PitchWars: Should You Enter?

PitchWars is an annual writing contest where writers all over the world compete for the chance to be mentored by traditionally published authors. If you have a completed novel, you can enter. While mentors comb through entries, everyone involved in the contest spends about a month on Twitter making friends, talking about writing, and sharing their favorite GIFs.

Once picks are announced, mentors and mentees work together for two months on the mentee’s novel. After that, there’s an agent round where roughly fifty agents will read the entries and make requests for manuscripts that spark their interest.

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Right? It’s an amazing opportunity to network and get your foot in the door with traditional publishing. The question is, should you enter?

Yes, I think every unpublished writer who wants to go traditional should try it once. I entered this past August and didn’t get a spot, but thought it was a very valuable experience. However, please save yourself some heartache and assume you will not win a spot. Getting into PitchWars is no easier than getting an agent from cold querying.

So why should you bother? As with everything in this bizarre universe of ours, it has its pluses and minuses.

Disadvantages

Seriously, the Odds Are Not in Your Favor

Ignoring duplicate entries, over 2800 people entered PitchWars in 2017. There were 180 spots. That’s a 0.6% acceptance rate. For context, Yale Fucking Law School has a 9.7% acceptance rate.

But let’s say you’re lucky enough to get in. As of July, PitchWars has almost 250 success stories. This means ~250 people have gotten agents out of the 385 mentees selected between 2013 and 2016. Don’t get me wrong, a 65% chance of getting an agent is HUGE, especially compared to the 1% cold query success rate rumor I keep hearing about. But it’s far from a guarantee.

Am I trying to shit on PitchWars? Absolutely not. But you need to go into this with wide-open eyes. You should have faith in yourself as a writer and your journey; your book will find a home (whether it’s with trad pub, self-pub, or small press). But it probably won’t be through PitchWars. PW is not a golden shortcut ticket to unlock the Gates of Traditional Publishing.

The Secret to Getting Picked Is a Goddamn Mystery

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In addition to the numbers working against you, there is no real way to know why your manuscript does or doesn’t get picked. Some mentors give feedback, but most do not. Your book has to fit into a specific and subjective set of standards, which include…

  1. It has to be good. Good voice, solid plot, interesting characters, quality writing, etc. are essential.
  1. But it can’t be too good. *facepalm* I know. But if you’re going to work with a mentor for two months, they need to have a vision for what they can do to help you improve the book. Contest rules say to submit a “complete and polished” manuscript, but I would read this more as “complete and copyedited.” Your lump of clay needs to be good, but it still needs to be a lump of clay.
  1. It has to mesh with the mentor’s tastes. Before you submit your application, mentors will post wish lists about what kinds of stories they’re looking for, which is helpful, but look at their backlist too. Does anything about their work resonate with you? Their voice? Their subgenre? The tropes they use?
  1. But it can’t be too similar to the mentor’s body of work. If the mentor has a series about a talking squirrel who solves mysteries with a cynical school janitor, they probably won’t feel comfortable working with you on a book about a talking chipmunk who solves mysteries with a grumpy hotel maid.
  1. It has to be marketable. Mentors are more lenient about this than agents are, but it still has to be clear where your book will fit in the market.
  1. The mentor has to believe you can work together. Mentorship isn’t just about quality and marketability. It’s an interpersonal issue, too. Some mentors will stalk you on Twitter to see if you’ll be a good fit.
  1. Weird miscellaneous factors can decide your fate. Maybe your protagonist has the same name as their favorite niece. Maybe your book takes place in their hometown—which they HATE. As they always say, this business is subjective. Considering some mentors have hundreds of entries to wade through, it could be literally anything that puts your book in the “Yes” pile.

Not surprisingly, aside from #2, the reasons a mentor will accept or reject your work are similar to why an agent will or won’t request more pages. Once again, PW is not simpler or easier than cold querying an agent.

