For the second year in a row, I’ve entered Pitch Wars, the yearly contest from Brenda Drake where featured mentors pick one manuscript out of those submitted to them to critique and prepare for the coveted “agent round.” During the agent round, agents may request manuscripts and after reading, offer representation or decline. The goal of course is to find representation and become a traditionally published author.
Last year, I did not get picked. But did however receive some great feedback. One mentor pair that I subbed to said, “We loved your story, but fell in love with a different one. But what you have here is really great and we’re sure that you’ll be published in no time and we will be celebrating right along with you.” Even though I wasn’t picked, that made me feel awesome.
So I queried and entered other contests and received request from agents from those. Each time, the reply was the same: Not connecting with the story.
So I enrolled in a one-on-one first pages workshop through Writer’s Digest, where an agent read and critiqued the first chapter. Other than a few suggestions, she had great kudos for me: compelling title; solid writing; intriguing heroin; engaging voice; believable high school setting; well-drawn characters; and good grasp of the elements of fiction. But even with those noted strengths, she didn’t request any more from me.
Not sure where to go, I asked a few writers to read the first pages and give me their take on what the story was missing. One suggested changing the tense from past to present and POV from close third to first, citing that this is easier for readers to connect with. All of them mentioned more voice, inner monologue, and adding stronger descriptions.
A month later, I had scoured the entire manuscript, changing the tense, POV, and adding as much “spice” as possible. I must say, I liked it better. A benefit of changing the tense and POV, I could see story holes that before were hidden. This all occurred in July of this year.
With my revised manuscript and a surge of confidence, I was looking forward to entering Pitch Wars in August.
I belong to a professional writer’s org. called, “Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers” and received an email for a workshop regarding “Beginnings” the weekend before Pitch Wars opened. Perfect. I could go to the workshop and get validation that my manuscript was ready.
Then the unthinkable happened; the Pitch Wars contest opened early! But I wasn’t worried–I was ready. Plus, I had until Monday to submit–plenty of time if anything needed to be changed.
The workshop was incredible. Best I’ve been to in a long time. I learned that my inciting event, or the thing about that day that was different than all the others, needed to be as close to page one as possible. Where was mine? Page eight. Crap.
I also learned that the place where your story takes a dramatic change needs to occur about 10% into your story. For instance, if the story is 300 pages, the change should occur around page 30. Mine was page 79. Crap, crap, and triple crap! These aren’t hard rules, but definitely good guidelines to follow.
The rest of the workshop, my head spun. How in the world was I going to make the changes and be ready? I decided if I couldn’t, then I wouldn’t enter Pitch Wars. End of story.
When I returned home, I sat my butt down and began the arduous task of moving the story into the right place, as well as changing details to match the new placement, and shifting chapter endings and beginnings to create appropriate page counts. Like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces are cut alike, it took me several tries to get it right.
At 1:00 a.m., I finished the revisions. The next day, after another read-through of my changes, I completed the form and entered Pitch Wars.
Will I be picked as a mentee this year? I have no idea. But Pitch Wars has taught me to never give up, keep honing my craft, ask others for help, keep moving forward, and to work my butt off for the things that are important to me.
Just like my protagonist, Bethany, who has to go through metamorphosis, our stories should do the same, until emerging a beautiful work of art.
Crossing my fingers for all of us that whether we get a mentor or not, this will be the start of a great manuscript!