Holy Crap It’s Almost #PitchWars Time! FAQs to the Rescue.

(updated for 2017!)

I’ve been spending way too much a little time on the #PitchWars feed, and I’ve seen these questions come up time and time again. With nothing else to do, I figured I’d make a quick FAQ post on the ones I see the most.

Do I have to do #PimpMyBio?

You sure don’t. Many mentors (me included) won’t even read them—at all, or if they do, it’ll be after the sub window closes or when they’re narrowing their mentee choices. Having one or not having one does not affect you one way or another. Unless you’re a douchecanoe in yours, in which case…maybe don’t be?

How should I format my MS?

I have details on my catch-all post. Bottom line: standard MS formatting, and yes, it matters. If it’s not formatted correctly when I receive it and I request more materials, I’ll ask that you format it before sending them back to me. I’m reading 100% of my submissions on my tiny iPhone, so an incorrectly formatted MS looks like jkfljdkashfcjkdsajkckdsakjchjks. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

How should I title my MS?

The mentors get a lot of submissions. It would help immensely if you titled your submission and any subsequent material as: Last Name_TITLE_first chapter/50 pages/full/whatever. So: Smith_AWESOME TITLE_full.

Does it matter if I submit at the beginning or at the end of the submission window?

I’m inclined to say no. I can’t remember when any of my mentees’ submissions landed in my inbox. All I know is several I got from other mentors after going through all of mine, so they were some of the last ones I read. I’d rather you wait until the last day and deliver a polished MS than hurry up and sub early because you think it might give you a slight advantage. The polished MS will give you more of an advantage. Promise. Update: in 2016, I picked one mentee who was my first sub, and my other was within the last 5 subs I receive. It really doesn’t matter.

Do I need a synopsis?

Yes. Your chosen mentors may not ask for one, but they might. Better to be prepared than flailing about, trying to write a synopsis in twenty minutes. Hey, I get it. Synopsis writing is a real bitch. But here’s the thing—you’re going to need to write a synopsis for (probably) every manuscript you ever write. Ever. Might as well start polishing your skills now. The silver lining here is most (if not all) mentors aren’t looking for perfection or sparkling wit. We just need to see if your story takes any crazy turns or twists or jumps the shark. 1-3 pages is pretty standard in the industry (1 page: single spaced; anything longer: double). I’ll take 1-3 pages. I’ll take 4-6 pages. If you need 7 to tell me everything, fine. I’m not going to put a huge red X by your name if your synopsis is too long by industry standards. I might draw a mustache on you, but you’ll never know.

How long should my query be?

250-350 is pretty standard in the industry. You don’t win a prize if it’s significantly less than that. You also don’t get bonus points the more words you use. Keep it simple: characters, conflict, stakes. Good rule of thumb is for format is: hook (your log line or elevator pitch), book (character/conflict/stakes), cook (you!).

What if my query sucks donkey balls? Will you still read the pages?

Yeppers, I will. Queries, like synopses, mean little to me at this stage. In fact, I sort of expect they’re not at their best. A couple things you can do to make them be as good as they can? Proofread, get additional input, focus on CCS (see above), and don’t use rhetorical questions. (Will they get together and save the world or is her life doomed to hell? I think we all know the answer to that.)

How do I submit my work once the window opens?

There will be a form you fill out which has space for your name and contact information, your category, genre, the mentors you’re submitting to, and then a large field for you to paste your query. Then you’ll attach your first chapter as a .doc or .docx file. If mentors request additional material, they’ll let you know how they want it sent. (I’ll be asking for additional materials in .doc or .docx and standard formatting.)

Since it’s going to all four (or six) mentors, how can I personalize?

This is unnecessary, but if you really feel like you want to, add a P.S. line for each mentor at the end of the query, reach out to them on Twitter (but not via DM), or post a comment on their wish list.

Do I need comps in my query?

If you have them and they’re stellar, use them. If not, leave them off.

If you request more from me, what will you be requesting?

This varies greatly for me, year to year and MS to MS. Sometimes I feel like I need three chapters. Sometimes 50 pages. Sometimes 100 pages. Sometimes the full. I like to keep you on your toes.

How soon should I send the requested material?

ASAP, but preferably within 24 hours. If I’m requesting more, it means I’m excited to read more. Might as well jump on that, amirite? That said, if you’re going to be out of town/without wifi/out of touch, please make sure you either mention this in your query or you have an out of office reply saying this. Otherwise, mentors (me) may assume you don’t actually have your full polished and ready. Then you would get a big red X by your name.

I’ve heard talk that mentors can’t swap subs this year. What’s that mean?

It means you need to do your homework. In previous years, the mentors have been able to share manuscripts behind the scenes. My alternate from 2014 and one of my mentees from last year came from other mentors’ inboxes. With the option to donate to get extra entries this year, it wouldn’t be fair to those people if we just share all the manuscripts behind the scenes anyway. For this reason, it is imperative you do your homework and select the best mentors to fit your MS. Ask questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. I will be crushed if I miss out on what may be a perfect MS for me because a hopeful thought I wouldn’t like something that may be a non-issue for me. Update: Brenda is allowing us to swap manuscripts again this year! This is great news, but don’t get too comfy. You should still do your homework and select the 4 or 6 mentors who you think would be the best fit for your manuscript. Just because we can swap doesn’t mean that we will. And that’s not meant in any malicious way, just simply that mentors don’t have a lot of time to find out what others are looking for while they’re reading a hundred subs. So be sure to do your due diligence.