Social Media Is Hell

What makes PW such an event is the social media component of it on Twitter, but to be honest, I have conflicting feelings about that aspect. In the weeks leading up to the submission window opening, there are all kinds of Twitter games, encouraging you to get to know mentors and other PW hopefuls. Once the submission window closes, the Twitter party continues for another month…but it gets more intense.

The entire purpose of the PW Twitter community is for everyone to get worked into a literal frenzy. They want you to be excited and proud of your work, which is a nice thought, but it also sets up unrealistic expectations. Many mentors post teasers about entries they’re enjoying— there’s an entire hashtag for them. There are also endless posts telling you to stay positive because there’s always a chance you could win a spot. It was an exhausting rollercoaster.

At least with agents, you know to pray for the best but expect the worst. Cold querying is beautiful in its simplicity. I send out my package, note the expected response dates in a spreadsheet, and walk away. If I follow agents I’ve subbed to on social media, I don’t have to worry their posts will be hints about submissions they’re reading. Some agents do #tenqueries, but those posts include specific reasons for passing on or requesting more pages of a project. They don’t post cryptic messages about something they might pick.

So if you do enter PW, protect your space. Like all social media, PW Twitter can become too much. Don’t be afraid to block hashtags, mute certain accounts, or take a break.

Advantages – Why You Should Enter Anyway

 

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I know, I raised a lot of issues with the contest, but I still think it’s worthwhile to enter at least once. Whether you’re new to the querying trenches or are a seasoned pro, PW has something to offer.

 If You Do Get Picked, It’s a Great Opportunity

It doesn’t hurt to buy a lottery ticket—just don’t gamble away all your money. Go in with low expectations, but if you do have the fortune of getting selected, the mentorship alone is an amazing opportunity. Not only are you getting free, in-depth help from a professional writer, but you’re also forming a connection with them. I often hear about mentors who still talk to and help their former mentees with their writing. Like with any other industry, you need connections to thrive. Mentorships are invaluable.

As I said earlier, the agent round may or may not yield fruit, but it does boost your chances.

You’ll Make New Friends and Expand Your Twitter Presence

While I wasn’t a fan of certain aspects of the PW hashtag, overall, I did enjoy the sense of camaraderie among entrants and mentors. If you participate in any of the games (e.g., GIF competitions) or interact with the hashtag, you’re bound to connect with other PW hopefuls. Some of these people will become followers, critique partners, and even friends. For some writers, PW has become as much a valued tradition as NaNoWriMo because of the unique community.

PitchWars is also a good excuse to post content and build your brand. Twitter is the most popular social media platform for us writer types, so if you’re looking to network, it’s the place to be. Many unpublished writers are using their growing platforms to build hype around their manuscripts by showing off novel aesthetics, character interviews, and memorable quotes. Taking advantage of the PW hashtag can help you with that.

You’ll Discover New Authors

Since mentors are wading through their slush piles for free, it’s nice to give back by reading their books. There are over a hundred PW mentors, so there is plenty of new content to discover. You might find your next favorite book or a new comp title to use in your query letter.

It’s Good Practice for Rejection

If you haven’t queried agents or publishers before…Welcome! PitchWars is a great way to rip off that first Band-Aid of rejection because there’s going to be tons of it, regardless of how you publish. Agents will reject you, publishers will rebuff you, and readers will scorn you. Get in the practice now with PitchWars. Rejections from faceless agents are way easier to digest after getting rejections from friendly mentors you bonded with.

It’s a Kick in the Pants

Most people don’t enter PitchWars because they simply happened to have a polished manuscript lying around. They prepare. Whether they just found out about PitchWars existed three weeks before the deadline or they’re a third-year PitchWars veteran, PW hopefuls haul ass. If you’re looking for motivation, the contest is a great stimulus for finishing your book and writing a query letter. Even if you don’t get a spot, you’re still way ahead of where you were before.

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PitchWars will re-open in August 2018, but you can read this year’s winning entries here: www.pitchwars.org

nadia's logoNadia Diament writes sexy, funny things. You can ask her esoteric questions on Twitter here, check out her blog here, and read her stories here.

