Pitch Warrior 2017: The “OMGHOLYSHIT WHAT. IS. HAPPENING?” Edition

So. The agent round of Pitch Wars began on Wednesday (well, late on Halloween Tuesday if you want to get all picky about it), and those of us with manuscripts in the adult age category were up first.

Before I get into that, let me just say that Pitch Wars has been a terrific experience. Peter McLean, whose books you should buy and read, is the best mentor I could have possibly asked for. He got the novel, he got exactly what needed to be done to improve it, and best of all, he got me. He knew how to explain things so I’d understand what he wanted me to do. (I knew it was a match when he said “Think of how you never actually got a full-on look at the monster in Alien until really close to the end. That’s what you need to do with this storyline.”) I was scared half to death before I got my first edit letter, but after I received it, I was actually exhilarated; his changes were so smart and sensible that I seriously couldn’t wait to sit down and start working. I would have argued with a few of Pete’s suggestions if he’d made any I thought were wrong.

The novel is now called Tidepool (Pete wasn’t crazy about Blood Tide, and I didn’t feel any kind of way about that one so I didn’t mind changing it). It’s been beefed up from 69K words to 77K. And we made a late-in-the-game genre category switch at Pete’s suggestion, classifying it as dark fantasy rather than horror. He reasoned that horror is still a moribund (har har) genre at the moment, while dark fantasy is piping along. I’ve been attached to this mental image of myself as The Horror Writer but I couldn’t argue with Pete’s reasoning, and so we made the change.

Even so, I was well aware that adult spec fiction in general doesn’t do all that well in these kinds of contests. I got one request in Pitch Madness in April; that was for a different book, but it was still in the spec fiction category. That was my very first agent request ever and so I chose to celebrate it rather than be depressed, but sure; I looked at some of the people who were racking up insane amounts of requests and felt a little pang. Over the past couple of months I looked at manuscripts similar to mine from last year’s PW crop and saw that most of them only got a couple of requests.

And so I felt pretty certain that I’d already won just by getting a vastly improved manuscript, a terrific mentor who I hope to keep as both a mentor and a friend, and a whole new crew of funny, kind writer friends. And if I tanked in the agent round again, so what? I’d just start sending queries out the second the PW rules allowed for it. I felt pretty certain someone out there would love Tidepool as much as I do.

But on Wednesday morning, most of my chill deserted me and I felt desperately tense and nervous. The only thing that kept me from hammering “refresh” on my entry page over and over was that the site itself was having server issues and the PW staff begged us all to stay off the site while they got it sorted out.

So I did. And then later in the morning when things calmed down, both Pete and Bill wrote me to let me know I had two requests.

That’s cool, I thought. It’s already more than I got in Pitch Madness, and it’s right on par with what spec fiction usually gets. I’ll take it. 

And then after lunch, Pete let me know that I was up to five requests. I stood outside my office building shrieking “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” like a madwoman, and when I saw that one of the requesting agents was Kristin Nelson and that she’d asked for a full manuscript, I about dropped my phone off the patio. No agent had EVER asked me for a full before, ever. Even if things stopped right there, I’d way outperformed my own expectations. I was over the moon. I was useless for the rest of that work day.

Reader, things did not stop right there. Not even close.

An agent I considered one of my dream picks requested the full. Agents who’d turned down my queries for The Fire Before requested fulls of Tidepool. 

At some point I realized I was going to break into double digit requests, which seemed crazy and impossible and almost a little scary.

Although the requests slowed down as the other age categories went up, they still didn’t stop, and as I write this on Friday night, November 3, I am up to sixteen requests. There are still a few more days to go, and “ninja agents” (agents who weren’t officially part of Pitch Wars) can start making requests at any time, so it may not be over even now.

I am stunned and grateful and confused and a little scared. Confused because I’d love to know why this went so differently from Pitch Madness. I love Tidepool. But I loved The Fire Before too, and agents didn’t.

Scared because holy crap, do I have a lot of research to do this weekend. I never expected to be in a position where I’d be sorting through a bunch of requests trying to figure out who the best matches were. I thought I’d get one or two requests, send those out, and then focus on standard querying.

And I know. It is entirely possible that I could send out all sixteen requests and get a rejection for every last one of them, because that’s how things go in this business. I know, OK?

But let me have this for a few more days, OK? 2016 was a flaming shit sack of a year personally, professionally, and politically. The things that have happened with my writing in 2017 seem like some kind of gift to make up for the hell of the year before.

I’m sure harsh reality is waiting right around the corner for me. But for now I’m going to go look at my entry page to make sure nobody’s taken their requests back, and I’m going to marvel that this many agents want to meet Sorrow Hamilton, Ada Oliver, and the rest of my cast of characters. I truly never saw this coming.


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