A Pitch Wars Pep Talk From a Former Alternate Mentee

Since the list of writers chosen as mentees and alternates came out today, and since many writers weren’t chosen, I figured I should share the adventures of a former Pitch Wars alternate mentee. *drum roll* Yep, you guessed it. I’m talking about me. ūüôā

Let’s rewind a year to last year’s Pitch Wars…

A few friends and I decided we would all enter Brenda Drake’s awesomely fantastic Pitch Wars. We polished both our pitches and manuscripts. We chose the mentors we felt best suited our manuscripts and sent our work off. Then we waited.

And we waited some more. I remember telling myself not get my hopes up, but I didn’t listen to that voice. I wanted so hard for my manuscript to be amongst the “chosen ones.”¬†Then something wonderful happened.¬†A ninja mentor sent me an email asking if any other mentor¬†had requested sample pages, and if I could send her the first thirty pages of my manuscript. I emailed her back letting her know she was the first to show any interest and sent my sample.

After more waiting, the glorious day of finding out which mentees were chosen was unleashed upon the interwebs. I made it onto a team! That same mentor who asked for my sample pages, Suzanne Palmieri, chose me as her first alternate. We got along rather well. I even bought her fist book to show my support.

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I want you to keep in mind Suzanne was a very busy woman. She had not one, but two books coming out in 2013. She had edits of her own to tackle. I understood, and was perfectly fine with the fact that¬†she may not be able to help me as much as I would have liked. I think each mentee should be aware of how busy each Pitchwars mentor is. It’s not like they can drop everything and concentrate on just your manuscript. Each mentor will have a different process for working with their mentees. Respect and honor their advice, time, and energy. Make sure you thank them too. They all mean well and want nothing more than to help each and every person who took the time to submit to them.

Suzanne was very straightforward with me, which is something I crave. I don’t like things sugar coated. Give me the unabridged truth. I’d rather know exactly what someone thinks instead of wondering if they’re holding back. While Suzanne admitted she didn’t have much time for me, she helped me polish my pitch and 250 word sample for the contest. I was, and will always be,¬†grateful. She also told me something I cherish to this day. She said I have what it takes to make it in the publishing world today, that¬†my attitude was something special. Having a published writer tell me that meant a lot for a guy who didn’t fully understand how tough the submission process could be.¬†Rest assured, I’ve since learned. Her kind words carried me through some dark times.

Needless to say, no literary agents nibbled at the wriggling worm that was my manuscript.

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It did, but not as much as I thought it would. Subjectivity is a very real thing. Each agent has to pick projects she believes can sell. Not every project will fit in with their vision. Don’t take it personally.

What did I do after being rejected?

I went about trying to improve my writing skills. I had to dissect and analyze what I believed was holding my writing back. It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my writing journey. One subject kept popping up: characters. Once I identified a list of problems, I set out to learn everything I could about them. This included critiques, books on the craft of writing, and basically reading anything I could get my hands on.

I quickly learned that there’s always something we can improve upon.

I went through my entire manuscript twice more, tightening the POV, characters, and (hopefully) the passive voice. What I had was much stronger. I created a much stronger query letter and set out to get my improved manuscript in front of potential agents.

As the rejection letters piled up, I knew something was wrong. Figuring out what, specifically, proved to be difficult. I believed in my story, still do. After seeing several literary agents comment how they didn’t want anything with vampires, I finally understood what was holding my manuscript back. I stopped querying literary agents. [Side note: This isn’t to say my writing is perfect. I understand there is no such thing as a perfect manuscript and mine is no exception.]

Remember when Suzanne said I had what it takes to make it in the publishing business? Instead of lamenting, I got busy looking into small presses. Today my manuscript is still under consideration…a year removed from Pitch Wars.

In June of 2013 I became a intern for a literary agent, reading and reporting on submissions. I decided to concentrate on creating short stories for the six month term of my¬†internship. Ten short stories later, my short story, LABOR OF LOVE, was published in volume eleven of The Siren’s Call e-magazine. Several others are under consideration elsewhere. I looked at each new experience as a potential way to sharpen my writing skills.

The point is life goes on. Whether you’re picked or not, you’re going to wake up tomorrow the same person. I know mentees from last year who had agent requests and are still in the trenches, still unagented, and still unpublished. I know alternate mentees from last year who are still in the trenches as well. Some went on to bigger and better things. Some didn’t. There are no guarantees.

If I’ve leaned anything in the past year, it’s this: Nothing beats quality writing. And even then, you can still be rejected if the subject matter is a difficult sell.

No matter what happens with this year’s Pitch Wars, remember to keep your chin up. There are no shortcuts. It doesn’t matter who you know or how far you think someone can take you. As long as you enjoy¬†the experience¬†and connect with like-minded writers, you’re all winners. Go forth and write the kind of stories you’re passionate about. Create quality fiction. If you do, trust that somebody, somewhere will notice. I know I do.

My Pitch Wars experience was something I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. It forced me to identify what was really important in regards to my writing. I came to the conclusion that as long as I was happy with the quality of my words, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. Getting to the point where I felt that way took many agonizing months. There is no magic formula¬†anyone can follow to¬†become a better writer, no magic potion we can drink. The only way¬†for anyone to become a better writer¬†is¬†to¬†keep writing…and learning.

So get out there and discover¬†anything, large or small, that¬†can¬†improve your writing skills. Allow other writers to critique your words and learn which criticisms are valid and which aren’t. Remember that different things will work for different writers. Find your swagger. Once you do, you’ll wonder what in the hell took so long.¬†And never, ever, give up! Fight on.

You can learn more about Pitch Wars here: http://www.brenda-drake.com/

You can learn more about Suzanne Palmieri here: http://www.suzannepalmieri.com/

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4 comments

  1. Did you find any books on characterization that were helpful? Although I have accumulated tons of books about writing, I have yet to find a good characterization book.

    1. I’d recommend CHARACTERS, EMOTION & VIEWPOINT, by Nancy Kress. She gives readers exercises and worksheets. That was the one I connected with the best. Hope it helps! And it’s good to see you!

      1. Good to see you too! I feel like I missed a lot! Please accept my super belated congratulations on your internship!

        Also, you just helped me find a whole bunch of new writing books. I’m in geek heaven on amazon.com right now. ūüôā

  2. Thanks for your perspective. Writing is a tough business, and it’s great to hear from people who’ve made it a little further along the trenches.
    It’s always important to go back, re-evaluate, and try again.

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