Pitch Wars Picks, or, how I abused my mentee

We did it! Pitch Wars picks are a done deal!

And there is a story. As there always is.

I will now tell you my side of it . . . and how I came to mentor my chosen few, with a little taste of the backstage evil which enabled me to maintain a façade leaving my top pick adrift on a sea of impending disappointment until he clicked on the blog link and saw his name.

Here’s that blog link, by the way. All the picks from all 46 mentors, and the ninja surprise.

My picks:

  1. Mentee: C.B. Whitney, QUEEN OF SHARDS
  2. Alternate 1: Ryan Glover, MCTAVISH
  3. Alternate 2: Jessica Harvey, GYRE

So this is how it went down, y’all.

PITCH WARS opened and I posted my wish list. Made it clear that I was looking for great character-centric work, primarily of the science fiction and fantasy variety, in the Adult and New Adult categories. Little by little, potential mentees were popping by to ask questions, post on my blog, and engage in chatter with me on Twitter. One of them–the one you see up there in that shiny #1 spot–got very excited that I like the Japanese anime Eyeshield 21, and we tweeted about it back and forth. He jokingly told me I should expect a query full of Eyeshield references.

Then submission day came and my contest mailbox was flooded with submissions. I received 74 queries. And I was afraid to open them, because I had just been contacted by my publisher and had a bunch of work to do on a questionnaire for them, as well as a media interview with a British journalist. I couldn’t hit my submissions for a good three days.

Finally I began to dig through them and then there it was, second submission received:

There he is. There’s that guy. Oh my gosh, he really did make an Eyeshield reference!

So about Eyeshield 21. Let me tell you a thing. So you understand the heap of pain this fellow has just called down upon himself.


Hiruma and Sena. This picture about covers it.

Hiruma is basically a demon. Well, no, not canonically; this isn’t a science fiction or fantasy anime. It’s about American football, oddly enough, being played in a Japanese high school. Hiruma is a quarterback, but he can’t seem to get anyone to join his football team. Because they’re all afraid of him. I can’t imagine why! Such a nice guy who only wants to train hard and get his team to the Christmas Bowl, right?

Okay, not so much.

Let’s just say Hiruma’s got a passion for the game. He is not above using blackmail, threatening you with a gun, or siccing his vicious dog on you to see how fast you can run. He is literally an evil genius, and extremely scary, and very driven to win. He recruits poor Sena, who has an undiscovered and raw but amazing running talent, and forces him to play the star running back for his team, the Deimon Devil Bats. But he hides him behind a green eyeshield so people won’t know who he is and won’t distract him with demands to play on other sports teams.

Don’t ask why he has ammunition. With Hiruma, it’s always best to just . . . never, never ask.

So, people are afraid of Hiruma, but his reputation as a strategic genius and an all-around tricksy dude is also well known throughout the region, and he gets some pretty good respect. Sena frequently fears for his life around this guy, but he understands that the abuse Hiruma heaps upon him is for a good cause. It’s for the sake of his excellence. His success. His ability to realize his potential.

So, back to my mentee.

This was an incredibly appropriate metaphor and an extremely wise choice. As an Eyeshield fan, I knew that if I were to take this mentee literally, he would be up for any amount of evil stuff I could throw at him in order to make him better. And it doesn’t hurt that Hiruma is my favorite character. Not to mention I have my own relatively evil grin to use.

Why yes, I moonlight as an anime character. Why do you ask?

So when I saw that reference–at the end of a query I had to read twice to find anything I would change–I took a deep breath and scrolled down to the sample material.

The words that went through my head were something like Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck. I want to like you so badly.

It didn’t suck, y’all.

I won’t go into detail–that’s for my mentee and me to discuss in private–but the voice of this thing was just peaches. None of the speed bumps I’m used to seeing in first chapters where authors try so hard to tell me everything I need to know about the characters. All the focus was spent on getting me invested. And I spent five pages falling in love with our protagonist. Who am I to say no to a beefy blond lesbian Valkyrie, anyway?

(I did ask for books featuring queer characters, y’all.)

