This past couple of months, I was lucky enough to be part of Pitch Wars, a writing contest in which published writers choose a finished manuscript and its unpublished author to mentor. Among difficult odds, I was picked, and it was a fantastic experience. It’s been finished for just over a month now, and I’d wanted to write a long, wise list of things I learned from the experience. Maybe I still will. But for now, here are three:
1. Writing is hard. Revising is hard. Querying is hard. Writers are neurotic and obsessive. I believe this now more than ever. I was so lucky to be in a super talented pool, selected from an even larger pool of talent. They’re awesome people and hard workers, but many of us are still surviving the aftermath. A couple dozen participants found agents from Pitch Wars—the rest of us are still doing the same thing we’ve always done: writing, revising, querying, waiting, worrying, commiserating. I’m starting to believe what I’ve heard about every stage of the publication journey being anxiety inducing and crazy making.
2. There are no magic bullets. Well, sometimes there are, but whether or not you get one depends very little on how hard you work. I thought Pitch Wars would be my magic bullet in getting an agent. Obviously my book was good enough to be picked by someone, right? So, I worked my butt off. I even thought I wouldn’t finish at one point because of devastating personal issues, but I pushed through because I was so SURE this was it. I was going to be one of the writers who signed with an agent that week.
A month later, I’m still querying, just like the good ol’ days before Pitch Wars.
At a conference once I heard NYT bestseller James Dashner talk about the success of The Maze Runner. Want to know the secret of his success, according to him? He’d written it two years earlier and it caught the tailwind success of The Hunger Games. He didn’t copy THG. He didn’t know that kids fighting to the death would be a thing. He put in the hard work, he wrote what he loved, and that time he got lucky.
I’ve watched so many talented PW writers that didn’t get a lot of agent attention. I saw a few concepts that I was surprised were so popular and found an agent right away. There are always trends. You can’t predict them or usually even write to them. Just always be working to improve and put out great content. You know what they say: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
3. Find people who believe in you. It’s a fantastic feeling to be chosen—read this awesome post by my mentor JennieNash about getting picked—but it’s even more awesome when you find someone to be in the trenches with you, pulling you up when you’re down, telling you your stuff is great. My mentor told me that my book was going to be a huge commercial success. It probably won’t be, but the fact that she believed that made my head balloon ten sizes bigger, and once it deflated, it helped me get through the depressing times when I felt like it was crap.
The same can be said for my writing partners. I have so many good writing friends. I can’t imagine life without them. Family and regular friends are great, but they don’t understand the ups and downs and ins and outs of the writing process and industry like writing peeps do. Find like-minded people. PW was fantastic for that. I still read the PW mentee celebrations and disappointments and feel like I’m not alone in any of it.
Pitch Wars was a great experience—one that I would highly recommend. It didn’t change my life like I thought it would, but at least I have a much better book and a few new friends because of it. And that makes it a total win.