Pitch Wars Prep Care Package

Hello internet-peeps!

I assume you’re here because you’re considering submitting your manuscript to Pitch Wars! And as a mentor this year, I am so excited to read the entries once they roll in. However, there is still almost a month until the submission window opens. So, I figure there’s a lot of stress-prep going on. And I’m hoping to relieve some of that stress with some helpful guides to help you prepare your submission and your brainz for Pitch Wars.

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The first thing I’ll give you is a bit of advice. While Pitch Wars is a great program that provides both mentorship and platform, it is not the end-all, be-all of pitching your work to agents. I did not make it into Pitch Wars the year I applied and I just used that experience to learn and grow as a writer until I got my agent. So all parts of the Pitch Wars experience can be valuable. (Also the fact that you finished and polished a whole book is a huge accomplishment. You’re all awesome!)

So, what do you need for Pitch Wars? A Manuscript, a query, a synopsis (optional), wine (less optional), and a support system!

Manuscript:

Note: you should have a complete and polished MS ready for Pitch Wars. But I’ll provide you some resources I’ve used in my own writing journey for those last minute touches.

Susan Dennard and the Revision Process

The For Writer’s Section in Susan Dennard’s Blog

Before querying & sub: cutting word count, filler words, & line-edits

Can Your Scenes be Seen?

Pitchwars Mentor Blog

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

Query:

Some quick advice from me:

  • Comps are NOT a requirement. They’re there to provide some quick insight into what your story is about, the tone/themes of your story, and/or the audience you seek to reach. If the comps you’re trying to include only confuse these facts, considering not having them.

Writing a Query Letter

Query Letter Success

Query Tracker Success Stories

Writer’s Digest Successful Queries

Query Shark

Synopsis:

How to Write a 1 page Synopsis

6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis

How to Write a Novel Synopsis

Wine

Support system:

Adventures in Revising(2): CPs, Beta Readers, or hired editors?

#CPMatch on Twitter

Bonus Advice:

Online Contest Pitching: Querying and Pitching in the Public Arena

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Twitter and Conference Pitching: A Quick Guide

 

I’m not an expert on pitching, but I am one of the few people who kind of loves it.

 So, I was hoping this post could be informational but also share my love of pitching.

First, the reasons I love pitching (in conferences):

– It’s face-to-face, so you can get a feel of the agent/editor and their reaction to your story.

– It’s an organic conversation, it gives agents/editors a chance to ask questions that they wouldn’t otherwise. It means you get a chance to really sell your story in a more natural setting.

– It’s a chance for YOU to ask questions of the agent/editor you’re talking to. It’s great because even if they don’t request your MS you can ask them about future projects or about the industry in general. Almost every agent and editor I’ve pitched has been willing to take extra time to talk to me about small questions at the end. It has been a great chance to educate myself.

The reasons I love pitching (on Twitter):

– It’s low commitment. You can just post your pitch and step away (if you want).

– It costs you nothing (except maybe a bit of your sanity that day).

– You’re usually allowed to pitch more than once so you get multiple chances to make an impression on dozens of agents and editors that are taking part.

Some things to keep in mind:

– Pitching doesn’t give a full picture of your story, that’s what your query letter is for, so make sure it’s ready to go.

– Don’t pitch (on Twitter) unless you’ve got a completed MS. There is an expectation that you will send requested materials soon (often within a few weeks).

(NOTE: This is different for conferences. You have more time, but I’d also tell the agent/editor what stage the MS is on when you have the pitch appointment)

Basic elements of a pitch:

– Concept/World

– Character – their motivations, their flaw.

– Conflict – the inciting incident. The reason they can’t stay in their comfort zone anymore.

Do NOT try to include everything about your story in your pitch. There’s no way you can tell all elements of your story in a pitch whether it’s a 5 minute convo at a conference or a 140 character Twitter Pitch.

For a conference (in person) pitch, you can just include one great detail for each of the three bullet points above. Then if you have more time expand on the thing that makes your story interesting.

