If you were wondering what the heck this was about, here’s the rest of the story.
After my enjoyable experience with Pitch Madness this spring, I knew I wanted to enter Pitch Wars. Pitch Wars sounds like Pitch Madness on steroids. Instead of reading your first 250 words and your pitch during the selection process, experienced writers read your query and your first chapter. They might request anything up to and including your entire manuscript (gulp) while choosing a writer to mentor. Mentors and their mentees then work together for two months to get those manuscripts ready for an online showcase in November, where participating agents review the novel pitches and samples and make requests.
Really, it would have been stupid to not enter.
At first I had every intention of submitting The Fire Before, the YA horror novel I submitted to Pitch Madness and queried throughout the first part of the year.
But as the rejections for that novel piled up, it became clear to me that I started querying The Fire Before about ten years too late. At this particular point in time, many agents would rather gouge their eyeballs out with a spork than read another “Chosen One” YA tale that’s intended to be the start of a trilogy, to boot. What feedback I got let me know that The Fire Before didn’t bring anything new to a very overused story type.
Ouch. That makes me sad; I love that poor little book and its cast of characters, and I spent years trying to make it publishable. But while I’m not giving up on it, I started getting a bad feeling that entering it into Pitch Wars would be a waste of everyone’s time. And I just didn’t have enough time to try to rework it into something new and different.
However, I had another option. (You know how experienced writers will tell you to always be working on something else? That’s good advice. Very good.)
During the April and July Camp NaNoWriMo sessions, I edited my NaNoWriMo novel from last November, Blood Tide. And the more I worked on that novel, the more I started feeling that I should submit it to Pitch Wars instead of The Fire Before. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly; submitting a manuscript that was still so new felt like a real risk.
But the novel’s storyline seemed far more cohesive. Maybe that’s because The Fire Before was the first novel I ever wrote, and Blood Tide is the sixth. I like to think I learned at least a little bit about novel structure while writing all those books. Something about Blood Tide just feels more like me; it’s the kind of story I really want to be known for if I’m lucky enough to reach that point in my career.
When The Fire Before failed to advance in one last contest I entered in July, I took that as a sign from the writing gods and threw myself behind Blood Tide. I’d been revising it anyhow; I just redoubled those efforts with Pitch Wars’ August 2-6 submission window in my sights.
I selected four potential mentors, submitted to Pitch Wars on August 4th, and was very pleasantly surprised to get a fast request for the synopsis and the full MS from one of the mentors. (Thank goodness I’d been inspired to write a synopsis over the July 4th weekend; it was all ready to go.)
The three weeks of waiting weren’t easy, but hanging out on the #PitchWars tag on Twitter eased the tension. And that’s one of the best things about Brenda Drake’s contests; whether you get picked for any of them or not, hang out on the contest hashtags and you’ll meet lots of writers and probably make some friends.
And the mentors in these contests are established writers with families and their own careers. They don’t get paid to do this; they take time out of their own lives because they want to help people like me. It’s an amazing, heartening thing. (The next time you hear someone spouting off about how published authors and “Big Publishing” won’t let the little guy in and want nothing to do with new writers? Bull. Shit. I’ve connected with many kind, helpful writers and agents over Twitter.)
The mentor who requested the full kept in touch with me and asked me occasional questions about my expectations for Pitch Wars. I told myself that even if I didn’t get chosen, my novel was obviously under consideration, and that was something to be happy about in itself given how many submissions mentors got. (I think the final tally for the whole competition was around 2600.)
And then, after one final week that seemed longer than the two weeks before it had, the mentor/mentee lists went live on August 24th.
I was in the middle of something at work that afternoon when my phone started buzzing so much I’m surprised it didn’t fly off my desk. (At least I’d had the foresight to mute it!) I checked my Twitter notifications, and sure enough: The list was up.
I didn’t want to look right there in the office, figuring that I’d need a little bit of privacy whatever the news was. Our bathroom gets lousy phone reception and Brenda’s site was getting clobbered by all the traffic, so I went down to the building’s main floor. I’d intended to tuck myself into a quiet little corner, but when the list finally popped up on the phone’s screen, I couldn’t resist and looked at it right out in the lobby.
And, long story short, this happened:
— Nicole Willson 😈 (@insomnicole) August 24, 2017
— Peter McLean (@PeteMC666) August 24, 2017
I am so very lucky to be working with Peter McLean, who’s already made it clear that he really gets my novel and has a very strong vision for how to make it better. And I feel like I’ve already won. While agent requests in November would be great, I have no control over what they might or might not be looking for. But I know that thanks to Pete, I’ll have an amazing manuscript ready for them, something I’ll really be happy to have out there.