Monday, August 25, 2014

Arriving at a Pitchwars Decision

I thought I'd put in print the different aspects of what goes into making a mentor pick for Pitchwars.  This might help me to clarify my own thinking and make an impossible decision a little easier. These are the sort of things I see other mentors weighing and also what is running through my own mind. After all, we only get one and that is agonizing.

First off, just let me say how blown away I was by all the slush. Of course there's going to be things that just aren't for you, but everything was so well done. Such great writing. Many, many well-crafted queries. Directions followed so carefully. I really appreciate everyone who put my name on their choice of mentors, and I read each query and each chapter. There were many entries I wanted to request more pages from, but I knew there just wasn't the time. I could only read so much extra.

I said on twitter yesterday that this is like heading to the grocery story for milk, eggs, laundry soap, and toilet paper and being told you could only have one and a half. How are we supposed to choose? Go with what's practical or get off the list and buy chocolate?

Probably the number one thing for me was finding entries I loved. As the agents say, something you won't mind reading over and over. Because like the agents, we will be reading our mentor pick over and over. This means that the biggest weight we're putting on the submissions is personal taste, our picks are going to be subjective. There were many fine entries, but some spoke to me more than others. When I decide on a final pick, it will be something I love.

I had no problem finding entries I loved and that's when more tangible considerations come into play.

Commercial: Is this an entry that is going to appeal to a lot of other readers? Is this a main character readers will build an attachment with? Does the plot hold a reader's interest? Does the voice blow my socks off?

Marketable: Is this an entry that fits the contest agents' wishlists? Are the MG agents looking for this genre? Is it a genre/theme that has gotten tired and over published?

Improve: Is this a story that I see ways to improve? Does this story need my help or is the editing and big picture already tight? Is this an entry that is really close, but could use an extra set of eyes. And yes, if something is really, really excellent a mentor might pass it by as being already set for agents. 

I don't believe I know everything about helping a story, but I have read a lot and an idea or two will just jump out. That's very exciting! Then I'm like: 'Oh! What if the author tweaked this just a little!'

On the other side, do I see too much to fix about this entry? Do I love the concept and the first chapter, but think it falls apart a little after that? There's only such much time a mentor to devote. We all have our own writing, jobs, and families to blend in also.

Competition: Several things on my list were swarmed by another mentor. They really had their heart set on a entry. In that case, I backed off as I had others that I could love more.

Pitch: Is this submission something that will translate easily into a short pitch? Does it have a high or unique concept that will make a pitch zing?

Compatibility: Is the author polite and someone I feel I can work with? Do I think we can build a connection? I don't think this will factor in at all. Everyone I've interacted with has been an absolute joy.

And those are the major factors that are going into my decision. Which, as I said, isn't made yet. I have a lot of reading to go! And I'm looking forward to it!

I plan on taking time after September 3 (probably a lot of time) to give more detailed feedback on an individual basis. I plan to personalize each letter I send to all my subs, even if it means saying this just wasn't right for me. This could take a lot of time so be patient.  

Feel free to put questions in the comments. And remember not everyone can make it into contests. Most of the time I didn't get in with my stories. That is not a reflection on you or your story but the subjective nature of the game. The true winning in contests is the person who makes connections, learns, and persists.


  1. Thanks really helpful on all levels

  2. As a fellow PW mentor this year, I'm with you on everything there. You're a contest pro since you run your own, but I'm glad to see it mentioned that the agent's preferences are taken into consideration. My fear is taking on a truly great manuscript only to find none our contest agents are looking for that type of story. The story may be great and can find a home somewhere, but I don't want to do anyone a disservice by not paying close attention to the agent wishlists.

    I'm glad you mentioned competition too. I've seen lots of gushing comments from mentors over great manuscripts, and stuff like "this is so good but I'll concede and let you have it." :)

    My top picks, which I am still narrowing, are all strong in one way, but their "issues" differ. One has super strong hook, but a lot of filler scenes (pacing). Another has amazing voice but not as strong a hook. Another, great structure but voice not quite there. It's tough when a lot of great material is presented.

  3. Thanks for writing about this and for spending many, many hours reading through submissions.

  4. Thanks for providing insight into your process. And I'm sure the people who submitted to you will really appreciate the personalized letters - that's awesome of you to do that for them!

  5. Thanks for sharing. It helps to know what you're looking for.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Michelle! You and all the mentors are super-heroes/heroines to me! How do you do it all? Thank YOU!!!!