 

Why I Canceled my Twitter Chat

Last night I canceled my chat.

CANCELED

I think there was some surprise, and there was a little disappointment.  But I’ve been running it since April, and while it has been fun and I’ve made a lot of friends, I think I managed to get all that I could out of it.

Let me explain.

There are a lot of chats out there.

There are a gazillion chats on Twitter. You can find a chat on any day of the week, sometimes more than one, sometimes even more than two or three or four.  There are only so many hours in the day, and writers are busy. When they decide to give up some writing time to participate in your chat, they are giving you a gift. But since there are so many chats on Twitter right now, I was finding it hard to compete.  And because there are so many chats on Twitter, it was hard to stay original. Finding topics and themes that weren’t being used by other Twitter chat hosts was impossible. (If you want a complete list of chats and Twitter writing games, look here. Mica does a wonderful job of keeping everything in order.)

I chose the wrong hashtag.

My chat never achieved the elevation of other chats. This isn’t me being whiny, I’m just stating a fact. I had my regulars, my friends who wanted to support me (thank you!), but in all the months I hosted, it never blew up to the epic proportions I wanted. I think this had a large part to do with my hashtag. #SmutChat was a chat for everyone, and I tried to make that clear. But I think lots of people avoided it because they thought we were going to talk about romance or sex, or only the Romance genre, or Erotica. Had I chosen a more generic hashtag, I may have seen more movement. Perhaps if I had chosen to go full-blown smut and only focused chats around that topic, I could have drawn in the romance and erotica writers. I tried to go down the middle of the road, and it didn’t work. That was my mistake.

I was going broke.

At the end of #SmutChat, I gave away a writing resource that tied in with the topic. To me, this was genius; to everyone else . . . no one seemed to care all that much. In actuality, I had to plead with people to enter the giveaways, and there were never more than 6 or 7 people entering the giveaway at the end of every chat. There is so much free stuff on Twitter right now, the giveaway did nothing. I even had one person who won tell me they would get a hold of me when they found an address they were comfortable giving me. I offered the e-book version instead, but they said no. I can only take this to mean the person who won didn’t really want it to begin with, and that book is still sitting on my bookshelf. I didn’t mind spending money on the books and the shipping, but I was beginning to feel underappreciated. That’s no one’s fault but my own, being it was my idea to do the giveaways. I was hoping to set my chat apart from other peoples’ chats, but it didn’t work so well.

I have a publishing schedule I want to keep.

I have three books coming out in the next three months, and I have another book rumbling around in my head that I will write after my trilogy is released. Until they host one, no one can understand how time-consuming a chat is. They are a lot of work. Thinking up the topic, doing the graphics, tweeting about it. And that’s only the prep work. You have actually sit down and do the chat, and sometimes people will answer late, or the next day. As a courteous host, you want to try to touch base with everyone so I would be on the computer one or two hours after chat, and I would also answer tweets the day after. I know this is a counter-argument to the one where I wanted chat to grow even bigger because I would have spent even more time on it. Maybe I would have felt all the time spent on chat would have been worth it then. I’m not belittling the people who did take the time to participate, but sometimes you have to decide if you want to go big or go home. I decided to go home.

Think about what you want to get out of your chat.

What do you want to achieve with a chat? I had chat twice a month, and I would say I spent about 12 hours a month on prepping and the hostessing. What do you want to gain out of giving up that time? Twitter followers? What will you do with your followers once you earn them? Twitter doesn’t sell books, so those followers you gain will do nothing but plump up your numbers. Are you holding a chat to add it to your platform? That was my initial reason. I was doing something tangible that would add to my social media platform. But there again, you’re building your platform to sell books, connect with readers. Putting on a chat doesn’t do that. If you want to just make friends and connect with your followers, then hosting a chat is for you. If you want anything else out of it, think about what else you could do instead. Blog more, put that time into building your website. Write. Having a platform doesn’t do you much good if you’re not writing and/or publishing. Can you get what you want out of a chat by participating in others’ chats? I think with the little bit of free time I’ve recouped from canceling mine, I will participate in a bigger chat where I can still make friends, talk about a topic I love.

