How to GIF (and How NOT to GIF)

So, what is an animated GIF? It’s an all-singing, all-dancing graphic that decorates many a blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Pitch Wars bio.

Better question–why deploy GIFs? Well, because they’re hilarious (when done right). In a world where we’re trying to entertain, connect, persuade in 144 characters, gifs pack a ton of punch. It’s a visual quote, a reference to a movie, TV show, song, or other moment in time that layers in another level of meaning to whatever you’ve thrown out into the webuverse. But, it can get overwhelming.

brainleaking

Wanna gif, but unsure of where to start?

Here are some of the mechanics:

  1. Gif Libraries–My Top Three: Find the gif you want, and, depending on where you’re going to upload, save it as a file, or save the link. (Left-click on a PC; Command + mouse click on Mac).
    1. Giphy: I love Giphy. Search the library for all manner of gif-tastic nonsense.
    2. Google: YUP. Google. Get Googly with Image Search, then click “Search Tools” under the search bar. Click on  the “Any Type” dropdown and select “Animated.” And BOOM. Gifs galore. Okay, fine, it’s not exactly a “tip” to Google something, but maybe the filters are new info?
    3. Twitter: Has a GIF button embedded. The choices are limited, but it’s pretty snappy reference.
  2. How to Upload for Auto-Play: The whole point of a GIF is to auto-play so your followers immediately see your reference. So, here’s how ya do it.
    1. Twitter: Click on the GIF button to find something in Twitter’s library, OR, upload your own GIF file. No linkies here.
    2. Facebook: Unlike Twitter, Facebook auto-plays the links. So… Links only here!
    3. Blogs: Blogger behaves like Twitter, and auto-plays an uploaded file. WordPress, on the other hand, has a Giphy widget embedded in the HTML editor.

And here are some guidelines:

  1. Ye gods, don’t punctuate every sentence with a GIF. Unless you want to induce a seizure in your readers.
  2. Don’t grab just any GIF. Reference something that resonates with you. I mean, you wouldn’t quote Seinfeld if you didn’t watch it, would you? No, of course not. These are visual quotes, not popularity contests. If you love ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” I’mma expect to see the Scoobies all over your page. Marvel? Please let me see Hulk punching All of The Things. As for me? Well, if you know where this gem comes from, then you have seen into my soul.

smallwonder

Though, I suppose, when in doubt, post some kittens.

kittens

And honestly? That’s all there is to it. Your reference points should be true to your pop culture experience. So get out there, have fun, and get giphy with your bad self.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Requests From The Agent Round)

Hi there Pitch Wars people. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s the agent round. How’s everybody doing?

beaker-freak-out

That good? Excellent. Well try to breathe. I know you’ve got a lot invested in this, and most of you probably aren’t going to hear what I’m saying. But I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway. The agent round doesn’t really matter. Look, it’s a great opportunity. There are some wonderful agents participating, and it’s great to get requests from people who really want to see your work. But if you don’t get the request you want from the agent you want, it’s not the end of the world. There’s a chance they didn’t even get a chance to read your entry. There are like 150 posts. That’s a lot of reading. A failure to request is not a rejection, and querying works.

To try to give a little context, I asked Pitch Wars mentees from last year who have signed with agents to share their stories. I’ll go first. I got one request in the agent round. I signed with my agent four months later from a cold query. Here are some other stories:

Sean Grigsby: I received three requests during the agent round. While waiting to hear back, I finished and began querying a completely different book that got me my agent.

K Kazul Wolf: My first time in PW I got a few requests, signed with an agent, who then dumped me shortly after. Second PW, I got zero requests and some pretty scathing responses the queries sent afterward. Almost two years after the first PW and 200 queries later, I signed with my dream agent. (Mike’s Note: This is really an amazing story. You can read more about it here.)

Becky Dean: I received six requests in the agent round, and while waiting on those, I sent lots of additional standard queries for the same book. I signed with my agent in February off one of those other queries.

MK England: I received nine requests during the agent round, but my fantastic agent came from a cold query sent immediately after. She gave me an R&R in late November, and I signed with her a few months later. Of the three offers I received, only one came from a nudged agent round participant. (Mike’s Note: Add her book on goodreads here. It looks Ah-Maze-ing.)

Kat Hinkel: I had 4 requests in the agent round. I queried my agent a few weeks after. Getting the requests was great but didn’t lead to my agent. But I think saying I was a #PitchWars alum in my query letter helped!

Suzanne Marie: I had three requests from the agent round, but I sent out twenty queries directly after. All of the PW requests were eventual passes. I signed with Sharon in December.

Leigh Mar: ZRC, babies. I had ZERO requests during Pitch Wars. None on my page, no ninja requests behind the scenes. I sent my first query Nov. 22. I got my first offer of rep on Jan. 29. I wound up getting two offers (one even came from a PW agent who did not request from me during the agent round). I sent 59 queries total and saw a 36% request rate (including many reqs from PW agents I queried after). Some stories just work better as a query than a pitch.

Lyndsay Ely: I had six requests from the agent round, but the agent I ended up signing with had requested materials via a Twitter contest months before. When she offered, I was able to send her my much stronger Pitch Wars version! (Mike’s note: Her book deal just got announced! Add her book on Goodreads here.)

Jim O’Donnell: With ninjas, I had 12 requests which led to zero offers. I signed with my agent almost exactly a year after PW started with the next book I wrote.

Wendy Parris: I had 13 requests in the agent round which was beyond exhilarating! Then the rejections started. I kept querying while awaiting responses, which was a good thing since none of my PW requests turned into offers. Six months to the day after the Pitch Wars agent round started, I signed with my agent off a cold query

Sheena Boekweg: My agent requested the full a month before Pitch Wars started. I had to put her on hold while I revised, which terrified me because she was such a dream agent. I think I had seven fulls out when I got into Pitch Wars, and a few sent a rejection after I told them I was revising. I ended up with 6 requests from the agent round. I sent off the requests and then sent the revised manuscript to the agents who had requested the full before agent round. My dream agent stuck around, loved the revision, and we signed about a month after Pitch Wars.