What if I submit my MG/YA/NA/A and a mentor likes it but thinks it should be MG/YA/NA/A?

If you submit your, say, MG novel to a MG mentor who thinks it should be aged up to YA, they can still mentor you! Brenda allows us to change categories after the fact if we think the submission we love should be aged up/down. That said, please don’t confuse this with submitting your MG novel to YA mentors. They won’t even be able to read it. It’s important to do your research and sub to those in the category you think your novel fits best.

How do I know if my MS is women’s fiction or romance?

The easiest way? Is your book about the woman’s journey or the couple’s journey? Former is WF, latter is R.

If I have XYZ, is it an automatic no?

I see this question probably the most on the feed, and it’s difficult giving a blanket answer, but I’m going to anyway: No, it’s not an automatic no. Even something on my no list could be an okay, depending on execution. Everything boils down to how you’ve written it and how your characters react to it and how it fits into your plot. Helpful, I know.

Will all mentors be giving feedback on the submissions?

This varies from mentor to mentor, so if it’s a deciding factor for you on who you sub to, I’d ask the mentors in question. Personally, I gave feedback on all subs I received in 2014. I only got 50-something subs, and it still took me about two weeks to compile it all. So you can see how someone who gets 200 subs probably wouldn’t be able to do the same thing. In 2015 & 2016, I got more subs and instead of giving feedback to everyone, I put out a call on Twitter (several times) asking for anyone who’d like to receive feedback to let me know. I’ll probably do this again this year (though I may cap it at a certain number, depending on how many subs I get). I liked doing it this way for a couple reasons. First, I’m only spending my time on people who actually want the feedback. Second, I’m more likely to get thanked for the time I spent doing it. That last one is important. If a mentor takes time to give you feedback—even feedback you don’t like or agree with—you had better take fourteen seconds to send a thank you back. Don’t be a jerk. Seriously, don’t. I still remember those who didn’t thank me for feedback, even after specifically requesting it. This industry is small. Don’t burn a bridge before you get started.

Are you expecting perfection in your submissions?

Nope. Not even a little. And this goes for all mentors. We are not looking for perfection. Does that mean you shouldn’t polish it to the best of your ability? No, it does not. You should be spit shining that sucker until you run out of saliva. We want polished not perfection. Go here and here for editing tips.

What if my word count is high/low?

Sometimes they are so high or so low, there’s just not enough time to get them ready for the agent round. In that case, I would more than likely pass, unless I was head over heels in love with it. For romance, I’ll look at anything ranging from about 60-100k. No, I won’t automatically discount you if your MS is 59k or 101k.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being sunshine and praise and 10 being brutal honesty), what’s your feedback style?

I’d say I’m somewhere between an 8-9. My feedback will be brutal and honest, but it will be sprinkled with compliment confetti. I think it’s important to know what doesn’t work so you can grow, but it’s also important to know what you’re doing right so you don’t wither in a pool of self doubt. And if you have a question on my feedback or mentor style, I’m sure my previous mentees would all be willing to tell you honestly what it was like to work with me.

What do you do if your mentee disagrees with your feedback?

I feed them to the alligators in the moat surrounding my castle. MWHAHAHAHA Or, you know, we discuss it like rational adults. I talked a little bit about it the video I did on all things Pitch Wars, but it basically boils down to: it’s your story. In the end, you have the final say. With that said, please think about where the urge to reject the change is coming from. If it’s emotional, take some time to let it sink in (the Five Stages of Feedback are a real thing and you should take the time to go through them all.) and then come back to it with fresh eyes and see if the suggestions would actually make the MS stronger. If it’s a practical place you’re coming from, discuss it with me. And this goes for all mentors, not just me. I think it’s safe to say we all want what’s best for your MS and if you don’t feel like XYZ is it, then tell us. But also be open to finding a different solution to the root problem that we can both agree on.

What does it mean if you’ve interacted with me on Twitter and we’ve become friends?

It’s means we both got a new friend! Yay! But, seriously, that’s all it means. There are so many amazing people I meet every year on the feed, and I wish I could mentor them all. Alas, I haven’t figured out how to clone myself, so that’s not going to happen. Even if I can’t mentor you, I hope you’ll stick around because I like having you there, and I like making new friends. Also, please note that I do not follow back (ever, but especially during Pitch Wars). After the mentees have been announced, I’ll do a mass following of those I’ve enjoyed interacting with. Does using Twitter freak you out because you don’t know what’s appropriate interaction? Go here.

If I didn’t answer your question, check here, here, here, and here, and see if fellow mentors have covered it! And, hey, have you checked out my wish list?

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  1. Thanks for the post! I think “doucheboat” is now my new favorite word.
    P.S. You have a typo, “moat” in the second to last question. (“mote”) Unless you have some word play/pun that’s much too clever for me to understand.

  2. This was wonderful and super helpful, thank you. Somehow I missed that #pitchwars was going to be happening again soon. I was halfway writing my second book when I realized there was a snafu with my first book. I’m halfway through remedying this, but I am hoping to fix it by the time this starts.

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