Most emails don’t make my head spin. Probably because most emails don’t come from a Pitch Wars mentor.
Pitch Wars, in case you’re lost, is a writing contest of sorts. Top prize is an invaluable two-month mentorship that’s designed to bolster your novel to Hulk-level strength. Once your two months are up, you’ll barrell into the Agent Round and–if you’re lucky–receive an offer from a literary agent eager to represent you.
But first you gotta survive the application process.
On August 14th, my mentor Natasha Raulerson sent me the first of several emails that we would exchange over the next nine days. All of them sent my head spinning with excitement and dread until I opened my inbox on August 23rd and saw the subject line, “Hi Mentee!”
Wow. She picked me. That really happened.
And it happens to dozens of writers every August. Now, if you’re interested in Pitch Wars, you’re probably wondering how to get in. Though it’ll certainly differ from person to person, here’s how I Hulk-smashed my way through the application process.
STEP 1: QUERY LETTER & OPENING CHAPTER
Have two things polished and ready before applying: a Query Letter and the Opening Chapter of your finished novel.
Query Letters are brief summaries of your book’s premise that hint at the plot to come (similar to what you see on the inside of book jackets). They’re an absolute nightmare to write because you have to condense your mammoth-sized novel into a microscopic 250-word promise to the reader. Yuck.
My Query Letter won Natasha over because she wanted something high-concept and I delivered a Horror story with a concept she’d never seen before. When picking mentors to submit to, pay close attention to what they want. Right manuscript, right mentor, right time.
Regardless of what your prospective mentors want, make your Query Letter emotional and gripping. Tell who your main character is, why they’re flawed, and what they want. If you have a cool, original concept, tease it. And when you end your Query Letter, do so on a cliffhanger. Hint at conflict and darkness to come.
As for the Opening Chapter, it should showcase your strengths as a writer and hook your reader. My opener teased the creepy concept in my Horror novel. It gave sharp details while withholding enough info to make Natasha want to read Chapter 2.
Oddly enough, after Natasha became my mentor, she urged me to cut Chapter 1 altogether. So don’t worry about submitting a perfect opener. Just make sure it showcases clear, strong writing and grips the reader.
STAGE 2: SYNOPSIS AND FULL MANUSCRIPT
Confession Time. Although the Pitch Wars application tells you to have a Synopsis ready upfront, I didn’t bother writing one until Natasha requested it. I honestly didn’t expect to get into Pitch Wars on my first try, so when I saw that a Synopsis was only required *if* you were selected as a candidate, I thought, “Synopsis? Pshh. Who needs one?”
Next thing I knew Natasha emailed me requesting a Synopsis of the entire plot.
Talk about an “oh shit” moment. I deliberately waited a day to reply to her email because I didn’t want her finding out I was unprepared. When I finally did reply, I thanked her for showing interest and asked if I could have a day to “polish up” my Synopsis.
Polish up. Hah.
For some reason I assumed a Synopsis was just an extended version of the Query Letter. WRONG! The Synopsis is a totally different beast. While the Query Letter is akin to what you’d read on the inside of a book jacket, the Synopsis is what you’d find under the “Plot” section of a Wikipedia movie article. In other words, the Synopsis is no place for for fancy sentences that pop andsizzle. Keep it dry and straightforward.
What really saved my ass was this article from Publishing Crawl, which gives a beat-by-beat how-to on compiling your plot points into a Synopsis. It even uses Star Wars as an example. Can’t recommend it enough.
As for your Full Manuscript, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Mine certainly wasn’t, and a bunch of my fellow mentees ended up rewriting their entire novel due to structural issues. From what I understand, as long as you have a FINISHED manuscript that promises a good story, you have a chance of getting yourself a mentor.
STAGE 3: WINNING YOUR MENTOR
There’s more to the application process than submitting manuscripts and summaries. In nearly every email, Natasha asked me a series of questions on my writing habits, my willingness to revise my novel, and who I am as a person. I’d highly recommend being honest. No, seriously. It’s sounds reckless, but hear me out.
Though it’s tempting to pump yourself up and bury your shortcomings under the floorboards, remember that you’re applying to Pitch Wars in order to learn. If you come off as some snobby know-it-all, why should your mentor believe you’re willing to accept criticism and apply suggested changes?
In my case, I told Natasha that I’m a plot-first writer who wanted to learn more about expressing characters’ emotions. Notice that I didn’t tell her, “Help! I suck at conveying my characters emotions!”; when discussing your flaws, put a positive spin on them and suggest a willingness to improve. Bonus points if your prospective mentor specializes in your area of weakness (Natasha writes Dark Romance, which means she knows a thing or two about emotion).
FINAL PIECE OF ADVICE
My 2017 Pitch Wars journey happened because I was lucky enough to submit the right manuscript to the right mentor at the right time. Remember that if you happen to get rejected. Many things have to click, and not everything is under your control. With that in mind, don’t try too hard if a mentor contacts you. Answer their questions honestly, submit only what they request, and keep it professional. And keep writing.