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