My phone pinged and my heart skipped a beat. Every querying author knows the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that washes over you when you’re waiting to hear back from an agent and get a new email notification: Could it be a message from your dream agent who loved your manuscript and wants to set up The Call? Or is it yet another buy-one-get-one denim sale alert from Old Navy?
Let’s face it: most of the time, it’s Old Navy. But in July of 2017, my heart pounded when I got a new email from an agent I’d queried—the only agent who’d requested a full of my women’s fiction manuscript. Praying this would be the email that would change my life, I opened it quickly, but my hopes fell when I read the words, “Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with the voice.” Crushed, I wallowed briefly before power-walking around my neighborhood, the Wonder Woman soundtrack blasting through my headphones as I brainstormed my next steps.
I obviously needed to improve my manuscript, but I didn’t know how. So when I finished my walk, sweating like a very out of shape Diana Prince, I sat down to research tools for writing a better novel, including craft books, style tips, and creative-writing communities. And that’s how I discovered Pitch Wars (PW).
PW is a mentorship program that pairs aspiring authors (mentees) with volunteer published authors (mentors). Over a few months, mentors offer feedback on their mentee’s manuscript and help them prepare a query letter to submit to agents. I was lucky enough to participate as a mentee twice, in 2017 and in 2019, and those experiences helped make my dream of publication a reality.
Here are four invaluable elements of PW that make it such an exciting opportunity for writers:
Baby steps into the world of publishing
To apply, potential mentees must submit a polished, completed manuscript, along with a query letter and synopsis, by the submission deadline. For many aspiring authors, the hardest part of writing is finding time to sit down and get the work done. Meeting the PW submission deadline is great practice for the deadlines you’ll have to meet as your career advances, and even if you don’t get selected as a mentee in your first year of applying, you’ll have a completed manuscript on your hands—and that’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself.
Applicants can submit to up to four mentors, who share wish lists detailing the type of manuscript they want. I scoured these wish lists to find mentors who were interested in my genre (lighthearted women’s fiction), which was a good rehearsal for deciding which agents to query later.
In 2017, romance author Melissa West chose me as her mentee. In 2019, I was mentored by women’s fiction author Susan Bishop Crispell for a different manuscript. Each time, my mentor read my manuscript and wrote me a detailed edit letter outlining its strengths, flaws, and suggestions for improvement. Melissa pointed out the messy plot structure of my first manuscript and taught me how to use the Save the Cat beat-sheet method to improve my storytelling and pacing.
Susan encouraged me to expand on the emotional depth of the manuscript that would eventually become The Wedding Ringer by adding more of the protagonist’s internal reactions and using characters’ physical actions to convey emotion. My mentors shed light on problems I couldn’t identify in the manuscripts until they pointed them out for me, and once they did, helped me come up with my own solutions for solving them.
Ask anyone who’s participated in PW, and they’ll likely say that the relationships they’ve built with their mentor and other mentees are the program’s greatest gift. Sure, everyone wants a shiny manuscript and a flurry of interested agents, but being able to share the highs and lows of your publishing journey with your fellow mentees is an invaluable benefit.
Did you get rejected by your dream agent? Your fellow mentees know the pain. Stuck on a plot point? They’ve been there, too, and will be happy to help you work through it. Landed a book deal? They’ll be first in line to cheer for you.
The Facebook page for the 2017 mentee class is still active years after we completed the program, and whether we’re posting to wish each other a happy birthday or request another pair of eyes on a synopsis, it’s a special feeling to have a community of supportive people who understand the challenges of navigating the publishing industry.
PW concludes with an agent showcase, where mentees’ entries (a pitch and a short manuscript excerpt) go live on the website so reputable agents can request manuscripts. Anyone who’s queried knows that getting your work in front of agents can be a long, challenging road, so a showcase that fast-tracks this process is an excellent opportunity. In fact, I signed with my incredible agent Jessica Watterson after she requested The Wedding Ringer through the PW showcase.
Three years, several manuscripts, and two rounds of Pitch Wars after the email rejection that prompted my soundtrack-fueled power walk, I’ve achieved my dream of becoming a published author. Without Pitch Wars, I don’t think that dream would have come true; and if it had, it would have taken a lot longer. The road to publication can be infinitely challenging, but Pitch Wars has built a community that makes that road less lonely. I’d encourage every aspiring author to polish their manuscript and take a chance on submission—superhero anthem optional.