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No-Fail Ways to Win Pitch Wars
Writing

10 No-Fail Ways to Win Pitch Wars

As Pitch Wars 2017 kicks into gear, many hopefuls are searching for the key to success. Maybe you’re one of them. Hungry for insider information, you’re scouring hashtags, following previous years’ mentees and mentors like crazy, searching for a nugget of knowledge that’ll guarantee that, should your pages be selected, you will be crowned Champion of Pitch Wars 2017. I’m here today to tell you the secret, and I’ve asked my fellow Pitch Wars 2016 mentees to help. Without further ado, here are 10 no-fail ways to ensure you win Pitch Wars—before you even get to the Agent Showcase.

Win Pitch Wars Every Time

1. Clear the Decks.

Lana Pattinson (@lana_pattinson): Awesome! You’ve gotten into Pitch Wars! After the initial Twitter flailing, mentor-squeeing, fellow-mentee-meeting fun, it’s time to go to work. And I mean WORK.
You’ll get an edit letter from your mentor. Sometimes, right away. Sometimes, it will take a few weeks. Try to take this in-between time to say hello to your family, do some personal catching up, because revisions can be all-consuming.

My mentee-twin had some minor changes and was done and dusted within three weeks. Me? I slogged right up until the submission deadline for the Agent Showcase. (Don’t be like me, if you can help it.) Your mentor will likely want to see your manuscript once or twice more during the revision process. Be professional. Meet the deadlines you’ve agreed to. If you’re going to be delayed, make sure to communicate that with your mentor. The worst thing is to ghost someone during this process (other than, say, non-writing family).

2. Tell Imposter Syndrome To Shut Up & Stop Self-Rejecting Already.

Anna Brittain (@Almost_Anna): As writers, we all feel like we don’t deserve to be exactly where we are at any given time. I’ve got friends who are published and friends who are just beginning the journey, and I’m sitting here somewhere in the middle. One thing is true across the board: All of us hear that small Impostor Syndrome-y voice every time we identify as a writer (rather than an “aspiring writer” or some mess like that—we write. We are writers), or query that dream agent, or identify as an author, or pitch our first panel at a conference. Every point in our career is yet another opportunity for those self-rejection talons to sink into our psyches, which only means one thing: We have to acknowledge that it’s a maladaptive pattern of thinking rather than an inkling of truth.

Win Pitch Wars Every Time

A year ago, I almost self-rejected myself out of Pitch Wars. I almost didn’t do it—and then I got in! But that doesn’t stop self-doubts from bubbling up during Pitch Wars. Trust your journey. Don’t reject yourself in the middle of it.

3. Soak in Your Mentor’s Knowledge …

Elissa Dickey (@ElissaDickey): The way to win Pitch Wars is to soak in all of the knowledge your mentors share with you. Last year I improved my craft immensely thanks to my two phenomenal mentors. I improved pacing, slashed filter words, got rid of purple prose, strengthened character voice—they taught me how to truly revise, and I ended up with a tighter, stronger book. So if you want to win Pitch Wars, go in ready to work and ready to learn. The skills you gain during Pitch Wars will improve every manuscript you write afterward and make you a better critique partner, so you can help others improve their writing too.

4. And See What It’s Really Like as a Working Writer.

Meghan Scott Molin (@megfuzzle): One of the biggest gifts of Pitch Wars is a mentor. Not only to show you how all that craft advice applies to your own work, but to give you a look into what it’s like to be a real working writer. Ask about their process. Learn about their triumphs and challenges as a writer, their plans for their futures. Ask about what hard lessons they’ve learned. Soak it all in, because for many this is the first time you’ve had someone open and willing to talk about the hard stuff alongside the good. It’s so, so important to have realistic expectations for your writing, and what better way to do it than through someone who has walked those paths? Our mentors are gold. There’s no other contest or program that pairs you up one-on-one like this for an entire project. Pure Gold.

