A peek inside one of the most exciting writing contests around.
This August, for the sixth time since 2012, hundreds of writers will be anxiously checking their Twitter feeds for more than just cat videos. They’ll be looking for any hint that they’ve been chosen.
The drama, of course, is half the fun of Pitch Wars, an annual mentoring contest run by author Brenda Drake. Writers aspiring to publication submit their query letter and first chapter of a novel or memoir, and the contest’s mentors each select one mentee to harangue through a two-month-long revision period.
The other half of the fun has nothing to do with “winning.” So why all the stress-tweeting?
In short, statistics. There are over 100 mentors, divided into age categories based on the type of manuscript they want to mentor: middle grade, young adult, or adult (including “new adult”). On July 19th, each mentor will post a wish list identifying the types of books he or she is interested in, ranging from literary fiction to romance to horror.
The submission window opens August 2nd. Writers pick four mentors to submit to, then they send off their art and start fretting over the competition. Pitch Wars is a nonprofit endeavor, so it’s free to apply, but for a donation to support operating expenses, writers can apply to an additional two mentors, for a total of six entries.
During August, mentors read submissions and agonize over which mentee to select. Some mentors might tweet out hints, while others go into Twitter hibernation (hence the anxious Twitter stalking). Finally, on August 24th, mentors announce their selections.
Once the happy and sad tears have abated, mentors send out the dreaded edit letters to their mentees.
The ball then bounces into the mentees’ court. Mentees often suffer through grueling revisions, which might include eliminating plotlines, switching from third-person point-of-view to first, or tightening up a character arc.
In November, mentees post their newly revised pitches (a 50-word blurb describing the novel’s hook) and first 250 words for literary agents to ogle over and request in the Pitch Wars showcase.
Each year, dozens of mentees end up signing with an agent after the showcase, and a good number of them go on to sell their books. Last year’s class of mentees already has a handful of impressive book deals, and there are surely more to come.
But publishing-success glitter aside, Pitch Wars’ greatest accomplishment is the writing community it builds. Mentors are writers who are a little further along in their careers than the applicants — mentors have usually signed with agents, published books, or edited professionally — and they donate their time to guide a less-experienced writer through the revision trenches.
The mentee hopefuls, as they’re called in Pitch Wars Land, often band together to commiserate, bite their nails, and swap writing samples for critique. Mentors and mentees chat about writing craft on the Twitter hashtag #PitchWars, and sometimes mentors will provide feedback to the applicants they didn’t select.
Trying to get published is like buying fistfuls of long-odds lottery tickets. Submit a story, scratch off a ticket. Email a query to a literary agent, check the Keno numbers. Most of the time, the ticket goes in the trash with no returns. Rejections come and go with no explanation.
Pitch Wars is the rare contest where even the participants who do not “win” can still benefit. There are some public critiques (for those writers who volunteer), and people are constantly swapping ideas about how to write better. The camaraderie and enthusiasm for learning are what set this contest apart.
And there are the gifs.
So, writers, it’s nearly August. Do you have a finished novel or memoir manuscript? If so, step in line, get yourself a lottery ticket. Join in the conversation. Why not?
Carrie Callaghan is a senior editor with the Washington Independent Review of Books. This is her second year mentoring Pitch Wars, and she’s thrilled to be back at it. Her fiction has appeared in Silk Road, Floodwall, the MacGuffin, the Mulberry Fork Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family and two cats. Find her on the Internet on Twitter at @carriecallaghan or at www.carriecallaghan.com.