Julie Artz:  I got seven requests during the Agent Round, so I was absolutely positive I would get an offer and devastated when I didn’t. But I picked myself up, wrote a new story, and got an offer from the very first agent I queried with the new manuscript (albeit about six weeks after I sent her the full). People always say just keep writing. And they’re 100% correct.

Leah Collum: I had three requests in the agent round (including one ninja request.) I signed with a non Pitch Wars agent I queried based off a client referral.

Heidi Stallman:  I had 1 official request and two “ninja” requests during the agent round. After a slow start querying, I revised my first first three chapters (and changed their order) with my mentor’s help. I got my agent 5 months after the agent round with a standard query and my shiny new beginning (which alas, was the first thing my agent wanted revised). (Mike’s note: Heidi has the best agent in the world. Really. You can look it up.)

Michella Domenici: I got seven requests in the Agent Round. I sent lots of queries in November and the following months. In January, I revised my opening pages based on feedback from an agent. Here’s the fun part: in February, my agent requested the full based on the original opening pages from a November query! Looks like it was always meant to be.

E.S. Wesley: I got zero requests in the agent round, but tons of full requests after the agent round and sold my manuscript without an agent to a small press around Christmas. Queried my next manuscript in April/May, signed with agent in June. (Mike’s note: Add his book on Goodreads here.)

Elle Jauffret: I got three requests in the agent round, but received more than a dozen requests for my full when I cold queried shortly after. I signed three months later with one of these agents.

Cindy Baldwin: I got six requests in the agent round. I had a 20-25% request rate consistently for my pitch wars MS while querying, but ultimately exhausted my agent list without getting an agent. When I wrote my next book, though, with the help of my new PW CPs, I was able to create the strongest story I’d ever written! I began querying it in mid-March; within six weeks I’d had 10 agent offers, and within five months I’d sold that book at auction. My pitch wars MS remains shelved, for now, but the whole experience was a powerful lesson in moving forward and not giving up on my dreams! (Mike’s note: Add her book on Goodreads here.)

Isabel Davis: I had two requests during the agent round. Afterward, I queried wildly and got an R+R from an intern working at an agency. Even though this agency never ultimately offered, I felt like the experience was a fruitful one, especially for my PW book. I again started to query with my revised PW book, and landed an agent through the twitter contest DVPIT, 5 months after Pitch Wars.

Monica Hoffman: I got one request and one ninja request during the agent round. Neither resulted in an agent offer. I jumped into the query trenches after the agent round and it took 5 months before I signed with my agents through a twitter pitch party called #DVpit

Maria Mora: I got four last-minute requests in the agent round. I connected with my agent during #SFFPit, sent her a query, and signed with her six months later after an R&R.

Believe me yet? I can keep doing this all day. If you ask the Pitch Wars mentees from 2014, they’re going to tell you the same kind of stories. The important thing to remember is to take advantage of any chances you get. Some of those chances might come from the agent round. Some of them will come from other places. There are as many different paths to success as there are people travelling them. You are on your own journey. Keep your head up, and enjoy the path.

A Message to the Incoming Pitch Wars Mentees

I wanted to write a post giving advice to the people about to be selected for Pitch Wars. Because for the people who get selected, this is uncharted territory. It’s awesome, and it’s new, but it’s a little bit scary. Things are going to happen. All of a sudden, people are going to look at you a little bit differently. The resources available to you just increased by a wide margin. But it comes with stress, too. You’ve got a deadline, probably for the first time ever. People are looking at you. They expect things, and that’s hard.

I couldn’t write it alone, because everybody’s experience is different. What I have to say might not apply to you. So instead, I polled the Pitch Wars mentees from last year, and I asked each of them to give their best piece of advice. The one thing they want you to know about the journey they’ve been on for a year, and you’re about to start. We all had different mentors, and we’ve all had different results, so everybody comes from his or her own place.

Everything in here rings so true.  I’ll do my best to collate the advice into topics, but really these nuggets of wisdom could all stand alone. These are the folks who have been there.

We’ll start with the initial approach:

Priscilla Mizell: Go in with a thankful heart and an open mind.

Erika Grotto: You might not get an agent out of this. You might not get an agent for this book. THAT’S OKAY. Pitch Wars is not just about this book. It’s about advancing your career as a writer, putting your work out there for others to critique, celebrating the victories, and commiserating in the defeats. You got into Pitch Wars because you have something to offer, and that something does not begin and end with one manuscript.

Suzanne Baltsar: It’s easier said than done, but you gotta run your own race. It’s easy to compare yourself to others and get discouraged, but remember writing is a marathon not a sprint. Then again, I hate running and am terrible at it, so don’t forget to stay hydrated and have some fun!

C.L. McCollum: Embrace the community! Everyone involved in Pitch Wars has been so supportive and encouraging. Both my mentor and my fellow mentees were a huge help whenever I hit a blue period and starting getting down on myself!

Heather Murphy Capps: Take your time — pause and THINK about your edit letter before diving in. The tight timeline will make you want to Go Go Go, Push Push Push. But a necessary part of good writing includes giving yourself permission to let the notes and your new ideas marinate. It’s ok to reflect before you dive in and ROCK that revision.

M.C. Vaughan: Know thy pace, and block out time accordingly. If you write best words during frequent, small blocks of time, do that. If you need a marathon session before you hit your happy place, do that. Set aside the time you need to do the work you need to be done, and guard it ferociously.

