Pitch Wars 2014: The Aftermath

THE PITCH WARS ARE OVER.

And there were battles, I assure you.
But I’m not here to tell you about those. First, I’d like you to meet my fresh new team:
MENTEE: Megan Paasch, with her incredible New Adult fantasy Charlotte Elemental.
ALTERNATE: Natalka Burian, with her heart-rending/mind-blowing Adult Literary/Speculative Fiction Everything Is Flowing.

Check out Brenda’s full list of mentees, alternates, and mentor matches here:
And now, what you all want to know . . . why them? Why not someone else? Maybe why not you?
I’m going to tell you about how this went down for me. Let’s look at the beginning.

I got 100 eligible submissions. (103 total, technically, but two were from a category I was not mentoring–YA mistakenly sent to an Adult mentor–and one was a book of short stories, which generally isn’t something agents are considering from authors without book-length fiction already published.) So, nice round number. Easy to work with. I wrote feedback as I went along, and am going to send it to the authors little by little shortly after I finish blogging about this. Most applicants got somewhere between 600 and 1500 words of feedback. Don’t like math? That’s okay. I’ll do it for you.
All told, I have written just under 60,000 words of feedback for the Pitch Wars applicants.
And before you say I’m dedicated, etc., it’s mostly because I just can’t shut up when I get into trying to help someone.
I “ranked” each person according to a numerical score generated through a rubric. The extended version of this analytical process was described in a previous blog post. Essentially, I had this rubric:

Query:

Writing Quality Errors Trajectory Detail Personal Total
5 5 5 5 5 25

Writing Sample:

Writing Quality Errors Character Effective Intro Personal Total
5 5 5 5 5 25

You can look at the previous blog post for an explanation of what I mean by those categories.

Nobody got a perfect score, by the way. The highest I had was 23/23, total of 46.
I’m kind of merciless.
Everybody from #50 and above scored at least 30 points. Only eight people got 40 or above. And–strangely enough–two of my favorites didn’t make that top eight.
I ended up with a shortlist of SEVEN potential mentees, all of whom I requested extra chapters from. I made my choices from those folks based on the query and three chapters. If you got a request from me, you were one of seven out of one hundred submissions, and I honestly considered each of you for the top spot at some point in the process. Congratulations.
BUT. Choosing these seven wasn’t as simple as I’d thought it would be. I’d assumed it would be as easy as just grabbing the top picks on my easy little list, but it wasn’t. My mentee was not #1 on the list. My #2 on the list didn’t end up as my mentee or alternate. I didn’t even ask for more pages from my #6, #7, or #8, but did so for my #9 and my #12.

I had scored them using this rubric to get a more objective idea of how much I liked them, but then I realized two important things about the scores. One: I didn’t consider marketability in my rubric, and that ended up being vital. And two: Some of the ones that scored higher than others were manuscripts I knew I could not take for personal reasons. Let’s be honest: This contest isn’t “fair.” You enter for free. If you win, you get critiques for free and guidance for free. If you don’t get picked, you might get feedback and you might not. We try to make it balanced as to what mentees and alternates get as a minimum, but we are volunteers giving our time to help writers, and ultimately, that gives us a little bit of freedom to be selfish if we want. Sometimes, we just picked what we wanted to work with, not what was “good.”

The problems I encountered were about the same as last year: Queries without direction, queries that lacked trajectory and just listed what happens, queries with too much or not enough detail, pages loaded down with backstory or unnatural dialogue, query bios that were full of irrelevant details or sounded like bragging. My individual feedback will make it clear if one of these was your problem. But as for my top seven who inspired me to ask for more:

