What Pitch Wars Mentees Want in a Mentor

5 Jun

Love Letters to Pitch Wars MentorsPitch Wars is coming up again, and mentors are preparing their wishlists! When I tweeted about having time to write a blog post, I was asked to consider what a Pitch Wars mentee wants in a mentor. As a two-time mentee who’s had AMAZING mentors, I know a little something about that.

I’ll share my experience, and then include some comments from other Pitch Wars mentees below.

Both years that I have participated in Pitch Wars, I had a very hard time narrowing down my list of mentors. For those new to the contest, there are generally dozens of mentors for each age category, and mentees choose 4-6 mentors to submit a query and first chapter to. Those mentors then ask for full manuscripts if they are intrigued, and choose which mentee they would like to work with.

Both years, there were so many amazing mentors I thought I could learn from, who talked about books like mine on their wishlists, and who were fun to interact with on Twitter. I pored over mentors’ wishlists, analyzed their past mentees, read their blogs and books, and compared mentor picks with other hopeful mentees. Ultimately, I went with my gut, and both years, I chose well. I was picked as a mentee by Rachel Lynn Solomon in 2015 and Diana Gallagher in 2016. I still talk to both of my mentors regularly, and my life is so much richer because they are in it (cheesy but so true!).

Note that every mentor and mentee relationship is different. According to guidelines from the past, all that a Pitch Wars mentor is required to do is give their mentee an edit letter, and help with the entry for the contest. I hear there’s a new Pitch Wars website coming soon, and there may be new guidelines, so don’t take that as gospel. My point is that both of my mentors went way above and beyond the basic requirements.

Here are just a few of the things that made working with these two authors amazing:

  • Their confidence in me as a writer keeps me going when the rejections get under my skin. The simple fact that they picked me from their slush piles was a huge confidence boost, but they also gushed about my manuscript, explained why they picked me, and gave me pep talks when I needed them.
  • They understood the vision I had for my book, and collaborated with me to help the book reach that vision. When I wasn’t so sure about any one of their ideas, we discussed new ideas together.
  • They both had edit letters ready to go quickly after the announcement of mentee picks, so I could take full advantage of the revision windows. This isn’t always possible for every mentor depending on life situation or behind-the-scenes changes. However, I loved that it worked out that way for me!
  • They guided me through the YA contemporary market, recommending comp titles and dishing on their favorite reads in the genre.
  • They helped me with multiple rounds of revision. Basically, each of them gave me a big edit letter, helped me brainstorm ideas for addressing the edits, and then read my revised version of the manuscript and gave me detailed line notes. They then read the manuscript a third time, focusing on trouble spots. This was above and beyond, and I can’t thank them enough for the time they spent helping me with these manuscripts.
  • They pointed out patterns in my writing that I could improve on. For example, Rachel pointed out that I often had “talking heads” dialogue, where my characters were talking in a vacuum, and helped me figure out how to add action, interiority, and description to those scenes. Diana pointed out some examples of areas where I could trim to leave things to my readers’ imaginations. They pointed this out in their edit letters, provided a few examples, and then left me to go execute on these ideas throughout the entire manuscript. Rather than simply going in and fixing each trouble spot, they helped me learn—they taught me to fish.
  • They communicated about their availability and timeline. I hit my deadlines, and they stuck to their timelines.
  • They helped me figure out which agents to submit to and assisted as I navigated the querying process. I’ve kept them updated throughout my process, and they’ve kept me sane.
  • Rachel and Diana are both great communicators, though they have very different styles. Rachel and I had a Skype call to discuss revisions. Remembering back, I was so nervous to chat with her! (Rachel, I know you are reading thiscan you believe I was actually scared of you and now the bulk of our communication revolves around texting each other about our dogs?! (only a slight exaggeration)). Diana and I communicated mainly via novel-length emails, replete with Justin Timberlake videos and puns. I was a more seasoned Pitch Warrior by the time I worked with Diana, so I wasn’t as nervous as I was working with Rachel, though our relationship has certainly shifted from when it started, too. These days, Diana and I mainly discuss plans for our upcoming weddings (we are both a little terrified by all of the details involved!), our lives as adjunct professors, and of course, still, Justin Timberlake.
  • If you couldn’t tell from the last bullet point, I connected with both of my mentors on a personal level. This isn’t required, but I definitely kept that desire for a personal connection and friendship in mind as I chose which mentors to submit to, and I am thrilled that it worked out!

 

Gosh, there is so much more that I could say about how much I loved working with Rachel and Diana! I am a very lucky, spoiled writer.

 

Instead, I’ll let others speak. Here’s what other past Pitch Wars mentees said when I asked them what they wanted in a mentor:

 

“ A mentor who isn’t afraid of slashing with the red pen. Pain, after all, is weakness leaving the manuscript.”

Amanda Donegan

 

“Someone who is super encouraging yet also constructively brutal.”