Steph O’Neil: This isn’t your big break. It will be something different to each writer who gets in, but ultimately, it won’t change your life or your writing unless you use it as an opportunity to change yourself.

Mike’s note: Can I suggest that you read that one twice? Seriously. Pin it to your wall. You’ll get out of it what you put into it.

Lynn Forest: Getting into Pitch Wars isn’t the biggest hurdle you’ll face on your writing journey. It’s a step into a larger world, a lasting community you’ll cry happy tears every time you realize you belong there. And you do belong there. No matter how many successes and failures (yes, both) you face, you’ll face them with your friends at your back. Don’t lose hope. You got this.
Your partnership with your mentor is an individual thing. Every relationship will be different. Some of you will become great friends. Some will become CPs. Some won’t. It’s important to embrace what you have and not compare it to others. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to hear about this mentee who got this, and it’s natural to think ‘oh, I wish I had  that!’ But that’s self defeating. Play the cards in your hand. Some other thoughts on mentor relationships and the revision process:

David Gillon: You’re taking part in Pitchwars to gain the advice of a mentor. That advice may go counter to your own instincts. You don’t have to follow their advice, but remember, you’re doing this for their advice, and they know more than you do. Give it a try before discounting it.

Jenny Ferguson: Every mentorship is different: don’t compare and do make the very best of your experience.

Rebecca McLaughlin: You’re a writer. You like writing. You love it, in fact. But these next months aren’t about writing. They’re about revision, and revision is the hardest thing to practice because it’s at the end of the writing road, which is a very long road on its own. So take these weeks and commit to revisions the same way you commit to writing: wholeheartedly, fervently, and with a hard-won passion that toes the line between stubborn workaholic and manic inspiration. You can do this. Tackle it. Revel in it. Learn from it.

I was amazed how many people addressed self care. It wasn’t something I really thought about, but here are some ideas:

Sheena Boekweg: Calories count, even during Pitch Wars. You are going to be spending a lot of time eating your feelings in the next few months/year, and yes, your feelings taste best brownie flavored, or perhaps as ice cream, and you might think that eating the entire bag of Swedish Fish is necessary in order to rewrite your book in two weeks, but the calories won’t go away as easy as they came. Take more walks. Choose to mindlessly eat sugar snap peas, or carrots, and not the entire carton of Ben and Jerry’s.

Leigh Mar Take care of yourself! Get enough sleep, bolster your immune system. A lot of us wound up getting sick about halfway through the revision period last year. Spoiler: Revising is a little easier when you don’t feel like death.

Tracy Gold: Take care of yourself in healthy ways with all of the emotional stress you’re in for. Check out more on her post here.

Relly Annett-Baker: this was my survival kit: 1)Batch cook meals  2) print a calendar of the next two months and work out what time you have AND BOOK IT IN 3) make friends on the Facebook group. They will understand you in a way your partner, friends and even possibly your mentor won’t.

M.K. England: Schedule relaxation time. Probably sounds strange, but if you relax without giving yourself permission to, your brain labels it ‘slacking off’ and beats you up for it. You need that time, though. At least one day per week, give yourself a few solid hours of video games/hiking/netflixing/whatever hits the reset button on your brain. Take care of yourself.

Kamerhe Lane: Recognize that taking time off is an integral part of the creative process. When you hit a tough spot, the right strategy is not always to power through it. Rather, the solution may be to read a good book, go see a movie, take a walk, play with your kids, go out to lunch with a friend. Let your mind wander. Sometimes the wanderings are the only path forward. That said, sometimes you *are* being lazy and whiny, and you need to just shut up and get the work done. So be self-reflective and try to figure out which strategy you need to employ when.

Kat Hinkel: Be prepared to let the experience kind of take over your life, but also try to not let it. (no good advice on the latter. I was in the former camp) … I am pretty sure that I drove all of my friends and family nuts talking about it, but that’s sort of how it goes. The mentee group will be your anchor during this time… rely on everyone in the group! Don’t be afraid to participate. Don’t get jealous or compare yourself. Offer to work as a CP early on (trade writing with people. Work together on updating your query.) And most of all–enjoy it. It’s a very special experience. It goes fast. Try to stay positive and remember you are learning a lot in a short period of time!

These next comments I decided to put into their own section. I don’t really know what to call it, but it’s super important. Everyone is going to have things happen for them at a different pace. There will be people who get agents and book deals faster than you. That’s a new feeling, being happy for someone while simultaneously wishing it was happening for you. It’s hard. You’re all going to feel it at some point. Or maybe it will be the opposite. Maybe you’ll be first, while your friends wait. Either way, it’s hard.

Heidi Stallman: Don’t compare yourself to others. It is poison. It is also impossible not to do. So forgive yourself for the inevitable comparisons and let them go. Everyone’s journey is different. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are different. Go the distance at your own pace in your own way and honor your own unique path.

Lyndsay Ely: Manage your expectations on all things; don’t raise them too high out of excitement. Mentally prepare yourself for a lot of emotional ups and downs—both yours and the fellow mentees you will come to know. Celebration and disappointment will happen concurrently. Don’t be afraid to celebrate, and don’t be afraid to express disappointment.

We got a few takes on how to handle the agent round (Apparently my advice to drink heavily isn’t “responsible.” Whatever. It’s a valid plan.)

Elizabeth Newman: During the agent round, schedule a trip, go to the movies, or set timers on how often you can look at the page. It is very easy to otherwise fall into a constant trap of “refresh.”

Cindy Baldwin: The agent round is very, very stressful. I really underestimated the amount of stress it would be (and I even got requests!). It’s tough to feel like you’re in limbo, and it’s tough to see other people’s posts getting tons of responses while you’re getting fewer or none at all. Schedule some serious self-care during the time the agent round is open! And keep your expectations realistic; while many in our group went on to get agents with their Pitch Wars books, only a small handful had those offers come about during or shortly after the agent round.