  • One, a New Adult Fantasy, became my mentee, and that’s because her modern-setting story featuring Fae and elemental influences captured my imagination and contained believable dialogue/no unnatural backstory.
  • One, an Adult Literary, became my alternate, and her creative premise and perfectly executed characters drenched in lyrical prose pulled me in and established an emotional connection. Its premise is very weird so I don’t know about marketability, but we’ll see what we can do.
  • One, an Adult Contemporary, came really close to getting selected as my mentee, but I pulled away after reading additional chapters because the exposition felt heavy filtering in and I wasn’t sure how I could guide it to become more natural. I was in love with its beginning but didn’t maintain that throughout the rest. Gosh, I love this one, though.
  • One, an Adult Fantasy, was mesmerizing with its story of a brilliant protagonist forced to play a game he doesn’t understand, but I passed partly because the beginning felt a little slow and I wasn’t quite as taken with the characters as I wanted to be. I’m still so curious about how it develops and messes with my head!
  • One, an Adult Experimental Fiction, personified an idea and let us watch as the idea poisons people’s lives. It’s just so innovative and compelling, but the weirdness of it and wandering between focus characters made me think I just wouldn’t be able to sell it in the agent round. I still want to devour it.
  • One, a New Adult Science Fiction, bowled me over with its talented protagonist, alien cultural examination, and character writing, but honestly the query made me think the story would go in a dramatic direction I would personally find hard to read. But I became so invested in the characters right away and really want to know what happens to them.
  • And one, an Adult Fantasy, had a hero-champion-is-chosen-to-literally-save-the-world plot, but its execution really won me over. I was personally quite impressed with it, but elected to go with something less traditional, because pitching another savior-of-mankind story would be daunting considering what you need to stand out in that crowd.

What else scored high for me but didn’t make it to page requests? An Adult Science Fiction about a clone situation; great idea and good execution, but I felt like it wasn’t my thing. She got picked up as someone else’s alternate. An Adult Fantasy about a djinni. Fantastic query with pages I didn’t connect to like I wanted to, but I was surprised this one didn’t get picked up. An Adult Thriller in a sort of dystopian future surprised me with how much I liked it because thrillers really aren’t my thing (and that whole detective vibe is why I decided against asking for more). An Adult Science Fiction with a female warrior with alien heritage whose query was super and pages didn’t quite work for me, but really wow. And a peculiar Adult Historical–another thing I almost never connect to–with a premise I loved but an atypical storytelling style and confusing sentence in the query that made me think I should choose something closer to my heart.

Some surprises for me:

I got a handful of straight-up romance novels or people labeling their work romance (but the query blended it with thriller). I wouldn’t absolutely refuse to take a romance if everything about it was amazing, but to be honest it’s a hard sell for me to work with romance–not only because I don’t like it, but because I don’t read it and wouldn’t know how to mentor someone who does read it. I’d probably be giving bad advice and trying to turn it into something it isn’t. I like stories with incidental romance if it’s there at all, and I truly don’t mind if a romance is important in a character’s life, but it can’t be the plot or else it’s just not my thing. I must not have made that very clear in my wish list post because I got more romances than I understood the reason for.

I had a lot of queries with typos. Typos, y’all. Please, we aren’t agents but this contest at least pretends it’s held in a professional capacity for purposes of turning you into professional authors. Maybe I’m weird but I did actually expect perfect proofreading on the queries and near-perfect proofreading on the chapters. A typo wouldn’t absolutely kill you, but for me, it indicated lack of polish. Please watch these.

I was amazed by how engaging some of your stories were. Most of you really knew how to pull me in at the beginning, though a lot of you then turned around and started heaping on the backstory and that ruined it. I was just impressed by some of those first lines, some of those abilities to evoke emotion and establish setting. And how different the voices were, how fresh some of those ideas are, how much fun it was to enter each of your worlds for a few minutes and be glad that I did.

My specific feedback for each of you will go out soon. Please comment if you were one of my submissions and you have something, anything, to say, or even if you weren’t but you have words for me or my audience.

I had a blast writing out my feedback this year and I found that I truly enjoyed picking through the massive flood in my inbox, searching for those gems, and finding some polish and a rag to hand to those whose weren’t quite shiny enough yet.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SUBMITTING TO ME AND PUTTING YOURSELF OUT THERE. I FREAKING LOVE YOU GUYS!

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