Huh. If you go by this blog, I kinda vanished off the face of the earth, didn’t I? However, if you follow me on Twitter you know I was chosen for Pitch Wars, so my time hasn’t been my own since the end of August. Now that it’s all over, the dust has settled, and I have my life back again, I thought I’d put down some thoughts about the amazing experience that was being a Pitch Wars mentee.
I’d wanted to enter Pitch Wars last year, but the timing wasn’t right, so I cheered on some friends who had gotten in. When it rolled around this year though, the timing was perfect. I had just finished another round of revising my Russian Rockstar novel and sent it out to some agents who had asked to read the revision. And while I thought it was the best that I could make it, I thought that Pitch Wars might be the perfect opportunity to find out what I was missing. Was there something I wasn’t doing with this book that would put it over the top? Or did I need to stop messing with this book I first conceived of almost 30 years ago and have been writing on and off for almost five, and just trunk it already? So I chose my six potential mentors, submitted everything, and waited.
I got my first request for more material about a half hour after I submitted. Another one the next morning. More requests trickled in, until by the end, five of the six mentors had requested either a partial or the full manuscript to evaluate. I told myself that was a good sign, but of course it still didn’t mean I’d gotten in. I got emails with great feedback from a couple potential mentors, with their thoughts on parts of the novel that weren’t working (the middle, mostly, WHAT A SURPRISE). Hints started flying around on Twitter that we all read too much into while not trying to read anything into.
Then I got a DM from a friend that one of my potential mentors was giving hints about a “swoony” submission she was reading. Those always got my interest, as my book has a high swoon factor. Then I saw this:
I stared at it for a good thirty seconds, like it was one of those Magic Eye pictures I had to figure out. Then I realized the first word up there was italicized and four letters. It said Nyet. This was my book.
Then it got better:
I’m not gonna say this made my day or anything, but this totally made my day. If I hadn’t gotten into Pitch Wars, this would have still been worth the experience right here.
BUT, because I’m an eternal pessimist, I was still pretty sure I hadn’t gotten in. I had gotten some great feedback, and I’d made a mentor cry, sure, but there were almost 2000 submissions and roughly 140 slots. I was braced to be an “almost,” and steeled myself to smile like a beauty pageant runner-up and cheer on the friends I’d made during this crazy submission period.
But then. THEN. Welp, turns out Brighton likes to cry.
Brighton Walsh chose to mentor me and my Russian Rockstar. There are times that I still can’t believe that I was fortunate enough to get this opportunity. There was lots of pinching of the self going on.
Pitch Wars means you rewrite your novel. FAST. Some of the mentees have been calling this experience Writing Boot Camp, and that’s the best description I can think of. Brighton was amazing, brainstorming with me via long chat sessions, helping me identify not only wasn’t working, but why it wasn’t working. I learned about story beats, and what pacing actually means. I sketched out a whole new middle section that I got really excited about. I realized two days later that said new middle wouldn’t work at all, and there were tears and vodka. We went to Plan B, which meant eviscerating the existing middle section, keeping only the vital bits, and expanding the last section to include that oh-so-important Black Moment that I thought I’d already put in, but in the exact wrong place. I cut thousands of words, I added back even more thousands more. I heightened emotion, I made my characters cry. I made myself cry. I made Brighton cry (YASSSSSS).
I learned interesting things about myself and my writing. I learned if I can work the word “that” into a sentence, I WILL DO IT. I also have an aversion to contractions, for which I blame NaNoWriMo (“he is” counts as two words, where “he’s” is only one!).
The agent round was some giddy excitement, watching and waiting for comments to go up. I got some new interest in my book, and now that the agent round is over I’m back to querying. So in some ways nothing’s changed. I wasn’t one of those instant overnight successes, I’m back in the query trenches with everyone else. But, but, BUT. I have new confidence in my book. It’s good, y’all. So much better than it was. If nothing comes of it, I can definitely say that I did my best with it.
But most importantly, I’m ready to take what I learned from Brighton and apply it to new stuff. New ideas are circling, and now I know how to put them down right the first time. How to really structure a novel. How to make it good. I can’t wait. And that’s what Pitch Wars is for. That and the people. I made a lot of new friends during this experience, and I’m enjoying cheering on their successes and reading their books. So much talent in this class of 2016! I’m so proud to have been a part of it.