How Pitch Wars Ruined My Goodreads Challenge, and Other Life-Changing Things

When I submitted my novel, BITTERSWEET & STRANGE, for Pitch Wars in 2019, it was a ‘why not, what’s the worst that could happen?’ leap of faith. I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, so I planned to submit.

Picking which mentors to submit to was the first challenge. How do you go about it? Do you pick someone who’s list of dream books matches what you wrote? Do you choose the one with the most experience, or a described mentor style that you think you’d like to work with?

In the end, I highlighted each mentor that was accepting fantasy novels. Then I eliminated anyone who specifically said they weren’t looking for something like what I wrote.

To be fair, that didn’t cut the list down very far.

From there, I read and re-read the entries of the remaining mentors. I agonized about how to make the choice. I worried that I would be discounting the one mentor who would choose my book. And finally, I made a leap of faith, jumped in with both feet, and I chose. It was impossible and stressful, and I never got to a point where I felt like I was making the right choice, only to a point where the choice had to be made or the deadline would be missed.

A few weeks later I received a fateful email from Nicole, asking if I could answer a few follow-up questions before she made her final choice.

Her final choice.

It was beyond my wildest dreams to be considered as a maybe, never mind being in the running for the final choice.

I typed out my answers to her questions. And then I stressed about them and retyped them. And in the end, I did what I always do: gathered as much candor as I could muster and answered honestly, jumping right in with eyes squeezed tight and grim determination.

And then I tried to forget about it all for a while.

The announcement for mentors being chosen came up a few hours early while I was laying next to my toddler as she fell asleep. Very neutrally I noticed ‘Oh, the announcement is there. I guess I’ll go look.’ And very neutrally, I saw my name listed as mentee next to Nicole. And very internally, without waking my child, my brain exploded. I screen capped it and texted everyone I knew (or at least anyone who’d care, because as big a deal as Pitch Wars is to us, it means next to nothing to anyone not in the loop).

And then there was more waiting. And there was The Panic as the deadline to receive an edit letter crept ever closer. I had just started a new job and I was sweating about prioritizing my time and trying to do these revisions while keeping my feet under me in my work. And then, the day before the deadline, my edit letter came!

It was only five pages, which didn’t seem too bad. I read it and re-read it. I was a little surprised, because I’m such a new writer, and I’ve never done revisions like this, and I’d expected a lot more guidance. And then I realized that those innocuous-seeming pages actually contained the seeds for a half-manuscript rewrite.

I was crestfallen for a day or so as I moped around wondering if there was going to be time to make the changes that needed to be made. And slowly, that seed grew into the recognition that the scant words Nicole had offered me were actually intelligent guidance, that led me to fix my story in the way that was best for ME, not in the way that anyone else thought it should be fixed. She identified the issues with my manuscript and trusted me to know how best to fix them.

What I had originally identified as a lack of guidance was actually some of the smartest advice I’d ever received.

 And then, like so many things in my life, I said… let’s do this; and I jumped in both feet first.

I opened a new document and started writing a scene that I knew needed to be done, and I worked forwards and backwards from there. I chopped the old manuscript in half and sewed the new pieces on where they needed to go. And then I went through the tapestry of the book, snipping out sections that no longer matched and patching in pieces that made it all work.

And then I did a reverse outline (which is really just an outline that you make after you’ve already written the book) in order to find inconsistencies.

And then I sent it back to my mentor and a fresh beta reader who’d never laid eyes on my book before.

And when their feedback came back, I re-read it again, made all the suggested changes, and re-read it AGAIN, where I STILL found inconsistencies (several huge ones, actually).

And after all the worrying that I’d never finish on time, I actually finished fairly far ahead of schedule. Which was also a blessing, because it gave me time to do the other most important thing in Pitch Wars – connect with the community.

Over 100 authors, most of us unpublished and green, and all of us amazing. I reached out and offered a manuscript swap, wherein I’ve now read some of the most amazing books ever. The only downside is that they aren’t on Goodreads so my challenge is falling farther and farther behind while I’m still reading like a speed demon. I can’t wait to see my classmates’ stories on shelves, because I know without a doubt that we will end up there.

I rewrote my synopsis, and I’m still panicked about my query letter. Because next week, I’m going to have to use it; when the showcase went live (click here for my excerpt), I got some requests.

The entire Pitch Wars experience has been lightyears beyond my wildest dreams. And even if I don’t sell my book as a direct result of my involvement with it, I still count it as one of the best experiences of my life, and of my career as an author.

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