For a Twitter pitch, you can make one 140 character pitch for each individual bullet point.

Also, SPECIFICITY! My main advice when I critique pitches is to ask for specifics. “She’s a monster” is a bit vague. However, specifying the type of monster makes it more unique: “She’s a gumiho, a 9-tailed fox.” If you can give concrete reasons or examples for why your story is unique, then use them. Making your story stand out among the crowd is the key to a successful pitch.

Additional things you can add (if you have them):

– Great comps that give IMMEDIATE idea of your story (These Broken Stars was often pitched as Titanic in Space. That gives an immediate concept of the story. Don’t just use 2 comps and think it’ll give an idea of the story immediately, that’s not always the case so be aware of your story’s strengths)

– High concept hook (this is similar to including good comps). For example, “Cinder is Futuristic retelling of Cinderella with cyborgs and spaceships.” That kind of tweet would make me want to read IMMEDIATELY.

– Something that the story is based on that is cool and unexpected. I said that my story was based on Korean Myth which is (unfortunately) not common in YA right now. So it caught the eye of a few agents and it helped my pitch get interest.

Some things to try for Twitter Pitches (with examples):

Try making a pitch based on Plot Line.

– Say you’re pitching Hunger Games. You’d pitch the plot by saying, “A teen girl is forced into a televised game that makes 24 kids fight to the death for sport. Only 1 can survive.”

Try making a pitch based on Character Arc.

– Again, for Hunger Games. “Katniss will do anything to save her little sister, including taking her place in the deadly Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death.”

Try making a pitch based on World Inspiration.

– Hunger Games pitch with World inspiration. “Panem is all that’s left of North America. The capital keeps the 12 districts in line by demanding 2 teen tributes each year to fight to the death for sport.”

(I also made a video for tips on writing a Twitter Pitch)

And Finally, be positive. Even if the first, second, and tenth agent don’t show much interest then keep trying! You worked hard on your book and you should be proud of that. And if all else fails, you can still slush query.

How I got my agent: A tale of writing, woe, and wishing

I present to you my story of how I got my agent
(Warning: This post is LONG and full of GIFs):

I started my professional writing journey when I had a weird dream (yea, I know, one of those people). I told my cousin about it because she’s a writer and I said, “Do you think that could be a book you would write?”

She said, “No, but you could write it.”

And I felt like that was a ridiculous idea. So I wrote it.

It was the worst book ever. But it rekindled a love of writing that I had in middle school and high school where I would fill spiral notebooks with chapter books that I would write all day and night long. One story was a fanfic retelling of Brian Jacques’ Redwall. I had one series about horse racing and muuurder!

Anyway, after writing that first book, which I still adore in a way I can’t explain even though I don’t want anyone to read it ever, I realized that writing had never stopped being my dream. I had just taken some detours along the path of my life.

So, I sat down to write a story based on one of the dozens of ideas I had come up with while writing that first story. And I thought I was being very business savvy to choose the book that felt more “marketable.” Yup, I did that. I was a dumb-dumb, thinking I could control my fate.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t love the story I decided to write. I truly did, but it was a story I wrote for all the wrong reasons even though I loved it at the time. I wrote it to be current and that is a number one big no-no I’ve heard. I think it showed in the MS.

But, I did get that book all polished and spiffy and I went to my first ever writing conference with it. I got great feedback from agents and editors and I got two requests for pages from pitches I recited from a memorized script I’d taken weeks to write.

It all seemed to be a very good next step. And it really was. I learned a lot from that experience and I am a better writer and person because of it.

So, I dove into the query trenches with my head held high.

I queried about 40 agents with that book and I got rejected. Like hardcore rejected. I think I got a couple requests for partials. And then all rejections. Some came quickly, some trickled in 9 months to a year later. They were all very professional, some even personalized a bit. The agents I’d met at the conference were the kindest you could ever imagine even as they told me the story wasn’t for them.

