*This post originally appeared in June, 2016, on the Writing with the Mentors blog, but is now updated for Pitch Wars 2017!*
Pitch Wars 2017 is just around the corner! One of the best features of the Pitch Wars contest is that writers get the opportunity to work with mentors who help them strengthen their manuscripts before submitting to agents. Best of all, writers can choose which mentors to apply to. That way, if they are selected as mentees, they know they’ll be working with someone whose opinions they value.
So how does one go about deciding which mentors to apply to, and how, exactly does having a Pitch Wars mentor work?
I had the tremendous good fortune to be selected as a mentee in 2014; I co-mentored in 2015, and I’m thrilled to be mentoring YA again this year! So, I thought I could share some tips from both sides of the Pitch Wars experience.
How to choose
The process begins when mentors’ wish lists go live on July 19. Brenda’s website will have links to all the mentor blogs, and each mentor will post a brief bio and detailed information about what categories and genres they are seeking, taste preferences, expectations, and other useful tidbits. So, of course step one is to read the mentor wish lists!
You will definitely want to take notes, and using a spreadsheet or some sort of organizational system will help track mentor information. You can immediately narrow your mentor list to those seeking the category and genre you write. (Seems obvious, but there are always a few wasted entries submitted to someone not mentoring that genre.) If a mentor mentions special interest in something specific that your manuscript has (could be horses, a particular period setting, LGBTQ, rare fairy tale retellings, etc.), that’s a strong indicator that they might be a good choice for you. Mentor wishlists may also discuss mentoring style, and you may get a sense of personality. In addition, some mentors take part in Workshops (on Brenda’s website), and Live Chats. These are great sources of information about the mentors and their styles and personalities.
Once you have a “short list” of potential mentors who are seeking the type of manuscript you’re writing, you will probably want to do a bit of stalking on twitter and/or other social media sites and blogs to find out more. You can check out any books mentors have published or that will be coming out, who their agents are, and who they’ve mentored in previous years. All these tidbits may leave your head spinning, which is where a good note-keeping system can be a huge help.
Finally, for mentors who have been involved with Pitch Wars (or other contests) in previous years, I highly recommend checking out their previous entries. This is what lead me to apply to the person who ultimately became my mentor, critique partner, and friend, Mónica Bustamante Wagner. I loved the writing and concept of her previous year’s entry, and I figured that if we had similar taste in that respect, then there was a better chance that she would like my manuscript. Furthermore, I felt I could confidently rely on her judgement, knowing that she had similar values in terms of story and writing style.
So you’ve applied to carefully-selected mentors, and you’ve waited through the grueling weeks until the mentor picks are revealed, and—HURRAY!!—you’ve been selected as a Pitch Wars finalist! Now your mentor will provide you with feedback to help you take your manuscript to the next level.
I was beyond thrilled when I received feedback from my mentor, Mónica; I knew, immediately, that she had discovered the key to fixing an issue that had been plaguing my manuscript and preventing me from moving forward.
But what if your mentor suggests something you don’t agree with? At some point in the revision process, Mónica advised me that my characters “laughed” too much and suggested that I could substitute the word, “chuckle.” But, for me, the word, “chuckle” has very specific connotations: an old man can chuckle, but my MC would never chuckle! The word didn’t fit my manuscript’s voice, in my opinion. Timidly, I explained this to Mónica. And of course she replied with something like, “Okay, no problem, just find other ways to fix your overuse of ‘laugh.’”
I believe communication is the key to a successful mentor-mentee relationship. Don’t understand a suggestion? Communicate. Wondering when you’ll get notes? Communicate. Disagree with something? Communicate. Confused by what other mentees are saying? Communicate. Completely and utterly freaking out about everything? Communicate.
At the same time, mentors have varying communication styles and schedules, and it’s also important to be respectful of your mentor’s time. Communicating every time you’re unsure of where to put a comma would probably be a bit much.
Your mentor selected your manuscript from among the many they received, and they are volunteering their time because they believe in you and your manuscript and want to help you move forward with your writing dreams. By respecting your mentor’s time and effort, and communicating honestly, you can make the most of your Pitch Wars experience.
Questions or tips about finding and working with a mentor? Please add a comment!