5. Find Your People.

Rachel Griffin (@TimesNewRachel): Everyone talks about the Pitch Wars community as one of the best, and for good reason. There is so much talent, support, knowledge, and encouragement in the PW family! I had zero CPs when I entered PW last year. ZERO. And one of the BEST things that came out of this contest was finding my people, people who understood my work and loved it. I now have several CPs, and my writing is so much better for it. So put yourself out there!

Lana Pattinson (@lana_pattinson) echoes this: Your mentee group will be there to help brainstorm queries/pitches. And once the Agent Showcase ends, that’s when you’ll really find the value in the Pitch Wars mentee group. From hearing when agents respond (Oh, you sent it this date? My partial must be up next) to seeing their rejections and learning what is a standard form letter for that particular agent. Supporting and commiserating with your new writer friends is an essential part of this process. Of the 2016 group (approx 150), about one-third are agented. Some have already parted ways with their first agent. Two have sold their books for six figures. There’s a really wide spectrum of experiences, and wading through them together is essential.

6. Big or Small Changes? Plan Accordingly.

Win Pitch Wars Every Time

Adam Sass (@TheAdamSass): The most important thing you need to find out right away as a mentee is how daunting the changes are that your mentor wants you to make. Assuming you concur with your mentor’s changes (you don’t necessarily have to, but it helps to be open!), your revision plan of attack depends entirely on what your mentor asks of you. Checking off small-to-medium changes on an edit list? You’re all good. Revising a whole new book basically from scratch? Leave yourself a few weeks at the end for rough draft reflection and proofreading. Those last weeks get exciting/anxiety-inducing and you do not want to be rushing. Ask your mentor for the hard truth about the changes right away!

7. Ask for Help.

Rosiee Thor (@RosieeThor): One of the biggest misconceptions among Pitch Wars mentees (and hopefuls!), I think, is that we are supposed to know everything already. I know I felt this way when I got in. If I didn’t already know something and had a question—like, what is standard manuscript format? Or how do I write a query for a multi-POV story? Or what even are my character’s motivations?—I felt like I was supposed to just quietly Google it. I couldn’t let anyone know about my secret weaknesses!

But that’s not true. None of us knows everything, and the mentors don’t expect us to. Half of the Pitch Wars experience if you’re chosen by one of the mentors is going to be unlearning all your preconceptions about writing and retraining your writing muscle to do things you didn’t think possible. So of course you (and we) don’t know everything!

Luckily, you’re surrounded by people who have answers. The mentors and your fellow mentees are your most valuable resource. Asking them for help doesn’t make you weak—it makes you stronger! Having people around you who are working toward the same thing (and I’m including the mentors here—many of them are still working toward publication, or are working toward more publications) is the best thing you can do for your writing! You can learn from each other and grow together. And if you don’t know the answers sometimes, that’s okay, because someone else will—and Google, while one of the coolest tools on the internet, can’t share its writing journey with you. You don’t want to miss out on building a writing family, whether that’s a Pitch Wars class, or one you build for yourself.

8. Treat Your Writing Like a Job.

Win Pitch Wars Every Time

Rachel Griffin (@TimesNewRachel): Hellooooooo, deadlines! I had never written under a deadline before, and then Pitch Wars happened, and I was like, you want me to do what? In only two months?! First, take a deep breath, then come up with a plan. I set strict writing hours I never broke, planned out my days, set daily and weekly targets to keep myself on track, and even turned off wifi so I couldn’t use the internet. Once I had my rhythm down, I was shocked by how productive I could be (and kind of appalled by the amount of time I wasted online tbh). Finding my rhythm is one of the best things I did for my writing, and I’ve stayed with it ever since.

9. Embrace What’s Guaranteed.

You know the only thing guaranteed in Pitch Wars? It’s not that you’ll click with your mentor so much you want to move to New York and hunt for gourmet doughnuts together (hi, Kim!). It’s not that you’ll get a request during the Agent Showcase (so painful, but so true). It’s not even that you’ll be 100% pleased with your manuscript when you reach the finish line (now that’s hard to swallow).

The only thing guaranteed is you’ll learn something.

Maybe it’s about how you handle pressure, because let’s be real, there’s a lot of pressure during Pitch Wars. Maybe it’s about writing. Maybe it’s about yourself. But the only thing guaranteed is you’ll leave Pitch Wars having learned something you didn’t know before. When you stop to think about it, that’s pretty valuable.