And several thoughts on what happens after the agent round:

Julie Artz: Pitch Wars isn’t over at the end of the agent round, and neither is the stress of the process. Even if you’re one of the few who sign with an agent in November, the stress continues in a different way as you go out on sub to editors or as you wait for that first review on your debut. So pay attention to self care now, because your ability to roll with ambiguity and stress will be useful throughout your writing career, not just during Pitch Wars. The more you can enjoy the writing process (and ignore the stressful business stuff) the happier you’ll be.

Jim O’Donnell: Write something new. You may or may not get requests. If you get a lot, write something new, and if you don’t get any, write something new. You just spent a lot of time on this manuscript, it’s time to write something new. And I don’t mean something new with your PW MS. Stop revising. Yeah, that’s a great idea for a new twist on your PW MS, but it doesn’t count as something new. Sure, your PW MC would be more exciting if they were half camel, but for now, write something new.

Maria Mora: Take this one step at a time (it’s a marathon), and make a new email address to query agents with so you don’t spend every waking our refreshing your normal inbox at work.

Eric Bell: Learn to wait. Learning to wait, to be comfortable with the silence that comes after sending your work into the world, is an essential skill you must master if you want to succeed as a writer. There will always be unknowns – responses on queries, submissions, feedback, input, reviews, you name it. Waiting is hard. You will wait at every single step of the writing process. Find your coping mechanism and adapt, because waiting isn’t going away. But neither are you, right?

And then a final, closing thought from Amanda, who more than anybody else has kept our group together. She ran our mentee Facebook page and helped steer everybody. Who better to close the post?

Amanda Hill This is exciting! Celebrate! This is humbling. Listen. This is hard work. Do it. This is just one step. It does not get easier after this, only harder. Don’t be afraid. Take what you learn and keep going. Love those you do this with. Love yourself.

Pitch Wars Behind The Scenes Part 2: The Mentors Strike Back

Hi there. Mike again. If you read my post yesterday, you might notice that I’m on a different website today. I’m in hiding. They’re looking for me over at my website, so I moved over here to To The Shelves, which is a group blog, shared by the mentees of 2015.

See, after I wrote yesterday’s post, there were…repercussions.

The middle grade mentors responded with their typical dignity and decorum.

foodfight

The YA mentors looked up from their phones, rolled their eyes, then went back to ignoring me.

The Romance writers…they had a more measured response.

Kill him

So now I’m on the run from a team of romance writing assassins. At least I assume they’re romance writers. They’re sarcastic, they use a lot of dirty words, and they’re wearing pajama bottoms.

But I would not be deterred. The people need the truth*

You see, there are other groupings of mentors beyond age category, and as the contest goes toward the end, these groups become more and more stratified, turning on each other like a group of hyenas fighting over the remnants of Poomba’s carcass.

The first group consists of mentors who have already made their picks and realized that nobody is going to fight them. You can tell this group by the smug looks on their stupid faces. You’ll hear them saying things like ‘I wish the selection period was over so I could start working with my mentee today.’ And of course you’ll also be able to recognize them by all the other mentors giving them the finger behind their back.

You're an asshole

The next group are those who haven’t decided. You can tell these mentors by the coffee stained shirts, the bags under their eyes, and the e-readers surgically attached to their hands.

unsure

The third group took on different tactics. They found a book that they loved, looked around, wondering if anybody else had seen it. Then they did the honorable thing. They ran and hid. Like Rue in the Hunger Games, they took to the trees, hoping everybody would overlook them. We’re hoping they make it back in time for the selection reveal, although some reports suggest they don’t even exist.

And that of course brings us to the last group. They found the MS they love, only to find it also loved by another, like some crazy book love triangle. Or maybe two other people loved it–that would make four sides–a love square? That doesn’t sound right. What about a love trapezoid? I’m sure romance writers know the answer, but it’s not like I can ask them…that whole ‘trying to kill me’ thing.

I got a quick look at this group — though trust me, you don’t want to get too close. They’re touchy. But this is actual footage of the preparations.

battle

That’s our report for tonight. Thanks for stopping by To The Shelves, and while you’re here, check out all the great posts by last year’s mentees on a whole variety of topics.

 

*Still not true. Still making everything up.

 

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.

important

ReRun Sunday: How Pitch Wars (and beyond) is like Harry Potter

Today, we have an awesome PitchWars post that originally appeared on Kat Hinkel’s blog!

I admit it. I only wanted to write this post because I have a deep abiding love for both Pitch Wars and Harry Potter. (and I wanted an excuse to use some HP gifs, okay?) Guilty as charged.

BUT… I think there are some great parallels that can be drawn between the two… so bear with me

I appreciate your patience, Dumbles...

I appreciate your patience, Dumbles…

Getting picked for Pitch Wars is like getting your Hogwarts letter…
When I found out that I got into Pitch Wars, I was out with a group of friends… I remember seeing Brenda’s tweet and then rushing to look at the list, and the scrolling down to find my name… and I found it! (it was misspelled, which was fine, but my title was there so I was like YESSSSS!) Luckily we were out at a pop-up beer garden at the time, because if I had started shouting and jumping up and down inside… well, we might have gotten some strange looks. But basically, this was me…

They're my letters!!!!!! (Harry, just pick one up off the floor. Much easier...)

They’re my letters!!!!!! (Harry, just pick one up off the floor. Much easier…)

Your Mentor is like a Hogwarts Professor (well, a non-evil one…)
Working with Michelle Hauck during Pitch Wars was so wonderful. Michelle dedicated tons of time and effort to making sure my manuscript was in the best possible shape for the agent round, and she also helped me work on my pitch, first 250, and query letter. (Michelle goes above and beyond for her mentees, that’s for sure). I knew I was in good hands when she told me how much she loved the story and made some excellent suggestions on characterization, pacing, and stakes. Yay mentors!

well done, well done I say!

well done, well done I say!

