Monday, June 13, 2016

Pitch Wars, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Revise the Book

I have, clearly and admittedly, not blogged in an absurdly long time. Which doesn't really matter, because you can't disappoint an audience that doesn't exist. But blogging again has been on my "To Do" list (an intangible document currently roughly the size of the Library of Congress) and so, here I am.

I had grand ideas for this blog when I started it. Chronicling the path to (hopeful) publication, for one. Connecting with the broader writing world for another. I wrote mainly about querying my first novel--a spectacular, if not unusual, failure. Then, tired of composing posts about query rejections, I fell off my updates.

It's not that I haven't thought about it. But each time I've felt the spark of motivation to blog, I would stop, held in check by a slightly exasperated internal voice. Did I have anything worth saying? (Eh, maybe?) Did the world really need another post about handling rejection or a stress of being a writer? (Probably not.) Would the time I spent blogging be better spent on one of my works in progress? (Most likely.) And so I'd turn my energy toward something else.

But things have changed dramatically since I abandoned this blog. One, I'm now agented. Two...well, Two involves backing up a little.

In August of last year, the entry window for Pitch Wars opened. Online contests were something I had only recently become familiar with. I hadn't utilized them with my now-trunked first novel; I had begun with smaller contests with my second novel, which was in the query stage. I had some small successes: a spattering of favorites in Twitter pitch parties, and being a finalist in NestPitch, a similar, but smaller contest.

But Pitch Wars was, well, Pitch Wars. Lots of buzz, a significant online community. Run by Brenda Drake, online patron saint of aspiring writers. Over 100 mentee slots, and a large field of notable agents participating.

So, I entered.

There was a month or so wait to find out if you were chosen, drawn out by lots of Twitter teasing and occasional heart-stopping emails from mentors asking questions or requesting additional materials. It might have felt longer, but I lost my grandmother in the midst of it, so my emotions were rather distracted for a good portion of that waiting period. Waiting for a few weeks suddenly paled in comparison with dealing with a thing I had been awaiting--and dreading--for years.

But what began as grief distracting me from waiting turned into excitement distracting me from grief. Two weeks after my grandmother passed, my manuscript was chosen as one of the finalists by the inimitable Elizabeth Briggs, one of my top picks for mentor from the moment I saw a picture of her at ComicCon.

I thought "FINALLY, this was the thing that could turn this purgatorial query process in the right direction, toward the fame* and glory* of being agented!" (*Fame and Glory not guaranteed, not even a little.)

In the end*, Pitch Wars was NOT the contest that got me agented. (Those wheels were already turning, unbeknownst to me.)

Following a grueling two months of revisions, Pitch Wars left me with a respectable handful of agent requests and a much improved manuscript, for which I am eternally grateful. Liz was exactly the kind of mentor I hoped for--I could not have been luckier. But it also left me with something unexpected: a community that has continued to thrive, even ten months later. And that community has been chugging along in a most encouraging way. Besides the 50+ authors that have become agented, and the books deals that are slowly, but consistently, trickling in, friends have been made, critique partners found, and writing resources created.

And that gets me to what I really wanted to post about: INFORMATION.

I love information. In anything I do, I want to be informed as possible. But the nature of querying and publishing is often one of obscurity. Sure, there are excellent resources on best practices and what not to do, But the real-life examples--the stories that really shed light on the darker corners of this process--are often hard to find. They are kept out of blogs and social media for fear of being off-putting to an agent or editor who might be reading up on an author they are interested in. This is not without good reason. Most of the time it's simply better to hide the fact that you've already queried your novel to 50 agents, or to not vent about those awful rejections. (Spoiler: we've all had them.)

This does come at a cost, though. Sometimes you are faced with a situation that you don't know how to handle, and that no one has talked plainly about, despite the seemingly infinite availability of information on the internet. Which is where the Pitch Wars community has become invaluable in a way that defies description.

Revisions, querying, LIFE, more revisions, MORE LIFE, going on submission, failing, succeeding, Succeeding, SUCCEEDING.... The last ten months have produced a thousand scenarios that have been more easily navigated due to the 100+ authors lending their experience and support through difficult times, both within the writing sphere and without.

On August 3rd, Pitch Wars will open to submissions for the 2016 contest. There is no writer with a finished manuscript I would not encourage to participate in this contest. You can get ten, twenty, fifty requests from cold queries--but you can't get the community, or the depth of its support, by just hitting send on an email. Polish up those manuscripts and DO. IT.

*Back to "in the end..."

In the end, my agent, Laura Zats, came from the #SFFpit Twitter pitch party, made long before Pitch Wars. But here's the thing--Laura had my pre-Pitch Wars manuscript. So when she brought up some of the changes she thought it needed, I was able to say most of them had already been made.

Having a big project mostly done before you even start it? Best. Feeling.

So even if you're already querying, even if a bunch of agents already have your manuscript, consider entering Pitch Wars. It's 112% worth it.