For the record, I realized there was no turning back for me when Ingrid weighed the pros and cons of being sympathetic or being aggressive to get some answers, and decided to go the loud and angry route because doing otherwise would be “some faerie godmother bullshit.”

And I was like

Meanwhile, on Twitter, it became clear to me that this fellow was monitoring his four potential mentors very carefully. He noticed everything. He kept track of everything we said that might hint for or against his being picked. And after I’d finished my first third of submissions and I still hadn’t run into one I liked better, I checked out what the other mentors were doing and was startled to see someone else had beaten me to the punch in requesting his additional chapters. Lady Lioness liked his voice too.


Oh well, I thought. Hey, what were the chances that he would actually remain my favorite through this WHOLE THING? I still had like 50 more submissions to read! I could pick any card I wanted! Surely someone would kick him out of spot number one, right? I wouldn’t end up mentoring the second damn submission I read, right?

And I wouldn’t let my rapport with him interfere, right?

Because man, I was really afraid of that. So I started actively fighting it. I wanted to find a reason to pick someone else, so I wouldn’t look like that jerk who picks someone because they’re my friend. After all, I have integrity. I encouraged my critique partner Jay to enter the contest but not to submit to me (because after all, he’s already had a query critique and manuscript massage from me; what would be the point?). I don’t engage in favoritism. Do I?

But he’d be such fun to work with! Ahhh!

So I had to be extra careful not to let my personal feelings get tangled up with the quality.

One by one I started recognizing manuscripts from people who were also being awesome and sweet to me on Twitter. I’d open their manuscripts and hope for amazing, and then I’d find something that sealed the deal for me–nope, I can’t take this. Sometimes it was a quality issue and sometimes it was a personal preference issue. I got a really terrible pit in my stomach every time someone I knew and considered a friend or friendly acquaintance submitted to me and I had to put them in the rejections pile. My heart sank every time I wrote an edit letter for a person I’d had a conversation with.

blogged about my selection process and thereby showed one of my cards: Yes, I did plan to ask for more material from all of my top picks AFTER I was done reading everything. I noticed Mr. C.B. Whitney sleuthing it up on Twitter again, hiding behind his eyeshield-like pen name. He disclosed to me that the hints from the other mentors so far indicated that his might’ve been trashed since manuscripts unlike his were looking like their front-runners. I don’t know what Lioness said to that effect, but I checked with her and yes, she had read the chapters and wanted to mentor someone else. She was more than willing to surrender him to me if I wanted him. Oh hell yes.

And then, fairly early on, I came upon Gyre by Jessica. I had not talked with her and knew nothing, but her story about a young woman who discovers she can teleport captured my imagination, and after the query pulled me in, the writing really got me going. Again, I’ll give her more detail privately, but it was really the way her protagonist acted in crisis that worked for me. She acted like a person, not a character. Yes, yes.

I re-read the pages for Queen of Shards again to make sure this hadn’t beaten it, but I still loved Ingrid on a slightly different level than I loved Chelsea–just a personal thing, I guess–so I stuck it in underneath at the top of the list. Going on down the line I found I was getting mostly fantasy and science fiction, a little women’s fiction, a paranormal here and there. One women’s fiction made my top ten. Contemporary and urban fantasy kept ranking high. Then I ran into McTavish by Ryan. Oh man, the length of the query almost sunk it (and I’ll tell him more privately), but then I hit the pages and whoa. Easily one of the most polished and evocative beginnings I’ve read, with absolutely engaging and realistic characters. Sold. And truthfully, the only reason I decided against bumping him to my mentee was that I read those QoS pages again and determined that I wanted to be BFFs with Ingrid. As well-written as it was, I didn’t quite connect to Mike personally. I wanted to see what happened to him but didn’t have that weird desire to hang out with him.

And meanwhile, my secret favorite was entertaining me with tweets as I pounded out edit letter after edit letter. You see, I was determined to leave feedback for everyone, and ended up creating over 45,000 words of feedback over the course of four days. He sent me fight songs and stayed up late with me in solidarity to encourage me along. I guess this might have also been his attempt to keep the pilot light burning, but it was so much fun. I was really afraid by this point that someone else would oust him from the top, but at the same time I kind of wanted them to so I could be sure I wasn’t picking him for his own awesome factor, not the awesome factor of his manuscript.