September and October are like doing tons of magic homework (sometimes it may feel like a Binns essay. or worse, a SNAPE essay) … but luckily you have your friends in the common room to help
September and October were months full of work. BUT luckily, there were 124 other people also working just as hard on the same deadline. Some days it seemed like there was too much to do and I would never finish my edits on time. Sometimes I needed someone else to give advice or help bounce ideas or to share expertise… that’s where the “common room” comes in. Using the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter, and hanging out in our super-secret mentees FB group (no I will not tell you the password to get past the painting!) kept me going and reaching towards my goal. Without these folks, I would not have had nearly as much fun during Pitch Wars.

you think you can accomplish anything else in life during those 2 months that isn't writing related? ummmm.... no.

you think you can accomplish anything else in life during those 2 months that isn’t writing related? ummmm…. no.

And on the topic of your “Pitch Wars class” …
We have become a writing family… these 124 people who live all over the world are my tribe. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

“While you’re here, your house will be like your family…”

— Minerva McGonagall

The Agent Round (and then querying) is kind of like the Triwizard Tournament
But it’s only the first challenge. You may get requests, you may not. It’s all okay! You can still query after Pitch Wars, knowing you have an amazing manuscript.

Querying is like the second (and third… and the fourth/fifth/sixth/etc(?)) challenge… it’s just another step in the process! I queried my agent in December with the query my mentor helped me to polish, and the manuscript I’d worked on revising for 2 months. I mentioned Pitch Wars in my query letter, and I think that made a difference. I know that my manuscript was stronger because of PW.

Freaking! Out!

Freaking! Out!

This is alllll to say — Pitch Wars will not magically solve all things, and it is a challenge to get through. But it is so very worth it and it was one of the best experiences of my life (much like reading Harry Potter!)

And I think that’s the end of this very, very extended metaphor. Thanks for reading!

Pep Talk: You Are More Than This Moment

This pep talk was intentionally kept until after the Pitch War window closed. You’re all Pitch Warriors. Good luck. -The TTS Team

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 So. You entered Pitch Wars, and you didn’t get in.

Maybe you got some requests from mentors who ultimately turned you down, or maybe you waited through the decision period with the crickets in your inbox growing ever louder. Maybe you got feedback from the mentors who passed you by, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’ve had to sign off Twitter for awhile to focus on some self-care. Maybe just seeing the words “Pitch Wars” is making you mad.

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Pull up a chair, my friend. I’d like to tell you a story of someone—several someones, actually, who were all in your same place once.

Many of us 2015 Pitch Wars mentees had applied for Pitch Wars in previous years without getting picked. I first heard about Pitch Wars in 2014, not terribly long before the submission window opened. I had started querying for the first time a few months before, without a single agent request or other promising occurrence. I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to work with a mentor on the book that I loved, but which clearly wasn’t grabbing agent attention. And (duh), I was thrilled at the prospect of getting that revised work in front of tons of top-tier agents in a contest that had already resulted in agent matches and book deals for so many people.

I was a serious writer and felt like I had a serious chance. I talked up Pitch Wars to my best friend, and together, we sent in our submissions when the window opened.

She got in. I didn’t.

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I was pretty crushed. I’d been so secretly confident, and then, boom. I didn’t have a single request from any of the four mentors who I submitted to. I signed out of my newly-created-just-for-Pitch-Wars Twitter account and took a good long look at my true potential. I wondered, deep down, if this was the end of the road for me. I recently found a series of emails I sent to that same best friend after I didn’t get into PW, wondering anxiously if I’d ever have it in me to write more than “pretty words” (my specialty).

As the days passed, I did get feedback from two of the mentors I’d subbed to, both saying similar things. I knew, deep down, that that feedback echoed the feedback I’d gotten from the publishing industry as a whole: that the book I’d subbed was never going to go anywhere.

Eventually, I stopped querying that book and moved on to a new project. And the next summer, that new book DID get me into Pitch Wars, as well as landing me a lot of requests both through the contest and through the regular query trenches. That book didn’t ultimately get me an agent, though; I had to start querying yet another project before I finally, finally got The Call.

Want to know the two biggest things I’ve learned from all of these experiences?

1. I may be good at some stuff, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

I am a lover of lyrical, literary word-smithing. Prose that sings its way across the page is what I love to read and write. And by the time I applied to Pitch Wars in ’14, I was pretty good at that. But there were a lot of other things—reading the market, plot structures, deep characterization—that I wasn’t that good at. Getting rejected from Pitch Wars was a tough, but necessary, wake-up call, reminding me that although there were a lot of things I’d gotten good at, I still had a long way to go. Once I got over the sting of the not getting in, I was able to pull up my big-girl pants and get to work. The next manuscript still wasn’t perfect (obviously!), but it was much, much closer.

This wasn’t only my experience, either—I’ve talked with several writers in the 2015 mentee group who also applied in previous years and got rejected, but the rejection experience or feedback they received from mentors they applied to gave them the courage they needed to do the hard thing and beef up their weak spots before applying again.

2. I am more than this moment, and I am more than this book.

Remember how I said I loved the book I entered PW ’14 with? And remember how I said that even the book I got into PW ’15 with didn’t land me an agent? Both of those things were hard to swallow. My PW ’15 book was, really, the book of my heart; it’s still a book I think about almost daily, and one that I intend to go back to and rewrite again in the future in hopes of someday making it marketable.

