What We’re Looking for in #PitchWars Mentors

If you’re entirely unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, please read the info on the PW site first. If you’re unaware how I became the 2019 Managing Director of Pitch Wars, there’s a post about that here.

Pitch Wars mentors are the heart and soul of PW. Without mentors freely giving their time to give a hand-up to unagented writers, Pitch Wars would not exist. They are volunteers, yes, but our mentors often dedicate themselves to helping other writers with a professional zeal. I am constantly in awe of how much some of these people give to the community. I am grateful that they exist.

Last year was the first year we had a full application and selection process for Pitch Wars mentors and we’ve decided to keep that process for now (with some small tweaks). It’s not a perfect process, of course, but it’s the best way we know to give us the best chance of selecting quality mentors. If someone is not invited to mentor for PW after applying one year, it doesn’t necessarily mean we think they will be a bad mentor. Sometimes it’s because it’s simply not a good match at this time. Unfortunately, we can’t give individualized feedback.

I know that’s vague and reminiscent of the most frustrating query letter rejections we’ve all received, so I thought I’d share with those interested what we’re looking for in Pitch Wars mentors. I can’t speak for the members of the Mentor Selection Committee when it comes to specifics, but I can give you insight to our guiding philosophies.

Industry Experience

This comes in many different forms, but to put it in more concrete terms, we’re looking for mentors who have been through a professional editing experience and understand what that should look like. The core aspect of Pitch Wars is the mentoring period, and the lion’s share of that is a manuscript edit. If someone hasn’t been through that process from any angle, we can’t have confidence that they’ll be able to plan a manuscript edit for their mentee.

The experience often comes from being an author who has gone through an edit with an agent or editor, but it can also come from being an industry intern or assistant, using a professional editor before self-publishing, or other means.

It would be irresponsible of us to invite someone to mentor who had no more industry experience than the majority of people applying to be mentees.

A Volunteer Spirit

To be a Pitch Wars mentor, you have to want to be a mentor. You need a desire to pass on the knowledge you’ve managed to collect to the next class of authors. This should be (at least mostly) motivated by altruism and selflessness. Anything less won’t get you through the hardest days.

Some people are drawn to PW because of the attention it receives, but that attention is short-lived and when it goes away, you still need to mentor your mentee.

If someone wants to be a PW mentor for the glory of it:

  1. They’re going to be sorely disappointed as soon as mentees are announced (we call it the Great Unfollowing)
  2. They’re probably not going to be a good mentor to their mentee in the quiet, difficult hours

Genres

Pitch Wars only encompasses Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult novels, with allowances for memoirs and New Adult. The majority of our adult submissions come in the romance, mystery/thriller, and science fiction & fantasy genres, with some women’s fiction, literary fiction, and other commercial fiction genres.

We have to make sure we have enough mentors for those majority genres, so if the genre a person can mentor is very narrow or is in a genre for which we don’t receive many submissions, they are less likely to be chosen. (Notice I didn’t say “automatically ruled out”!)

Caution: This does NOT mean that you should lie and say you can mentor genres you know you can’t give a fair shake! We put a lot of thought into genre match-ups and we also aren’t a huge fan of liars. Please don’t do this. It’s not fair to us and it’s not fair to mentees.

On the flipside, if someone says they can mentor literally any genre, we do have to look sideways at that. There is no one who knows the market for every genre well enough to mentor for it.

Understand the Mission

Pitch Wars is, first and foremost, a mentoring organization. Yes, the process of getting a mentor is competitive, but only because it must be, due to the constraints on time and energy of mentors.

Point being: It is not a contest. There is no winner. There aren’t losers, though I understand it definitely feels that way when you’re not chosen.

It’s not even really about getting an agent or book deal. The agent showcase isn’t even the icing on the cake (tangent: I hate the phrase because icing is the best part, fight me), but the optional sprinkles on top. Many mentees find representation outside of PW thanks to the improved manuscript and enhanced skills their mentor helped them develop.

Being chosen as a mentee or having your MS featured in the agent showcase aren’t the big prizes here, the months your mentor spends helping you improve your craft and marketability are.

I think this is a common misconception due to the fact that the submission process and the agent showcase are such public events, while the mentoring and related discussions mainly happen in private spaces. It’s like an iceberg; the bulk of Pitch Wars is below the surface.

Diversity

It is a demonstrable fact that marginalized populations have been systematically denied an equitable place in publishing since the very beginning.

As stated in one of our posts about the 2018 restructure:

As leaders of a program that many look to for guidance, we have a responsibility within that community. To acknowledge our privilege and listen to others. To believe the underrepresented in our community when they say that we are creating barriers to access. To accept responsibility when we fail to do so. We are fully committed to making Pitch Wars a safe space for all members of the writing community this year and for many years to come.

This means that we seek to boost voices that have historically been silenced in this industry. We value these voices and what they have to offer this world. We actively and enthusiastically encourage qualified mentors from marginalized communities to apply as Pitch Wars mentors.

This does not mean that white allocishet able-bodied neurotypical folks aren’t welcome to be Pitch Wars mentors. It simply means their voices are not given preference over others in a way that many are accustomed to.

We value and encourage a diverse, intersectional group of mentors, mentees, and leadership. If that doesn’t align with your personal values, Pitch Wars may not be the right fit for you.

Community

This one isn’t a requirement, so much as an added bonus. And I’ll disclaim that this may just be my personal feelings and it’s possible no one else agrees with me.

The Pitch Wars community is a powerful force because we work together, supporting each other, sharing resources, and helping out where we can. I, personally, value mentors who wish to be a part of the community and contribute to it. This doesn’t have to be anything big or formal, just being there sometimes when you’re not seeking a benefit for yourself.

I have heard people say when they didn’t know/realize who I was that they wanted to be Pitch Wars mentors because it will help them promote themselves. I heard one say they wanted to be a mentor because they had a book coming out during the submission period and it would give them a boost. I’m a former publicist and I don’t believe it’s bad to seek promotional opportunities for your writing. It’s fine if self-promo is part of your motivation. But your primary motivation? This is not in the spirit of being a Pitch Wars mentor.

We have had incredible mentors who are unable to be very active in the community, and that is totally fine. We all have to figure out how to allocate the limited time we’re given. There have been years where I didn’t do much beyond what was required. There was even one year I fell into a major depression and leaned heavily on my amazing co-mentor. But if you seek to benefit from the support of the community, I ask that you occasionally contribute to it as well.

Things We Don’t Care About

These are based on the worries people have expressed to me in private communications and this is list is by no means exhaustive.

  • How popular you are
  • How many copies you’ve sold
  • Whether or not you’re with a Big 5
  • If you don’t have a degree
  • Whether or not you are on twitter / how many followers you have
  • Your other activities, unless it creates a conflict of interest or renders you unable to fulfill your duties
  • How long it’s been since you’ve published a book
  • Where you live, as long as you’re familiar with the American book market

 

Being a Pitch wars mentor is an amazing, rewarding experience. If you want to help upcoming writers and feel you have something to offer them, I hope you’ll apply this year. And remember, if you’re not chosen, it doesn’t mean we don’t like you.

To find out more about applying to become a Pitch Wars mentor, click here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s