The rest of the pitches rolled by and I found several more top-tenners right at the end, but my top three remained. I realized I had to request more pages to be sure–since some books don’t stand on their own after the first chapter and the flaws become more pronounced–and then it hit me.

A weird Hiruma-like desire to mess with my mentee’s head.

Hiruma chews sugarless gum. ‘Cause he’s already way too sweet.

At that point old C.B. was in surveillance mode, gathering information, seeming to have given up hope on the other mentors, but still graciously never pressuring me. All the compliments he sent me did not have a butt-kissing vibe whatsoever. All the teasing and silliness were just . . . the way I always act with my pals. And I realized that I could give myself the blessing to pick this guy and that we’d have a blast. But first . . . I had to send out my page requests, knowing he would be waiting for one, knowing the jig would be up that he was in my top tier if he got an e-mail from me.

So I just read the pages he’d sent to Lioness without asking for them directly. Because I am what we call in the industry a Total Jerk™.

Well, or because he SAID he wanted Hiruma to mentor him.

I maintain that this is ALL his fault. He forced my hand!

I requested pages for my other top two, plus three more I was really interested in: a historical fantasy/fairy tale (my #5), a contemporary fantasy (my #6), and a hard science fiction (my #7). My #4 was a New Adult Fantasy and I stole the pages from another mentor also.

When asked, I admitted to C.B. that I was indeed receiving pages. Subtly admitting–or so he probably thought–that I hadn’t been interested in his. He gave a gracious little speech on the PitchWars tag about how awesome this contest had been and went to take a nap or something. Soon he was back anyway. And we were bantering again. And despite the apparent snub, still playing off our rapport, knowing I hadn’t owed him anything, knowing we could still play around even if we weren’t in the contest together. After the mentors were encouraged to tweet teases about their favorites, I said I couldn’t be too specific because of all the detectives, and I pointed at C.B. with an Avatar/Korra GIF.

HEY. I got my eye on you! WATER TRIIIIIIBE!

He responded with this:

Oh my God. It’s enough to warm my cold black heart.

I read the pages, secretly declared my top picks, and waited.

So, after a day or so of believing he was out, and me vacillating between Hiruma-like cackles and feeling guilty for more or less deliberately tricking the guy into believing he didn’t have a chance in Hell, Lioness hinted that one of her picks used a pen name and I guess maybe he was thinking that was him? But then Brenda pulled a fast one and posted the mentor picks early because we all happened to be done. (We still had some stragglers last night! What happened??)

The announcement came through our e-mail and we all prepared for battle, sidling onto the Twitter hashtag and stirring up the hornets’ nests. I told the other mentors that my mentee was going to freak if he was around, because he was expecting he was out. Someone asked for specifics and I admitted to the horrible thing I had done. It was agreed that yes, my mentee was going to freak.

Yeah, he did.

I of course began speaking entirely in Hiruma GIFs after that.

I had drafted all kinds of feedback for my folks who didn’t make my top three, though it made me really sad to write them for the folks I knew and the folks who’d come really close. My e-mail broke because it thinks I’m a spammer now for all the group e-mail I sent to the other mentors, but I have the feedback for my two alternates ready for when it unbreaks, and am working on some pretty heavy stuff for my mentee (I read those chapters and yep, we do definitely have some asses to kick!), but when it all came down to it, how could you resist a hefty heroine who says things like this? [language warning]

So now my team is picked, and my two alternates found me on Twitter (and I had to quick follow them, oh my God, embarrassing, I hadn’t even followed them), and now we’re going to be BFFs of course. While I perhaps chase them with vicious dogs and bark orders while remaining incredibly charming.

Go team!

We’ll figure out Eyeshield characters for my other teammates eventually. . . .

Can’t wait for the agent round. . . .

Gulp. . . .

Better get running, Sena!

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