Elizabeth Leis Newman was a 2015 Pitch Wars mentee. She is a magazine editor by day and women's fiction author by night. She resides in Chicago with her husband and four cats.

What to expect in the CP relationship

In an ideal world, critiquing is an “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours” situation.

One of the biggest lessons through Pitch Wars 2015 was learning the difference between beta readers and critique partners. Here’s one of many good blog posts on the difference. I had found wonderful beta readers before entering Pitch Wars, but becoming a mentee under Laura Heffernan showed me what I had been missing – and needed.

Specifically, I needed deep criticism of my book, along with occasional soothing noises of how it would all be okay. MK England wrote a great blog post on handling criticism. But beyond the feelings (So Many Feelings), another aspect of finding a CP that works for you after Pitch Wars is not only critique styles, but expectations of time frame.

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Laura remains an excellent CP for a bunch of reasons, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I LOVE how fast she reads. I feel like I’m a priority, and I try to return that when I read her work. Another of my CPs uses Google Docs, which I like because, as she works her way through it, I receive an email with recent comments she’s made. When I critique these days, I try to send emails when I’ve made it through a chapter or section with questions or overall impressions so the person knows I’m working on it.

That’s not to say your CPs need to always give you a quick turnaround. Everyone reads at a difference pace. Life happens. People are working on their own revisions or took on too much or have children screaming at them. One of my beta readers started my book and received a cancer diagnosis, and stopped reading anything. I did not take that personally.

But it’s been weird to meet people who say “Yes, of course! Send me your chapter/book/query” and then they fall off the face of the Earth.

It invites questions such as: Did they receive the document? Do they hate it? Are they bored? Am I a terrible writer? Am I a bad person? What if EVERYONE HATES ME AND EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER WRITTEN?

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So if you are in this situation, let’s take a deep breath and break this down into more objective territory. I think there are a few likely scenarios: One, the person truly became too busy, grows guilty and flakes. Two, the person lost interest in the book and doesn’t know a way to say that while maintaining a friendship. Three, the person thought they could help, but then realizes they are out of their league. (For example, I enjoy reading sci-fi and romance, but can’t offer much in terms of criticism.)

The paths forward, I think, begin with honesty with both yourself and your CP. Some strategies:

  • Set expectations around how much time you need and keep the commitment. If you say, “I’ll have this back to you in a month,” don’t vanish. If there are extenuating circumstances, speak up.
  • Ask yourself if this is a friend or a CP. They can be both! But one thing I have learned is some people want more encouragement than honesty. That’s okay, but that may make for a better friendship than CP relationship.
  • Discuss whether batches of 50 pages work. If you’re slammed, see if it would work for you to exchange first chapters.
  • If you are critiquing and lose interest in the book, see if that can lead you to say what could help. Did the middle become soggy? Is it the characters? Is there something you’re seeing that made you realize the issue with your own book, and you had to run go and do that?
  • Finally, on both sides, ask what you can and can’t accept. If a friend has had your book for months and never said anything, good or bad, ask whether you can let it go. Or, if you’re not a confrontational type (cough), is it easier to cast a wider CP net?

There’s no reason to believe you will mesh with every potential CP. Don’t lose hope if it hasn’t gone well. Much like querying for an agent, it’s about the right match.

Pitch Wars: What will you give up?

I love television. I miss television.

As much as I adore Pitch Wars, no one should underestimate the amount of time and dedication it takes, both on the part of mentors and mentees. Pitch Wars hammered home a lesson that others may have learned sooner: Writing doesn’t magically flow through your fingertips through breaks in your life.

Throughout most of my 20s, inspired by my love of Jennifer Weiner and other funny women’s fiction writers, I had a vague idea of a book I wanted to write. I had this idea that at some point I would sit down and Dedicate Time to My Book, perhaps once I broke a leg or needed bed rest after surgery. Tip: If you are mentally scheduling catastrophic events as a way to find time to Do Your Thing, you may need to reevaluate your life.

Instead, between 2010 and 2012, I helped raise a second puppy for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, puppyhelped rescue 30 cats from a hoarding situation, got a new job in a new city, and moved to Chicago. We bought a house. I dedicated many hours to trying to be a success in my new job as a magazine editor. I watched my favorite television programs.

Suffice to say, I did not work on my book for about two years.

I went back to it in late 2012 and began plugging away. But even then, I prioritized a lot over writing. It came after magazine editing, work travel, social commitments, family obligations and vacations.

My book was finally ready, after several drafts, in spring 2015. I entered Pitch Wars and, miraculously, was chosen by the awesome Laura Heffernan. Recently, I looked back and realized one of the questions she asked was about my other commitments.

I promised to her that, apart from a work trip to London in September and obligation to my day job, that I was willing to give up any spare time to her and her edits. I kept that agreement. I spent most of the time between the end of August and the end of November on the couch, rewriting and editing. I’m not going to lie: I barely saw my husband, who was dealing with a family member’s medical emergency far away. I stopped going to the gym. A three-day holiday weekend was spent with my fictional characters. I skipped having an October birthday party. I put all the television and movies I wanted to watch on hold.

I wouldn’t change any of it. Not because of how much I learned, the agent experience, or even becoming a part of Pitch Wars community. That was all fantastic. But a year later, the main lesson I took away from Pitch Wars was that it reinforced what it means to put your writing first. That habit stuck with me once I shelved my Pitch Wars book. It took me four years to complete a draft of that book. It took me six months to draft Book 2 earlier this year.

Whether or not you get into Pitch Wars, there are very few of us who are allowed to write creatively all day. Many mentees have children, and most had (or still have) day jobs. Some were students, some had major mental health or physical challenges, some had emergency family crisis.

A lot of those situations reflect how, at the end of the day, you are still a person. By all means, live your life. Trust me, Brenda Drake does not want your marriage to fall apart because of Pitch Wars.

goodenoughBut. Pitch Wars reminds me of something one of the authors of “Good Enough is the New Perfect” said at an event many years ago. I don’t remember whether it was Becky Beaupre Gillespie or Hollee Schwartz Temple, but one of them said, essentially, to stop trying to achieve work-life balance.

“It doesn’t exist,” she said. “Instead, think of seasons.” She said that there will be seasons in your life where you are focused on your family, or on your career, or your book.

Pitch Wars is going to be your season. It’s not to say you can forgo all obligations. But it will teach you an incredible, invaluable lesson in what it means to be selfish about your art and to make your writing a priority.

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