10. Kick Comparison to the Curb.

Notice something about all this advice? Not a single one involves winning in the traditional, dictionary-definition sense of the word. That’s because though Pitch Wars is a contest, we can choose to think of it by a different word: opportunity. Our success as writers shouldn’t be dependent on pitting ourselves against one another. Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say, and when it comes to Pitch Wars, it’s true. There are a million ways you’ll be tempted to compare yourself to your fellow mentees during Pitch Wars. So, this is my advice to you: Focus on yourself, your words, and your journey. Do that, and guess what? You’ve already won.

Netflix's Chef's Table
Food, Writing

Why Writers Should Watch Netflix’s Chef’s Table

By now many have seen Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Now in its fourth season, it’s a series structured around 45-minute episodes focusing on one notable chef each. Yes, they’re “food porn” worthy, with gorgeous, slow-motion segments highlighting minute details of particular dishes. But they’re also explorations of people’s journeys to pursue their passions, the hardships they overcome, the pressures of society and family to conform, the financial pitfalls they tumbled into … In short, the show is about the pursuit of dreams. It’s also about the creative process, and if you’re a writer, here are a few reasons you should watch.

They Fail

Every writer knows the sting of failure. It doesn’t matter if it’s the paragraph you can’t perfect no matter how many times you read it, the form rejection to a query you sent to your top-choice agent, or a publisher who decided against your project. If you write, you fail.

So do these chefs. They’re at the top of their games, highly regarded within their communities and worldwide—and yet, they speak emotionally and openly about their failures and fears.

And we, as writers, soak in the words. We find common footing with a profession we possibly felt was far removed from our own craft, and we find community in the shared failures we all experience on our creative journeys.

Netflix's Chef's Table

They Inspire

Creatives are constantly seeking inspiration. The well depletes and must be refilled. Chef’s Table inspires in many ways. Here are two.

First, it’s visually stunning. Plates are prepared in fast, then slow, motion and displayed to the camera in quick succession, showering you with vibrant colors and intricate arrangements. It’s visual overload in the best way, a way that leaves the mind packed with fresh inspiration to invent on the page.

Secondly, there is intense emotion in each episode. Family lives are tremendously impacted by the pursuit of greatness, and a single fleeting comment can speak volumes. Other times, the chefs speak openly about overcoming barriers within society and tradition. I often end an episode contemplating how each chef presented his or her journey. What did they gloss over? What did they dwell on? What motivated them? Why? These biographies are explorations of human nature, of sacrifice, and of love in numerous forms. These are people striving for something—exactly what every character we write should do.

Netflix's Chef's Table

They Don’t Give Up

Gear Patrol’s J. Travis Smith said it best: “It’s not a cooking show so much as it’s a show about failing to concede a limitation on what’s possible.”

And thus, we’re back to failure. If you’re a writer, you’ve been given a choice. Once, twice, many times. Do I stop bruising my ego and heart in pursuit of something that shows little promise right now, or do I hobble my broken creative soul through the muck a while longer?  Do I stop pushing myself creatively for something easier? Stop pushing for an agent? To sell a particular project?

Before you decide, watch Chef’s Table. Don’t binge it. Let each episode marinate for a bit. Then ask yourself what’s possible, and keep going.

Little Writerly Things (of note)
Little Writerly Things

Little Writerly Things

I’ve been brainstorming what I’d like to do with this space now that I have it, and one thing that came to me is to offer a some-what regular list of writerly and editorly things that you might find of interest. I’m not going to go as far as to say it’ll appear every Friday (let’s not get too ambitious), but I’ll strive to make it as regular as it can be. So without further ado, some Little Writerly Things.