But not getting into Pitch Wars in 2014—and my later experiences with rejection, as well—taught me a second important lesson: As a writer, I am more than any one moment, and I am also more than any one book. Although shelving my previous manuscripts was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do, it also taught me resilience and courage, and it taught me to place my long-term goals (have a writing career creating books that I love) over my short-term goals (sell this particular book).

And that lesson has been, and continues to be, an invaluable one, because in many ways, rejection in this industry never stops. Sure, I have an agent, but now I’ve faced editor rejections; once my book baby is out in the world in a real, hardcover form, I’ll be opening myself up to rejection from reviewers, readers, and critics. Sometimes, all of that potential down-the-line rejection can feel overwhelming, until I repeat to myself: I am more than this one book.

So, those of you who are reading this in the wake of not making it into Pitch Wars, take heart. You’re not alone. And though you’re hurting, you won’t always be hurting. Allow yourself some time to grieve, to focus on self-care and whatever that looks like in your life. Take whatever time you need.

And then buckle down and take a hard look at your long-term goals, and always remember:

You, my friend, are more than this one moment.

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Find Your Tribe

“Why don’t you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so I can see you with my heart.”

  • Kate DiCamillo, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE

I’m a careful person. I don’t trust quickly, don’t easily make true friends. Don’t get me wrong, I am an extrovert, thus, am friendly and enjoy talking to people on a social, casual level. But real, raw, tell-you-everything-so-you-can-see-me-with-your-heart? Not so much. Takes some time for me to feel safe enough for that.

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I wasn’t always like that, but that’s another story.

The people with whom I do feel that safe are those in my tribe.

We all have a tribe. Some of us have more than one. I have a husband and two children, they are my tribe. I am still unusually close to the friends I grew up with in Minnesota even though we are all spread out. We’ve literally grown up and are now growing middle aged together. They’re my tribe too. And in my first career, television news, I had a tribe. The folks who understood the vagaries of our business, the excitement and agony, what personal sacrifices it took to succeed.

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But it wasn’t until PitchWars that I finally found my writing tribe.

Before that, I had joined Twitter and spent time trying to figure out this talkative, funny, opinionated, and brilliant community of writers. I flailed about, trying to figure out how to interact with other writers in ways that are professional and not stalkery.

And then I was chosen for PitchWars 2015. And the angels sang. My mentor, the amazing Kendra Young, took my manuscript, deftly identified its (many) problems, and set me to work reconstructing a better story.

The pressure was both searing and exhilarating. It was the first time I’d ever revised an entire manuscript with the actual help of an actual real writer – and my changes were significant. Structural overhaul, eliminating characters, deleting some scenes and reimagining others. Plus getting rid of about nine hundred gajillion filter words.

And in the middle of all of it, I had to have surgery. Not like landed-in-the-ER kind of stuff, but critical to my health nonetheless.

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So I was pressed for time, a little foggy, and suffering from the same insecurity that dogs us all.

But. There was a saving grace.

The other warriors. On a secret, members-only Facebook page where we could bare our tortured writer’s souls.

And I’ll be honest – I didn’t bare a lot at first. In fact, I barely contributed. (Sorry. Pun. Couldn’t help it.) Remember how I said I’m careful? I was. I read everything and sometimes commented. I even asked for advice sometimes. But mostly, I just watched. Because that’s what I do.

And as I watched, here’s what I found: funny, kind, thoughtful, brilliant, trustworthy writers, all of whom wanted the best for each other, all of whom were unfailingly willing to give time, advice, perspective, beta reads, encouragement, sympathy, jokes, GIFs, and so much more. Plus, bonus, some of them were fond of bourbon and/or red wine.

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My people. My tribe.

Nearly a year later, I still don’t contribute the most to our little group. But now when I get quiet it’s only because life is too busy to play or because I don’t always have something fresh to say.

But when I do say something, I know these are people to whom I have told maybe not everything, but a whole lot of things. And they’ve seen me with their hearts. And I trust them.

Enter PitchWars. And while you’re sweating the selection process, reach out. Find the people who could be in your tribe. Even if you’re not selected, you’ve got something you didn’t have before. People you can reach out to for advice, encouragement, support, and GIFs. People who can suggest a new brand of bourbon you’ve never tried or help you celebrate every moment of exhilaration or offer hugs for all the frustrations we endure on the path to publication.

Good luck.

How to Increase Your Odds of Getting into Pitch Wars

That’s the question on everyone’s minds right now, right? The sub window opens August 2 and mentee hopefuls everywhere are frantically polishing their MSs, tweaking queries, and changing their relationship status with Twitter to: it’s complicated.

How do I know this?

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Because, I’ve been you.

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And I CAN HELP YOU. So gather round potential pitch warriors, while I offer up some tips to increase your odds of being selected as a 2017 mentee.

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TIP #1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK

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The easiest way to short your odds is to sub to the wrong mentors. When the blog hop goes live on July 19, read the mentor wish lists c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y and whittle your choices down to the best possible fits for you and your work.

How else can you get to know the mentors? Check out their books for a sense of their strengths and styles, read their blogs, watch the Pitch Wars Live interviews (or recordings if you can’t catch them live!), and follow them on Twitter. Ask follow up questions* about their tastes if you’re unsure (note: mentors won’t be able to answer questions until after the blog hop goes live, July 19, but you can start thinking about the kinds of questions you might want to ask now).

And most importantly, do your homework. There may be “helpful” resources floating around on the inter webs that claim to have info on what the mentors want and don’t want, but in past years we never saw any that were 100% accurate. Don’t rely on second hand info, go straight to the source, do your own investigation with your MS in mind. You don’t want to waste a sub on the wrong mentor due to misinformation.

