Pitch Wars: First Impressions

The submission window has come and gone. The dust has settled, and mentors are finally peeking their heads out from behind the piles of queries, synopsis, first chapters, and full manuscripts. The big announcement is coming next week, and I could not be more excited about digging into revisions with my mentee.

I'd hoped to have my first impressions blog post up last week, but...I grossly underestimated how much time my submission reading was going to take. Besides my own inbox, other manuscripts were flying like crazy around the interwebs as mentors swapped projects they felt might appeal more to different colleagues. There were even a few age category swaps (YA -> MG, etc.)! Altogether I read through about fifteen full manuscripts in the last week (including a few that were not originally submitted to me), and many many more first chapters. (This should definitely count towards my Goodreads reading goal, right...?)

Even now I'm running short on time. I've finished reading my submissions and made my final pick (AHHHH!), but it's only now that the real work starts. I need to reread this manuscript with a fine-tooth comb one more time and draft my editorial letter before the announcement goes live, so in lieu of a well thought out blog post, here is a numbered list detailing my first impressions.

  1. 53 of you chose to submit your queries and first chapters to me. 53! I am so incredibly stunned, honored, humbled, that you chose to entrust me with your work. I know how difficult it can be to share your precious words with strangers, and believe me, I appreciate all of you SO much.
  2. The overall quality of my submissions was seriously off the charts. I've read slush for both a publishing house and a literary agency, and I know what I'm talking about. You all have done your homework, and it showed in the quality of your queries and sample pages. None of you made my job easy, in any sense of the word. (And the vast majority of you are SCBWI members!)
  3. I said that I would give feedback on each of my submissions, and I did. 52 feedback emails are waiting to go out after the announcement (including a few congratulatory notes to authors chosen by other mentors!). I consider my job as a mentor to help you tell the story YOU want to tell, and all of my feedback was given with that aim. This being said, my thoughts are only one opinion. If you find it helpful, great! But this is a subjective business, and it's perfectly fine if your ideas for your manuscript don't mesh with mine. I'm not offended. At the end of the day, it's YOUR story.
  4. ...But that feedback took me a solid week to write up. I'm not sure what I'd do next time (perhaps a blog series on common trends and general advice?), but unfortunately giving individual feedback took too much time for me to realistically commit to doing it again.
  5. The number one piece of advice I gave on queries was to read Janet Reid's Query Shark.
  6. The number one piece of advice I gave on sample pages was to consider starting the story in a different place. Interestingly, this was pretty evenly split between too early and too late. Starting with action is great to hook the reader in, but if it all goes so quickly that the reader is left confused, you may want to consider backing up and giving a little more context. And if you're taking five chapters to mention the main conflict of your story, you may want to reevaluate what you can cut or skip to at the beginning.
  7. The Pitch Wars community. I was a late mentor addition and got thrown in (gladly!) at the deep end less than a week before the mentor blog hop. It took me a little while to get adjusted to this wonderful wacky world I've jumped into, but now that I'm here, I'm so impressed by the kindness, professionalism, enthusiasm, and willingness to help shown by Brenda Drake, all my fellow mentors, and especially all you potential mentees. I've interacted with many of you on Twitter, and I like you to bits already!

Next week I hope to have a Pitch Wars post up about what to do if you didn't get selected. (If this is you, you're in good company! Many current mentors, including myself, applied to Pitch Wars and were not selected. Don't worry, I've been there. And it's not even close to the end of the world.)