  • An interesting peak into the rooms of a handful of writers, via NYTimes Magazine.
  • This fun article by Grantland, in which the staff lists what they would purchase for $20 (in leu of the recently launched music and “curated editorial” website Tidal). Staffer Katie Baker gets the gold star.
  • This post by Grammarly on tricks to improving your proofreading.
  • Author Julianna Baggott’s blog post about accidentally meeting a person of note. I love Julianna’s blog and writing, and I could pretty much link to every post she does, but you get just one instead, because that’s how things are done.
  • A post by Jami Gold on dealing with slow progress (via my awesome editing friend and critique partner Carmen Erickson).
Editing, Writing

A Brief Look at Reedsy

A couple weeks ago, I received an invitation to join a new venture called Reedsy. Reedsy is an organization that allows writers and authors to browse a curated marketplace of editors, designers, proofreaders…anyone they may need in order to get their manuscript ready for submission or publication. There are some interesting things happening and planned for Reedsy, and they’ve interviewed some great folks on their blog thus far (such as Nick Stephenson and Seth Godin). Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about it in their writeup:

Reedsy is a self-publishing startup that currently offers its users access to a marketplace of skilled freelance book-production professionals. Beginning in spring 2015, however, the site will debut an online collaborative-editing tool on the platform, and there are also plans for a curated Reedsy book imprint.

I’ve played with Novlr‘s online writing tool and found it interesting, but I’m a creature of habit and I like my Word. (Admittedly I also had a hard time trusting my words to the almighty Cloud. Not that my USB drive backup is any better…) I’m not saying I wouldn’t use it in the future (cloud-based writing can be handy; ideas come from everywhere and I’m not often at my desk to write a phrase down), but right now I’m keeping my writing based in Word. Reedsy is planning to offer an online writing platform, too, except this one would link up to their publishing marketplace, allowing writers a one-stop shop of sorts to write and publish their works, all through the Reedsy interface.

So if you’re a writer or editor, I encourage you to click over and give Reedsy a look. You can click here for the Publishers Weekly article.

Life, Writing

DOGGONE at Desert Island Supply Co.

Quick, fun news! I’ll have a small piece of writing (nonfiction essay) in the chapbook for an event here in Birmingham, AL, tomorrow night. More info:

DOGGONE is an event of words, food and letterpress about the food and culinary institutions of Birmingham’s diverse neighborhoods. Featuring artist Frank Brannon and his one-night-only letterpress hot dog stand, this event was inspired by Frank’s recollections of the now defunct Dino’s Hot Dogs and Hamburgers in Woodlawn. Other writers and artists will present their works, including poet Tina Mozelle Braziel. DOGGONE will also feature the release of a chapbook of writing from the event.

Are you in or around the Birmingham area tomorrow night? Brave the cold and come! I’d love to meet you and chat about my three loves: writing, food, and letterpress.
DOGGONE
February 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Desert Island Supply Company
5500 1st Ave N
Birmingham, AL 35212
Writing

Mary Oliver’s Interview with On Being

I recently discovered podcasts on my iPhone. I’m quite late to the podcast club, I admit, but now that I’m  here, I’ve been enjoying the resources it provides to writers. It’s not a surprise to any writer that the act of putting pen to paper is often isolating. Podcasts have given me an unexpected venue through which to feel the companionship of other writers and people contemplating things that I am also contemplating at the time. And it’s nice to hear this articulated aloud rather than via emails.

So it was that I stumbled upon the podcast series On Being this past weekend. On Being recently interviewed the wonderful Mary Oliver, poet extraordinaire. I won’t take away from the podcast by summarizing it here, but I will say that Ms. Oliver touches on topics like religion, writing as a discipline, writing as healing, wounds and how we deal with them, the family dynamic, and much more. If you, like me, are new to podcasts (and even if you aren’t), I suggest you give this a listen. Preferably somewhere where you can keep a pen and paper nearby to jot down all the things the conversation will bring to mind.

Editing

The Great Oxford Comma Debate

I once had someone ask me to please explain to him, for once and for all, what in the blazes this thing called an Oxford comma was. So, I did. But then I stumbled upon this nicely done video by Ted-Ed, and thought this was a much more thorough explanation.

As for me, I was taught to use a serial comma in college, and it’s become so natural that it gives me pause when I’m editing a project that doesn’t use it. (I do or don’t based on what an editing client desires.) How about you? Are you an Oxford comma subscriber?