*WE LOVE QUESTIONS! Just be careful not to straight up pitch your MS to mentors on Twitter. We can’t tell you whether or not to sub to us, you’ll have to decide that on your own. We can tell you more about general things and books we like and don’t like to help you pin down best-possible fits. Basically, ask questions we can give definitive “yes or no” answers to, not “maybe….it would depend….” answers. (e.g., “Do you enjoy fairy tale re-tellings in fantasy worlds?” Yes! Good question! “Did you read A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES? Did you enjoy it?” Yes! And I loved it! Great question! “Would you want a Beauty and the Beast retelling in a fantasy world with fairie lore woven in throughout?” Well… I could tell you I like Beauty and the Beast, and fantasy worlds, and fairie lore, but the real question here is “do I want it” and that answer’s going to be “maybe…it would depend on your hook and how it’s done… ” And that’s not really going to help you narrow down your choices. See the difference?) 

TIP #2: IT’S NOT A RACE

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Take your time to make your choices, guys! It’s not a race to lock in your mentor picks. Have your favorites, but keep your eyes and ears open. A mentor may tweet how desperate they are for YOUR EXACT BOOK later in the game, even if it wasn’t spelled out in their wish list. If you’ve already made your picks based on wish lists alone, you could miss it!

Lemme tell you a little story: In 2015, I thought I’d made my picks, had narrowed it down and was ready to sub. In the days before the sub window opened, one of the mentors who I thought would be a good fit and was still stalking following on Twitter tweeted about how much she wanted a good sister story. Meanwhile, there was a mentor I’d been convinced I was definitely subbing to who’d been tweeting about things they loved and wanted that were starting to veer further away from my genre. I swapped them out on my list and subbed to the mentor who wanted the sister story…. and…guys, THAT WAS THE MENTOR WHO PICKED ME!

And here’s another story: Last year, our absolutely incredible mentee almost didn’t sub to us. Why not? She’d subbed to my co-mentor in the past and thought she’d have a better chance picking mentors who’d never seen her work before. But at the last minute she saw a tweet where my co-mentor basically, unknowingly, begged (yes, literally begged), for her MS. Our mentee changed her mind and subbed to us and… the rest is history (thank goodness, it’s almost a year later and I still think about how much I love her MS all the time).

So be flexible, keep evaluating your best choices as you come across new information between July 19 and August 2.

TIP #3: BE (M)SELF-AWARE

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Be honest with yourself about your work. It’s super easy to develop mentor crushes while reading the bios of these amazing and talented writers (I only had several dozen in 2015). If you find yourself saying things like “well, maybe my MS isn’t that dark” or “oh yeah, it’s totally hilarious!” but you know…maybe…deep in your heart, that you’re stretching a bit (because, mentor crush): don’t sub. Sub to the mentor asking for your degree of dark and your level of comedy, etc., etc.

Of course, you want a mentor who you think will be a good match personality-wise, but put the MS first. Don’t waste a sub when you know your MS isn’t really in line with their tastes.

TIP #4: BORROW SOME EYES

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No, not in like a horror genre way. But get some extra eyes on your query, first page, and synopsis.

I can hear some of you now, “I’ve read it literally fifty billion times myself, it’s fine, it’s grammatically correct and polished and makes perfect sense.”

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Trust me, it’s not.

Guys, I’m a query QUEEN. I can whip any query into shape in like thirty minutes or less. I just get queries. But I’ll openly admit my own query was always weaker than anyone else’s I worked on (and I’ve worked on a LOT).

Why?

Because it’s SO easy for your mind to just fill in the blanks when it knows your MS inside and out. You need someone who has not read your MS to look at your materials from the outside. They’ll see the holes right away, they’ll raise questions, they’ll point out things that confused them.

And then you can fix it.

TIP #5: FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

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Another super easy way to hurt your odds is failure to follow instructions. Here are ALL THE DETAILS you need to know to sub to Pitch Wars. Read them. Bookmark them for later. Double check that you understand the length the sub window will be open and all of the submission guidelines. Have everything you need for the sub packet (query + first chapter) formatted properly per the guidelines and ready to go.

TIP #6: BRING THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

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Alright, so I wanted a Mindy Kaling gif of her saying “Why Not Me?” (the title of her latest book), but I couldn’t find one (and I searched for…way too long), so instead you get this one. ANYWAY!

There’s a difference between being realistic and being negative. In 2015, this contest received nearly 1,600 entries for 125 spots. Last year, I think it was closer to 1,900 for about the same number of places. The odds of not getting in are much higher than the odds of getting in.

But every year hopefuls on Twitter count themselves out and put their own work down before the mentees are announced. Guys! Don’t do this! Mentees work their asses off, in Pitch Wars, and beyond. They don’t give up before the game has even started. If you’re saying “I know I’m not good enough for this” before the mentees are even chosen, what are you going to say when we ask you to WORK for the next two months? What are you going to say when it comes time to post your pitch in the agent round? If you’re already counting yourself out, why should a mentor choose you?

As long as you followed the instructions and submitted to mentors accepting your genre/category, IT COULD BE YOU (especially with the behind the scenes trading back again this year). This contest isn’t for perfect stories that need zero work. It’s okay to know your story could be better (spoiler: it could always be better). This is a contest for great stories that we can help become even better. If you enter, you have the same odds as everyone else (they just happen to be horrible odds).

Recognize that, be prepared for the odds not to go your way, feel all the feelings, but don’t bash yourself and your work in public. You wouldn’t go to a job interview then stand in front of the person who interviewed you and say “I know I’m not good enough for this job,” would you? It does not increase your odds of getting in.

(And while we’re at it, play nice with everyone else too. Being kind to one another is mandatory in this contest. Read more about the Pitch Wars anti-bullying policy here. )

TIP #7: DONATE FOR EXTRA ENTRIES

This is the BIG one… did you know you can sub to TWO EXTRA MENTORS if you donate to Pitch Wars!?