Suffice it to say, I was distraught. And I did the stupid thing and let myself wallow a bit too long. I got deep into writer’s block and couldn’t dig myself out of it for months.

I started two new books with the idea that I would push myself out of the rut. I was lucky enough to have gained a critique group from that conference and they were great at cheering me on, telling me that my WiPs sounded awesome, reading pages.

But, I just couldn’t get into my writing again. I did an online writing conference (Write On Con) and it helped boost me a bit. I did NaNoWriMo and that helped me get perspective on my writer’s block.

And finally, I decided to write a book that I was terrified to write. Partly because I didn’t think I was ready and partly because I loved it too much already. What if I mess it up? What if it was a big flop?

The moment I knew I was writing the right book was when I was told not to write it and I did it anyway. To be fair, the person who told me not to write it wasn’t saying I *couldn’t* write it, but just saying that I was stepping into a place that was untried and potentially full of places to trip up and fall. I was writing a book set in Korea based on Korean mythology about gumihos and I very creatively called it GUMIHO.

I am forever grateful that I approached this project with hope instead of fear. I had the hope that people would see the merit in my work, in my story and in my culture. I had the hope that I could give life to a land that I truly love with all of my heart. And I had hope that people would support my dream even as they feared for my feelings being trampled again.

In the end, I went with my heart and that made all the difference. The response to this project was a complete 180 from my last “thought out and targeted” MS. Where I had written to trend before, I wrote for myself this time.

I first experienced positive feedback when I went to a conference, Romantic Times Convention (RT Con). It was my first time pitching at such a huge event. And I was overwhelmed not only by the many agents and editors, but by the presence of some of my idol authors. It was actually perfect for me because I was distracted from my own nerves until the moment I was supposed to go pitch. And I didn’t have time to get stuck in my own head.

I also did a thing where I didn’t memorize a pitch that I’d prewritten. Instead, I made a list of three main points that I knew I had to hit when I pitched and I acted like myself. I wanted the heart of my story to get across, not just the plot.

I’m going to copy paste from a post I wrote for my other blog about what I learned from my RT experience:

1) Just do it. You can’t hold in your work forever if publishing is your end goal.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I met a lot of great authors who were more than willing to let me pitch practice on them.

3) Accept it if your story isn’t for everyone. Some agents loved my pitch, some didn’t. It’s the fact of a subjective industry and you just have to keep trucking.

4) DO NOT try to fit your whole story into your pitch. Just tell the main gist and the main character. If you go ham, the agent will just go to their happy place and not follow your thread. I literally pitched my book as a concept instead of a full plot and I got requests. It was epic 🙂

Some advice given to me by Agents who requested:

1) Take your time! Do not send the MS right away if it is not squeaky shiny! It’s hard not to just flood all of the agents that request, but it’s kind of like being considerate that they want your best because you’d want their best if they were your agent.

2) Be excited! This is happy times! You got requests! At one point I couldn’t stop smiling as I spoke to an agent and I apologized about my face (yes, you’re allowed to laugh at me). She said it was fine, that she was happy for me too. (Agents are super nice y’all).

After RT Con, I went home with a glow. I was so happy that I got requests and made some new writer friends.
http://www.bethphelan.com/dvpit

Then #DVPit happened. I told myself not to be greedy, said that I had opened a very nice door for myself with RT Con. And then, of course, I had to just dip my toe in. Partly because DVPit was so INSPIRATIONAL! There were amazing stories pitched and wonderful #ownvoices. And the support of the community was unprecedented.

This is what I learned during #DVPit:

(Again, copy pasting from my old post about my lessons learned)

1) Be simple with your Twitter Pitch. If you were simple with your conference pitch, do that times TEN for twitter. You only have 140 characters!

2) community is everything! Signal boost your favorite pitches. Many participants were paying it forward and it was magical to see. Seriously, I love my writer community!

