Behind the scenes with a Pitch Wars mentor

Hey YABookcasers!

Nice to see you all on this fine February day. Since a lot of you here know about Pitch Wars, and have probably entered, or are even a mentor, I wanted to give you a glimpse behind the scenes from my Pitch Wars mentor experience…Being a Pitch Wars mentor is a lot of fun. We get the honor of seeing the hours of hard work writers have poured into their novels. We get to read so many wonderful stories that we know will bloom to life as novels on shelves in the future. It truly is a wonderful experience to be involved in.

Pitch Wars mentoring is also incredibly hard. For one, the sheer time commitment. I work as a full time scriptwriter, I freelance edit (less now that I have lots on my plate), and I revise for my agent, go on submission, meet deadlines, have my next book to write…and that’s not to mention life. For me, that involves hospital visits (spinal issues and epilepsy), caring for my foster dogs, my family, traveling 2500 miles a few times a year to the UK, and lots of other things in between. So committing a few months to helping another writer is a big thing.

We do this for free. We don’t have to do it. In fact, it’s us who volunteer. We aren’t asked to sign up (well, maybe a few at the very start of the contest), but it’s grown so big now. We choose to give up family time, revision time, etc. (Which is what makes us sad when a very small minority of people are mean to the mentors. I mean, come on guys, we’re giving part of our lives to help yours).

Anyway, I digress…let’s get back to the point…

Here’s a list of what I do when participating in Pitch Wars (other mentors might be different!).

  1. Before PWs even begins, I set to work. I start thinking through what kinds of books I like. What kinds of books I’m currently reading. Why I like them. What is unique about them. How I see where they sit in the market. I do this because I want to make sure my feeling on the pulse of the business is strong and knowledgeable.
  2. I work out my general wish list – age category and genres. And there’s a lot more thought that goes into this than most people think, I’d wager.
  3. I trim down those genres by analyzing what I read most. What writing I’m currently familiar with. Then I hone it down to elements in a book that really appeal to me.
  4. And then I narrow it down again – what elements am I good at helping with? Atmosphere? Then I need a project I can help with that. Setting? Ditto that. It’s a mixture of knowing what I can bring to the table, and what the author can bring to the table. So I need to narrow my list by knowing my own strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Personality types. This isn’t a popularity contest. I’m not interested in being the mentor with the most submissions (and the others aren’t either, I’d bet!). It’s about showcasing  who we are in the wish list, so I can minimize the potential personality clashes between mentee and mentor.
  6. Knowing which agents are on the list, and being familiar with what they look for and represent.
  7. Then it comes to refreshing your feelings about querying, how a mentee is feeling right now on their journey, and what you can do to help lessen the load.
  8. Okay, so that’s before I even open the inbox.
  9. There are usually a flood of submissions, even though my list is narrow. And I’m determined to give each one individual attention. Luckily, I’ve been an agency intern twice, so I’m not intimidated by the inbox. However, I do know how much hard work it is. I’ve actually been late through customs when flying because I was so busy checking subs and I wanted to get a reply off to someone.
  10. Personally, I give a line or two as to why I’m choosing to work with another person if I have to pass. On partials, I give more feedback, and fulls the most. This is simply due to the fact that I’ve read more material on the latter and thus, I can give more feedback. But do know – I actually read every single word I’m sent. If my pass looks short, it’s not because I haven’t read your work. I can guarantee I have.
  11. I dissect the material and see if I can help it. Do I have what it takes to help this author improve? To pass on what I’ve learned?
  12. And do I love it enough to give it everything I’ve got?
  13. Finally, after reading all the queries, partials, and fulls, I narrow it down to my top three. This can be incredibly hard. There have been occasions when I’ve had two books that I’m simply crippled by choice. It’s like choosing between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter – both fabulous works, but how do you choose? Again, I look at the one that needs my skill set most. It comes down to that.
  14. I talk to the authors of the books I like, too. This can be hard, as I know the more that you interact with an author, the more they think they’re the “one.” And I don’t ever want to give false hope. But sometimes I need to talk in order to get a feel for the author’s vision, and their abilities, and, of course, whether we get on! That’s important, because we’re going to be working together for months to come.
  15. And then I sit in crippling doubt when I talk to the other mentors – who do they want? Who will we fight over? And if there’s a Pitch War, then we draft emails to the potential mentee and try to woo them. I’ve had to do this twice. And it is incredibly hard not to be chosen, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to see that an author has chosen their perfect mentor match. Because what the author wants is so important.
  16. Then we announce, flail, and edit like crazy people (but I’ll get into my editing style in a whole other post!).

Okay, so that’s a glimpse as to what it’s like being a mentor up until the editing phase comes. At least, this is what it looks like for me. There are a lot of other elements involved (too many to squeeze into one post), and I’ll touch on them throughout the year.

Pitch Wars is gruelling and inspirational, tough and joyful, all at the same time. So, why do I choose to mentor when I have everything in my own life to deal with? When I have to go the hospital or catch a plane? Have edits to get in, work to finish, and stay up past midnight to read a query from someone I don’t know?

Because my hope is that one day, someone else will return the favor and lift another writer one step closer to their dream. I was never a Pitch Wars mentee…but the help and friends I’ve garnered are worth their weight in gold.

If you’ve reached the end of this lengthy post, then congratulations! And I look forward to seeing you in Pitch Wars again, no matter your place – mentor, mentee, cheerleader, or something else entirely.

Until next post.



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