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THIS IS HUGE! Six entries instead of four would DEFINITLEY increase your odds of finding the right mentor match. If this is an opportunity you’re able to take advantage of, take advantage!

TIP #8: CHECK OUT THE SCAVENGER HUNT

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Don’t forget! There will be a scavenger hunt during the blog hop again this year. More information to come, but if you read the “All the details” post carefully, you may have noticed there’s “an exciting prize!”

SO, GOOD LUCK, PITCH WARS HOPEFULS!

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We know, it’s a crazy ride from when the sub window opens until mentees are selected. But even though the odds aren’t in your favor, enjoy the ride. Make friends, meet CPs, learn, and look for the opportunities (and believe me, they are plentiful) no matter what the outcomes.

Oh, and welcome (or welcome back!) to the Pitch Wars community.

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**Note: If you saw this post last year, it’s been updated to reflect any changes to this year’s Pitch Wars details, which can be found here: Pitch Wars 2017… All the details!

5 Reasons Pitch Wars Rocked—Even Though My Pitch Wars MS Didn’t Get Me An Agent

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I didn’t get an agent during Pitch Wars. In fact, not only did I not get an agent during Pitch Wars, but I didn’t get an agent with my Pitch Wars book at all—I didn’t sign with my agent until after I’d stopped querying my PW MS and started querying my next book. And yep: That was hard. Really hard. I-came-super-close-to-giving-up-for-good hard. As fun as it was to see so many of my Pitch Wars friends get agents and book deals during or soon after the contest ended, it was also an overwhelming reminder of what felt like my big, fat failure.

And yet, even in the darkest moments, I never for a single second regretted applying to or being accepted into Pitch Wars 2015. And despite the fact that my Pitch Wars book is currently shelved, and will eventually need another big rewrite (sob) before I can show it to my agent and have hopes of submitting it to publishers, I am so grateful for the Pitch Wars experience. Because you know what? It’s true, what people say—Pitch Wars is about WAY more than just the agent round. Whether or not you get agent requests, whether or not you come out of the contest with an offer or languish in the query trenches for years more, Pitch Wars has a profound effect on your life and your writing. I promise!

Here are five reasons that Pitch Wars was 100% worth it to me, even without getting an agent for that book:

1. It gave me validation in a moment when I needed it greatly.

2015 was the second year that I applied to Pitch Wars. The first year, I didn’t get a single request for further materials from any of the mentors I applied to (though I did get immensely helpful feedback from two of the mentors—which is yet another reason applying to Pitch Wars is so worth it, even if you don’t get in!). In 2015, though, I got requests from all five mentors—and knowing that got me through a LOT during what was probably the most emotionally difficult year in my writing life. I’d already queried my Pitch Wars book quite a bit before I got into the contest, and had had a decent request rate that had within a few months turned into a lot of full rejections. I was convinced that my book needed a lot of work, and starting to feel hopeless about my skill. Getting those mentor requests reminded me that I HAD worked hard to get to where I was, and that my writing did have something it that was worth fighting for. In the months after Pitch Wars, when I was feeling frustrated about not getting anywhere with that manuscript, remembering the fact that all five mentors had loved my writing was all that kept me going some days! 

2. It taught me how to really revise.

I was not a greenie writer when I got into Pitch Wars—my Pitch Wars novel was my fourth, and the second one I queried. I knew how to take a critique and how to revise. But during Pitch Wars, because my novel had serious pacing issues, I ended up revising on a completely different level than I ever had before. I don’t have an exact number for how many words I cut and rewrote during the work period, but I estimate that I rewrote about 2/3 of it more or less from scratch, and I moved all of the chapters into different places.

That level of revision was pretty enormous, and the book that I’ve fully revised since then didn’t require nearly so much work. But revising that dramatically was one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done in my writing career, because it taught me how to dig into my story without being afraid of breaking it, and it also helped me figure out how to hone in on my book’s heart and make certain that the plot was revealing that heart in the best way it could. With my next book, I was able to change up one of the timelines in the story with confidence and without panicking, because my Pitch Wars experience had taught me how effective (and fun!) large-level revision can be.

3. It gave me a community.

As I said, I wasn’t new to writing when I got into Pitch Wars. I had writer friends that spanned the gamut from close lifelong friends I’d been writing with for years to acquaintances on Twitter whom I cheered along in their #amwriting goals. But the Facebook group for the Pitch Wars 2015 mentees quickly started to feel like my online “home”—the one place I went to (and still go to) first thing every day, the place where I take all my writerly questions, and the people with whom I share both my successes and my hard moments. My Pitch Warrior buddies have brainstormed with me, encouraged me when I was this close to throwing in the towel for good, and celebrated with me when things went my way. I’ve also forged several new close individual friendships with people I met from Pitch Wars—one fellow Pitch Warrior is even my co-mentor for Pitch Wars 2016 (as well as an agent sister!).

4. It took my CP experience to a whole new level.

Before Pitch Wars, I had CPs, but I’d always had a tough time finding critique partners and beta readers who gave the kinds of critiques I needed to truly take my MSs to the next level. In writing my first post-PW book, I was floored with how fantastic the critiques I got from CPs I’d met during Pitch Wars were. My CPs helped strengthen my story beyond recognition, and even suggested a lot of ideas that I ended up incorporating during my revisions that made my book a hundred times better. That was the book that I eventually got an agent with, and among other reasons, I cite the fact that my Pitch Wars CPs pushed me to grow and stretch in ways I’d never been able to before.

5. It didn’t end in November.

Probably the biggest thing I have to say to recommend the Pitch Wars experience is this: It goes so far beyond a two-month revision fest. All of the things I’ve mentioned in this post—validation, community, revision skills, and new CPs—are things that continue in my life even now, nearly a year later, and continue to strengthen my writing and fortify my tender emotions as I continue in my journey toward publication!

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