If you know me, you’ve heard this before, but you might be wondering why I’m at it again… didn’t I get into this thing a couple years ago? Didn’t I get an agent? Yes, and yes.

If you’re new here, you might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. If you’ve never heard of Pitch Wars, go check it out.

PW has given me some of the most amazing experiences as a writer. From the community to my mentors to the PW team. So amazing that after completing PW, I volunteered to take over the blog. My little way of giving back to the community that had given me so much.

And this year, I’m thrilled… honored… excited to be mentoring!

So… it’s time to work on a wish list, brush up my spreadsheet skills (who’m I kidding? I love my spreadsheets), and get ready for the busy to begin.

So the idea of Pitch Wars is basically pairing unagented authors with a more experienced author to tackle improving their manuscript before submitting to agents. (extremely short version there)

In years past, hopefuls selected the mentors they thought would be a good fit and submitted their query and first chapter to them. You had a limited number of names you could choose, but the mentors were allowed to do some swapping behind the scenes – so you could, theoretically, end up with a mentor you had not chosen.

This year, there will be no behind-the-scenes swapping of submissions. So, as a hopeful, you’re stuck with the four (or six if you donate, or win extra submissions) you selected.

Which brings me to the madness…

I keep thinking I have the list narrowed down to six names. Then something changes. Currently, I’ve got eight possibilities. Three are pretty much a given. Which means I’ve got three slots left, but five names with which to fill them. I’ve read the mentor wish lists umpteen bazillian times. I’ve Tweeted at them with questions and clarifications. I’ve scoured their blogs, and read sample pages from their books. And I’m still no closer to cutting two names than I was when I started.

So I decided to check their favorite books. Maybe getting a feel for the stories they like to read would help narrow my choices a bit.

Brilliant idea.

Or not.

One of my top choices, one I thought was a hands-down-gotta-sub, lists a book as their all-time, absolute, love-it-to-death piece that I not only cannot stand, but I find repugnant beyond words. As in, everything about it makes me cringe. As in, it is everything I do not like about a genre I normally love. As in, it represents some of the most unhealthy, codependent, romanticization of abusive behavior I’ve ever scene. As in, it makes 50 Shades of Gray seem like a good romance.

Cue freak out. Cue panic moment. Cue frantic scrambling to decide how important this information is and how to weight it in my choices. I mean, this mentor is one of my top choices otherwise. Harrumph.

Enter salvation from the PW community in the form of words of calm and wisdom from other hopefuls, and a few mentors.

Deep breathing ensued. Analytical thinking resumed, replacing the blindass panic of moments before.

OK. I can deal with this. It’s not a big deal. It’s just one little factor among many. And not everyone has the same literary tastes.

Crisis averted, but it still doesn’t help narrow my damn list down any!

On the plus side, one mentor who I adored beyond all possible belief (and whose favorite books I also love), but thought was not a good fit for my manuscript turns out to be more open than I’d thought, and is now among my top three.

Happy dance.

IMG_2922I’ve spent most of my career as an editor. I know damn good and well the work a writer turns in usually goes through multiple rounds of edits before it approaches publishable status. Still, as a writer, there is that little ego trip that says, “No, this is my creative baby, and it is perfect, just the way it is!”

Yeah, well… Bull. Shit.

This time last year

I stumbled across a Twitter-based writing contest called PitchWars. Having just put the finishing touches on a romantic thriller, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. Shocker, I did not get selected. Cue mild disappointment.

But the experience was overwhelmingly positive.

I connected with a wide range of other writers. I learned some valuable lessons on craft, and about social media. And I got some really killer advice from a couple of the mentors.

Yep. Even though I didn’t get selected, two of the mentors were fabulous folks who offered me some individual feedback on my submission.

The things they said were both humbling, and encouraging.

The good:

Great voice, solid writing, a good opening, and an interesting premise.

The bad:

The MC needs to be more personable up front, we need to understand more of the antagonist, and don’t be afraid of taking the story into really dark places.

The ugly:

The premise, while good, was not unique enough in a glutted genre like romantic thriller/suspense, and the query needed serious help.

Rework, Rewrite, Revise

I took my 80,000 word story and reworked it following that advice. I had beta readers give me feedback. I redid the query. Eventually, with my word count sitting at 84,000, I started querying.

Mostly I was ignored.

I got a few form letter passes. “This isn’t right for us.” I got very few requests for more, all resulted in a no.

The standard advice is: if you’re not getting requests, there’s something wrong with your query. If you’re getting requests, but no takers, there’s something wrong with your manuscript.

Well. Shit.

I tabled it. I thought about it. I debated self publishing it. I debated a lot of things. Eventually, I picked it back up and reworked the query yet again. Then I got a couple of critique partners and reworked the entire manuscript, again.

I was all prepared to do another round of queries.

Revisions Round Two

Then I realized Pitch Wars was right around the corner. Well, it was good last year, why the heck not?

Another round of revisions and tweaks came about courtesy of the advice shared on the Twitter feeds during the lead up to Pitch Wars.

I completely trashed and rewrote my query letter after a series of critiques and exchanges. Then I tweaked it, revised it, and rewrote it again.

We will not even discuss the tortured hell that is a synopsis.

No, really. We won’t.

I added nearly 5,000 words to my manuscript, cut nearly 10,000 words, then added a few thousand back.

Final word count is currently at 85,000.

The Results?

Well, we’ll see how Pitch Wars 2016 goes. I’m hoping to land a mentor this time through. If not, I’ll take whatever advice I get and continue polishing this manuscript until it’s as shiny as I can make it, and then send out some queries.

But what about the story?

Well… I’d like to think that I held onto the good, improved the bad, and prettified the ugly.

My main character got some major overhaul work done, and she’s now far more relatable far earlier in the story.

We get to know the antagonist a bit more as well, even though we may wish we didn’t.

Which brings me to the dark places… I went darker and creepier and opened doors I wasn’t sure I wanted to open. But y’know what? The story is better because of it.

As for the unique elements? I’m hoping that by taking the story into the deeper reaches of a dark and screwed up mind, I’ve hit that target. While the story could still be called a romantic thriller, I think it’s far closer to a thriller, that happens to have a romance.

And the query? Well… we already know that got completely redone.

In the end… we’ll see. And once again, Pitch Wars has been an overwhelmingly positive experience that has improved my skills as a writer.

Now excuse me while I get back to proofreading everything. I’m on deadline.