Alison Rutter Miller

 

“I think overall, I was looking for someone whose strengths were in areas I needed the most help with, as well as someone I felt a creative connection with. My ideal mentor would ‘get’ my story and strive to enhance it in line with my vision, instead of turning it into something it wasn’t. Also, the icing on the cake would be a mentor turned CP.”:

Megan LaCroix

 

“I wanted mentors who had experience writing in my genre, and who wouldn’t pull any punches when it came to critique. My mentors were a perfect blend of ‘we love this’ with ‘these things need to change.’ The timeline of Pitch Wars is similar to the timeline of working with an editor….so it helped me to get a feel for the pace of the editorial process that I could expect once my book sold.

AND I can fully endorse my mentor, Susan Bishop Crispell, to 2017 hopefuls (my other amazing mentor, Karma Brown, isn’t mentoring this year). If you write women’s fiction, you can’t hope for better.”

Julie Clark

 

“I also wanted someone who would ‘get’ my story, see the potential in it, and help make it the best it can be. I got all that and so much moretwo amazing mentors who pushed me to tell my story in the best way possible, who believed in me and my story, who ‘tough loved’ me through the process/major changes when needed, and who supported and encouraged me throughout Pitch Wars and continue to do so. Thanks!”

Elissa Dickey

 

“I likewise wanted someone who understood my story, who could recognize what I was trying to do with it and help me finish getting it there. I wanted someone who shared my creative vision for the manuscript, and ultimately who would respect that vision and not change the story into something I didn’t want it to be. I wanted a mentor with keen insight who could see the weak points I was missing and put into clear feedback what I needed to do to address them. I wanted someone encouraging and enthusiastic, who really LOVED what I had to say. And I got all those things.”

Sam Taylor


“I was so lucky to have two fantastic mentors. They both realized the potential in my story and believed in my M.C. They told me what they loved about my work.They also told me exactly what didn’t work, and more importantly, WHY. They never tried to force revisions on me, they presented their case and left it to me to make the final decisions. That was HUGE. But they were always spot on. I knew that I was in the hands of two masters of their craft, and the end result showed!”

Dave Kane

 

“I had been writing and re-writing this book for a long time, including 2 R&Rs with agents. When Pitch Wars came around, I had just finished a second R&R, and I was at a crossroads. When I submitted, I was hoping for feedback that would either say ‘THIS is what you need to put it over the top’ or ‘Stop, just stop. Write something else and quit tinkering with this one.’ I wanted honesty. I wanted to know what darlings needed to be killed and how to kill them. And I absolutely got all of that, along with a mentor who loved my characters as much as I do and helped me make it the best it could be.”

Jen DeLuca

 

“Someone who knew my genre and would tell it to me straight even if it was hard to hear. I wanted to make my book the best it could be.”

Elise Nicole

 

“When I entered Pitch Wars I’d already rewritten my manuscript 4 times. I knew I was close, but I also knew it could still be better. I wanted a mentor who liked what they saw but knew they could help me come out of PW with an even stronger manuscript. I wanted someone who got my sense of humor and who wasn’t afraid to let me learn from them instead of being led by the hand. I wanted someone who’d help me with the craft of writing, who’d give me hints and tips, share their tricks and secrets. Someone who loved my characters and would help me make them even richer and more human. I got everything I hoped for and more.”

Gwynne Jackson

 

“I wanted a mentor who would help me learn how to fix my own book rather than fix it for me, and I needed (although I didn’t know it) a mentor who wasn’t afraid to tell me I was wrong. My book was broken when I entered, and my mentor was able to see past that and teach me how to fix it. She gave me the tools to look critically at my own work, which is possibly the most important thing I’ve learned so far.”

Rosiee Thor

 

“I think compatibility is crucial in a mentor-mentee relationship, so I only subbed to mentors I knew I’d get along with. A healthy dose of respect does wonders in a working relationship, and I knew I’d write my heart out not to disappoint my mentor. I looked at that extra bit of personality in their bios, as well as their overall work ethic. I’ve been blessed to be picked by a fabulous mentor, Marty Mayberry. Now we’re friends and CPs. She’s constantly teaching me new things and she made me a better writer.”

Alex Reda

 

“Compatibility is so important! i’m seconding Alex here. What helped me narrow down my top choices was like, who I actually thought I’d get along with. Anyway you could say it worked out because my Pitch Wars mentor and I are best friends/have met each others’ loved ones & such/routinely visit each other, in addition, obviously, to her being a fabulous mentor! So yeah, I was looking for someone who would stick with me way past the contest and I feel really lucky to have found it.”

Christine Lynn Herman

 

“Meeting edit/reviewing deadlines mutually agreed upon.”

 

“Someone who knows their job is to help me make my vision come about–and not their vision”

 

“Someone who understands the market and can tell me what will and won’t work while helping me realize my vision. Also: someone who can be my champion as well as my critic, who can tell me, ‘This chapter is a steaming pile of crap’ and still manage to make me feel good about it. (Tall order, but that’s my answer.)”

 

“While I’m looking for all of the above, I also would look for someone who would be willing to have my back, and the know-how to help me through the landscape of publishing when/if things go wrong, or I have questions.”

 

 

I hope this is helpful to Pitch Wars mentees and mentors alike. Good luck preparing for battle!

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