are the ones I met during the waiting period. The ones who didn’t get in and the ones who did. They’re the ones who will understand you best, who will get the highs and the lows, who will never accuse you of being too dramatic or too much to handle. They will be the ones who understand all the random and weird publishing things your family still can’t seem to grasp no matter how many times you’ve tried to explain it to them. And that you don’t have to explain it or yourself will ease some of the exhaustion. Of which there is so much.
Community you need to boost you, but also to check you, to be honest with you, to encourage and support you, to be there in your mopes and your hopes, to be your void to shout into when it’s not appropriate to do it on Twitter. You need them always and should start finding them as soon as you can.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a mentor. In fact, some might say trying to achieve one is just adding another gatekeeper in an endless stream of them. Considering the odds of being chosen by my Pitch Wars mentor were something like less than 3% and I spent five years trying to get into Pitch Wars and a couple trying to get into RevPit and at least one trying to get into AMM, I can’t entirely disagree.
They’re cool to have IF you do end up with one, though.
I was really fortunate to end up with the world’s greatest mentor. Not everyone is so lucky. There are arguments about this topic for both sides I could go on about for days, but that isn’t the point of this post.
What was really interesting about Pitch Wars was seeing all the different mentees with their mentors and how they all communicated and what worked and what didn’t and how totally different that could be. And how hard it could be to summarize on a blog, too, which is what the mentors attempted to do, and which I think many of the mentees did not read, because they cared more about getting in with ANYONE than getting in with the RIGHT someone. Sound familiar? Yeah, it happens with agents, too. A thing I will talk about in a future blog already mostly written.
So for me, I really wanted a close relationship with my mentor. I had spent a LONG time being rejected not only in publishing but in, well, life. I desperately needed someone to believe in me. Not only in my stories, but in me, as a human. I needed someone to believe I was capable of doing this. Even if it meant rolling her eyes and smiling through my dramatics while I raged that I could not, in fact, do this. Then waiting until I was finished, asking politely if I was actually finished before telling me that I could do this for the following reasons.
I also really needed someone who understood my neurodiversity and my trauma. That I process things differently. Who understood I’m not going to do Save the Cat or beat sheets and that would have to be okay. Who knew I needed some semblance of rules in the chaos that is publishing, even if the rule was there are no rules. Who would be able to be flexible where I was not. Rochelle was all these things and more. I was very lucky. Did I mention that?
But not everyone needs all this hand holding and cheerleading and ya ya. Some of my peers did very well with a much more business-like, professional relationship with their mentors that did not involve frantic 1 a.m. text messages about doom spiraling. Some fit right in the middle somewhere. Others had communication breakdowns because they could not find a meeting of the minds at all.
This is when you refer back to your community.
Where You Are is Not Who You Are
Let me tell you about how Pitch Wars teaches this lesson to the Not Darlings really fucking fast. This exact time last year I was essentially equal in credentials to my Pitch Wars peers. Of course some of us had heftier resumes than others. Some had won other mentorship contests. Some had been published with indie presses or in short story anthologies. Some (like me) had creative writing degrees, or MFAs. Some (not like me) had a list with 50 requests on it ready to go. But we all had shiny manuscripts polished over a period of the most intense revision months of our lives, a submission packet to make any querying author drool, and we had “2021 Pitch Wars novel/mentee” to tag onto our books (and our names). Out of thousands, we were the 115.
We thought that meant something. And maybe it’s the weirdness of this querying climate, or maybe it’s that Pitch Wars shut down the same day we entered the trenches, or maybe it did mean something but not enough for some of us. But on February 15th that starting gun fired and some of us shot forward and others of us stumbled, fell, startled, pressing our hands to our ears, shell shocked. Some of us barreled forward but quickly ran out of steam. Our paths started to diverge. Fast.
Within hours, LITERAL HOURS, calls were getting announced. From there, the deluge of distancing became frantic. Full requests poured in, some phones seemed to be ringing off the hooks. Question lists were assembled. Drama. Subtweeting. Agents with teeth. Mentees in the spotlight. We rallied for our peers because that’s what you do for your community, even when your own heart is bleeding. Even when your own inbox is empty. It was a good distraction.
Agent announcements. Talks of auctions. Editors with teeth. And still for so many of us, empty inboxes. Full requests from the showcase gone untended while the shinier mentees glowed. It was hard not to wonder what was different. Not to blame ourselves. We were all the same except… we weren’t. Not anymore.
Despair came fast, too. And in that despair sat uncomfortable feelings about our friends. Our peers. Our community. People we’d bonded with so tightly during this experience so few could relate to. Guilt. Blame. Shame. Resentment. Toward ourselves more than anything, really. Many of us started to turn away. And this is where things get a little tricky.
Because this is not uncommon in the entirety of the writing community, not just the Pitch Wars community. You will see if you hang out here enough there is this concept that there exists a hierarchy between authors. A chart is needed. Hold.
If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll have had the weird experience of watching your friends level up through this chart. You’ll have also likely seen some drama around people leveling up through this chart and leaving their friends behind. There is nowhere this phenomenon happens faster than in Pitch Wars. And if you’re on the inside of it, you get to watch this weird hierarchy play out in rapid fire fashion as some folks level up and others do not. Right now, at this very moment, my Pitch Wars peers are basically at all levels of this chart. The first book from my class comes out soon. Many book deals have been announced. Even more agent announcements. Still more of my classmates are querying new books, still looking for their agents. Some have veered off the traditional path all together, choosing indie presses or self-publishing. Some, like me almost, stepped back from writing all together.
But the thing I noticed while watching this all happen was that it’s not always as simple as “level up, leave behind.” There is so much more nuance behind it. I, for one, in my grief, tried to leave my core group of Pitch Wars friends… a couple of times. I felt like I was dragging them down, holding them back, being too depressing, dampening their joy. I felt like I was too lame for them with their fancy Big Five book deals and big shot agents. They, thankfully, dragged me back.
Now that I have an agent myself (weird), I also notice there’s a bit of a dynamic put on authors at perceived “higher” levels from those “beneath” that makes this all the stranger. My opinion seems to automatically matter more because I have an agent, which honestly, y’all it shouldn’t. It’s luck. You will never see me giving away a query critique because my query stats are objectively terrible. I still can’t write a synopsis. Don’t misunderstand, I learned a lot from Pitch Wars, and I continue to learn about my craft every day from writers everywhere on this pyramid. I will speak on what I believe I know enough about to speak on, but my advice is no more valuable than anyone else’s and in many cases, my un-agented CPs know just as much if not more than I do about loads of craft things.
All this long winded thing to say: We’re all writers. We all have valuable advice to bring to the table, and none of that is earned by any milestone along the way. It’s earned the way all knowledge is earned: by study. So don’t let where you are on this pyramid thing define who you are as a writer, and don’t let it change the way YOU act around other writers (you can’t change how they act around you, obviously, but one side of this can be controlled at least). If you feel your friends leaving you behind, ask yourself, truly, are they? Or are you?
TL;DR Don’t push your friends away because you think you’re not worthy of them anymore because they got a Fancy Book Deal or a high profile agent. If they’re your real friends, they are not going to give a shit. They’re still going to crack jokes with you about opening pickle jars and ask you for cat pics. Because besides all being writers, you are first and foremost all friends.
So, to my Pitch Wars 2021 Class, happy one year post-showcase. I am so proud of each and every one of you. And I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.