Things I Learned From Applying To Pitch Wars (And Not Getting In)


Pitch Wars, for those who don’t know, is a yearly contest run by author Brenda Drake. To get in, you submit in a sample chapter and query letter for a completed novel to four different mentors in your target age bracket and genre. Mentors then choose one mentee to help polish up and present to agents. I applied to this year’s contest and didn’t get any manuscript requests at all. And while that was a blow to my ego, it definitely taught me some good lessons.

Don’t write ‘New Adult’ in your query letter when you’re only applying to Adult mentors.

While this seems like common sense, it was still a bit of a shock to realize I had made this rather careless error–about five minutes after submitting.

How to write a query letter, twitter pitch, logline and synopsis. 

Though I didn’t get in, this contest was nevertheless a great dry run for the submission process. Before it, I had never written any of these and Brenda Drake’s site had some great resources and examples. For those that don’t know, a query letter is the first impression an agent/editor gets of your novel and it’s your chance to hook them into reading your sample.

A twitter pitch and a logline are similar to each other. Both are quick hooks to get a reader interested in your book. They vary only in length: a logline is 35 words while a Twitter pitch is, well, Twitter length.

A synopsis is a full summary of your book for an agent/editor so they know exactly what they are getting into. Here’s a good example of one summarizing RoboCop (spoilers alert!).

Rewriting a 700 page novel in a month is brutal–but it can be done.

Of course, now I don’t want to even look at the damn thing, but that’s not unusual after diving into something so intensely. The point is, I did it! I corralled my beta readers’ suggestions and reconciled them with my own changes and made something better than I had. Sure, I shaved off 200 pages, some of which I might just have to work back in. And sure, I spent so much time at my desk covering it with paper that the people I live with had to consult old pictures to remember my face, but I got it done, in time for the contest too!

Mid-rewrite desk hurricane.
Mid-rewrite desk hurricane.

But that doesn’t mean it will be perfect, or even submission worthy. 

This, I knew going into the rewrite. I figured I could further polish it during the contest, which while that thought kept me plowing through, probably wasn’t the best mindset to go in with. It probably is also why I don’t want to open the document for a couple months. Which is just fine. It will give me the distance to make the necessary changes and let me build up my enthusiasm again. Writing is a process, not a race. Which is what I will keep muttering to myself on those nights when my doubts demand to know why the hell I’m not a publishing prodigy.

You just need to keep going. 

The bottom line when it comes to rejection, as any writer worth your time will say, is to shake it off and keep going. Though I am leaving my most recent draft to marinate in the recesses of my hard drive, that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’m still keeping up my W1S1 challenge and I’m transferring my long-term attention to another novel that has been languishing for a while.

So to all my fellow rejects (and Pitch Wars is popular so there are a lot of us): don’t give up. Not getting in will not destroy your career, but never writing again will kill it before it has a chance.


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