January 16th is the next deadline, to wit, I have to have my pitch (up to 3 sentences; up to 50 words) and the first 250 words of my manuscript to my mentor, the inimitable Michelle Painchaud. Check.
The agent round is January 23-24, during which the 17ish literary agents in question go through not only the 31 mentees’ works, but also the 62 shorter pitches from the various alternates – at least, that’s how I understand it. At that point they have the option to request a full manuscript from any of us.
This seems like a remarkably generous scenario. In theory we’re all in “competition” with one another to see who can get the most requests for a full, but what’s great is that it’s not a zero-sum game. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say that all 31 of us mentored writers have 300 words of masterpiece. All 17 of those agents could request a full from each and every one of us. Right, right, no way that’s gonna happen, the odds against, blah blah, XKCD calculates something infinitesimal (like XKCD does). The point is that there’s not a FIRST PRIZE, although there may be a “you got more than anyone else,” but those are entirely different things. It encourages effort (and, one hopes, excellence) without encouraging competition. We can all win.
In a great and grand way, I’d say we have. I don’t know how the coaches are working with the alternates, but from skimming #pitchwars on Twitter, there’s a fair amount of traffic between and about coaches and mentors. What this suggests is that regardless of what happens during the agent round, a great deal has already happened. Our coaches have read our manuscripts (no more than once) and given notes, gone over our pitches and query letters, given more and different feedback, et cetera and so on. In other words, we’re getting one-time critique partners who are all, to a one, authors with agents and publishing deals, industry interns, or editors. They know whereof they speak.
In my own case, Michelle sent me back a very particular critique (gently couched). In fact, another reader, upon hearing her words of wisdom, looked at me with deep suspicion and said, “Uh, didn’t I tell you that exact same thing?” For which,
a) could be!
b) don’t remember!
c) either way, confirmation that this was sound advice
In other words, this has been already been great. I’m happy with my pitch and I’m falling-over-the-moon delighted with my query.
Here’s the thing about queries – there’s all kinds of information available about them, probably first and foremost of which is probably Janet Reid’s QueryShark. The archives are available to peruse, including all of her comments. She’s not a gentle teacher, but she’s not mean and she’s performing a giant service to any and every aspiring writer by maintaining that particular blog. I’ve read through most of the archives and I’ve submitted to the odd website that does critiques and I’ve taken the odd webinar from Writer’s Digest – which often include a query critique as part of the deal. In other words, I’m not a total neophyte when it comes to query letters. I know what has to go into them. I also know that I’m not very good at them. Then I get Michelle’s notes and the clouds part and the light shines down from above and I think, “OH! That’s how they’re supposed to look!”
I’m not sure I can replicate this again on my own, but DAMN. It helps to have someone on the outside, actually, who doesn’t have ego-issues about saying nice things. The whole point of the query is to sell the book, right? Why shy away? I know this in my head but I think about differently when my fingers are typing.
Let me sum up and reiterate points from a month-ish ago. I entered this contest figuring I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’ve gained more than I could have hoped for and put in some newly-directed, good editing on the manuscript to boot.
It’s all rather amazing and mind-boggling and heartwarming and restorative in a feel-good, hippie kind of way, which is not something I’d normally go for, except that it’s coupled with some good, hard work on top of it all.