3) It’s full of hope! To see these unagented/unpublished authors right now and to KNOW that their books will be published in due time. It just makes you happy warm inside.

4) Take this opportunity to cultivate new relationships. Tweet at people if you like their pitch. Say thank you when they like yours back. And be respectful ALWAYS of the time put into a huge event like this! (Seriously #DVPit trended nationwide, that’s epic).

5) Also, know that agents and editors are still professionals, don’t ask them weird personal stuff. And when you query keep it as professional as if it was a cold, slush-pile query.

#DVPit gave me so much support. Not only from the agents and editors, but from the community. It was a coming together of people who love stories and love what DVPit represented and held each other up. After that day, I was a ball of emotion, but good emotion.

And then, I felt immediately like I was unprepared for life and I freaked out (for a few weeks).

So I did “research” and looked into EVERY agent who requested in detail. I took way too much time preparing myself for what I was sure would be a rocky query ride.
It was actually good that I did a lot of research because it is smart to know who you are querying. And it gave me a chance to settle down after the great adrenaline rush that was RT Con and DVPit.

So, I sent out ONE query and I had a HUGE case of imposter syndrome IMMEDIATELY.

The problem was that my last querying round had been so abysmal. Little to no excitement over my concept or story. So the fact that GUMIHO had gotten such a positive reception really concerned me. That maybe I’d bit off more than I could chew. That maybe I’d send my MS and then they’d KNOW that I don’t belong!

It’s so hard to put yourself out there. I had many moments where I felt like I was flailing in the wind. This is where your friends, family, and critique partners (CPs) come in handy.

ESPECIALLY my CPs. They knew my struggle. They understood the industry and what I was experiencing. Talking to them was like talking to someone who was running a marathon beside me. They were the rock that held me to the ground when my body wanted to just get up and fly away and be like, “Nope, I can’t exist in this world any longer.”

But, despite all my craziness, that first query came back with a request for a full.
I did my happy dance, said a thank you to the heavens and sent out the MS.
Then I sent out more queries. After sending out requested material, I tried to take advice and step back from the computer (this was ridiculously difficult). So, I made plans to distract myself. Namely, I decided to go to Book Con 2016.

Well, fate had a funny way of taking my plans and turning them all topsy turvy, because the Thursday before Book Con I got an email from an agent to ask for a call. I was so flustered that I set up the call for the next day. And then I cried. My coworkers were quite concerned by my sudden outburst, but I’m lucky to work with very understanding people. They gave me supporting hugs and pats even as they didn’t fully understand why I was a hot mess.

I spent the next 24 hours convincing myself that it wasn’t THE call. My CPs were more confident than me, they said an agent doesn’t call out of the blue for an Revise & Resubmit. I was trying to temper my expectations (I was a fool to think I could do that!)

Well, my CPs were right (as they usually are). It was thrilling and surreal to talk about my book with an industry professional who liked it enough to want to represent it.

My hands were shaking by the time I got off the phone.

So, I went off to Book Con and I was a wreck. I cried a lot that weekend (but happy tears).

I gave other agents with my full, partial or query two weeks to get back to me with their thoughts on my MS. And now I was in territory I had never stepped into. I had queried before, I had gotten requests before, I had gotten rejected (many times) before. But I had never been in a place where I knew there was happiness at the end of the rainbow.

As you can imagine, I was pretty much in a fugue state for a full two weeks.
I went through phases during that time where I was like, “I got this. I can pull this around and be fabulous even though I look a hot mess.”

My CPs definitely got an ear-full when I was in those moments, because I had to talk out my reasons for why I was totally cool as a cucumber EVEN THOUGH I OBVIOUSLY WASN’T!

Finally D-Day came (not fast enough if you ask me. I’m pretty sure I found a break in the time-space continuum and it’s the two weeks after you get an initial agent offer).

In the end, I found an agent who loved my book and understood me as a writer.

I feel so lucky to be able to say that I’ve signed with the amazing Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency and I couldn’t be happier!