I see a lot of people on Twitter wanting to know “how do I prepare for Pitch Wars?” And I got to thinking of all the things, so I thought I’d share some random advice.
Polish your MS
The first, most obvious thing you should be doing right now is getting your manuscript finished, revised, re-revised, critiqued, re-re-revised, beta read, re-re-re-re-revised, edited, and polished. You shouldn’t submit a first draft to Pitch Wars. You shouldn’t submit a second draft to Pitch Wars. You should submit a manuscript that is *query ready* and as good as you can possibly make it on your own.
You should be researching some simple information about publishing. What’s your genre? Is your word count within targeted norms? If not, you should strive to get close, or you’ll be adding an additional hurdle to your chances of being chosen.
Tighten your first chapter
Once you’ve got your entire MS in good shape, take a sharp eye to your first chapter. You’ll be submitting a first chapter to mentors and you want that sucker to sing. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you opening in the right place? Beware of two major pitfalls:
- Starting too soon. If you open with a lot of backstory and exposition that doesn’t forward the story or hook the reader, you’re probably starting your story too soon. Figure out where the story actually starts and then weave all that backstory in throughout the rest of your MS.
- Starting too abruptly. While you want to start close to the action, don’t just drop the reader into the middle of the story with no sense of scene. You can start with a car crash, but if you do that, realize the reader does not yet care whether your hero lives or dies if you haven’t taken time to create a connection. Starting with “action” doesn’t necessarily mean starting with an emergency. Urgency is good, but not if it’s disorienting and doesn’t give the reader a reason to engage.
- Are you starting with a cliched opening such as an MC waking up to start the day? This goes to the above point. Start when the story starts. If there’s a great reason to start with the MC waking up, then by all means, go for it. But you should do some research on the types of openings agents and editors are sick of and try to find a more original start.
- Have you proofread, fixed your typos, fixed your commas, read your chapter out loud?
- Have you forced other people to read and give you honest feedback?
- Is your chapter an appropriate length?
- Does your chapter end with forward momentum that will leave your reader wanting to turn the page?
Write your query
You should be working on a query letter already because a good query takes time and needs to go through revisions to tighten and perfect.
- Your query should be around 250-350 words, usually 2-3 paragraphs, and should entice the reader to want to pick up your book immediately. This is the “back cover” copy, not to be confused with a synopsis.
- A good query will focus on the following three things:
- Premise – what is the basic set-up?
- Characters – who is the star of the show? Limit your query to one or two named characters and show us what they want and why we should root for them.
- Stakes – what happens if your characters succeed? What if they fail?
- Do not focus on the themes of your book or share why you wrote it.
- Don’t talk about yourself other than in a short bio at the end of the query (like seriously only one sentence) and then only share info relevant to publishing or experience pertinent to your novel.
- Check out Query Shark for some excellent advice on writing a great query.
Start your synopsis
You should also be working on a synopsis.
- Here are two reasons why:
- Writing a synopsis will help you get a solid overview of your plot and identify structural issues.
- Lots of mentors will request one if they want to make sure your story holds up to the query and pages.
- If you are unsure how to write one, check out this fantastic resource.
Get involved with the Pitch Wars community.
- Follow the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter.
- Reach out to other hopefuls and see if you can swap pages and queries. You may find a new CP.
- Support one another and stay positive.
- Talk to mentors — ask questions, jump into their conversations, don’t be shy. We love to connect.
- Before you jump in though, check out Brighton Walsh’s post about the Do’s and Don’ts of Tweeting during Pitch Wars on the Writing With the Mentors blog.
Stalk the mentors
When the blog hop rolls around in late July, take time to read the wishlists and pick out the mentors who best fit what you’re pitching. Go ahead and reach out on Twitter. Beware of any wish lists you uncover if you start stalking early — this year’s won’t be up until the end of July. Anything you find now is likely from last year.
Brenda Drake puts a ton of her own time into running this contest every year, and she does it from the goodness of her heart and an honest desire to help authors rise up from the slush pit and find success. You only need to scroll through her blog to see how many authors she’s helped along the way. A large number of mentors were at one time mentees who return to volunteer our time because we know how valuable this community is, and it’s thanks to Brenda.
Plus if you donate $20, you’ll get an additional 2 extra submissions. Trust me, once you’re narrowing down your mentor list, you’ll want an extra 2 slots. You can find out more here. Bear in mind, none of the donations go to the mentors. The proceeds are for administrative costs to keep the contest running.
You’ll get into Pitch Wars what you put into it.