In parting, you may think this was just a big whiny blog post about how my Twitter chat didn’t go well for me, and now I’m crying about it. I’m actually blogging about it so anyone who is thinking about starting a chat knows the pitfalls of hostessing/hosting a chat, and what it entails. I appreciate every. single. participant. of my chat, and I have made some wonderful friends during the months I hostessed.  I started chat in April of 2017, and I ended it right before NaNo and the holidays could take people away. I feel I ended it on a positive note, and I’ll still be doing chat, in my own way. I’ll be blogging about the topics I want to talk about, rather than holding a chat. I’m hoping this will drive some traffic to my website, and I’ll encourage comments at the end of my posts. Maybe this won’t work either, but like anything in life, if you don’t take risks, you won’t get anywhere. I took a chance with chat, and I enjoyed it. But you have to know when to cut your losses if something isn’t working. Good luck to those of you who want to start a chat. And I’m not disappearing–I’ll still be on Twitter a lot. I’ll participate in other chats and enjoy the hard work I know goes into one. I’ll let the hostess handle the rest.

Tell me what you think!

Vania Blog Signature

#SmutChat Aftermath

I held my first Twitter chat the other night. My emotions were all over the place.

The chat itself started off very slowly. It was only me, @DRWillisBooks, and @JewelELeonard at the beginning. @SpartaGus and @Alex_Micati joined in and helped out (thanks, guys!). Then @ceeleeolson and @KaelanRhy popped in as well as @erikafrose (thank you too! It was nice to see you!). After that, there were enough participants it didn’t sound like crickets, and as the chat went on more people joined in.

Yes, the first ten minute were very nerve-wracking, and I saw my whole Twitter chat future go down the drain. I imagined the worst-case scenario rather quickly, but it wasn’t necessary.

Though the chat was on the smaller side in terms of participants, it was my first, so that’s to be expected. I think everyone had a good time, nonetheless.

I understand if people were a bit leery—who really knows what a #smutchat could turn into— but my main goal is to keep it informative and classy. I want participants to have fun, and there were a few naughty jokes mixed in, which is fine as we are romance/erotica writers after all. I don’t see the harm in it as long as for the most part the chat maintains a rep as being informative and fun.

I was pleased to see people answering the questions long after chat closed for the evening, and my phone was blown up the next morning with notifications of people participating in the middle of (my) night and into the morning.

I will try my best to touch base with everyone individually, but I do hope that this chat takes off, and participants are happy to chat amongst themselves about the topics as well.

I was a bit disappointed not many jumped at the book giveaway, but that would have been caused by many things—people missing the tweet, or lack of interest in the book. Maybe people didn’t realize the giveaway is open to all countries. (My giveaways always will be.)

I had to work the next day, so I wasn’t able to answer all my notifications right away, but I will always try.

I think I will always announce the winner of the book and announce the date of the next chat at the same time—provided there is still a want for the chat.

I appreciate everyone who participated in my first chat, and I welcome feedback. Please DM me on Twitter or email me at vaniarheaultauthor@gmail.com.

Some things I learned and mistakes I made during my first Twitter chat, plus tips if you’re thinking of starting your own chat:

  1. Don’t panic if you get off to a slow start, but definitely have good friends to help get the traffic moving. Plus I did tweet about the chat almost once every day for two weeks before the chat. This will help keep the chat in people’s minds and give them a chance to schedule the time to participate.
  2. Figure out how you’re going to give your prize away beforehand. I set up a Rafflecopter account and tried the demo before I did my chat. I still made mistakes. When I tweeted about the giveaway and provided the link, I linked to my WordPress.com admin page for my website, not the actual website page. I think this may have caused people who use the WordPress software but are not actually part of WordPress blogging network to log in, which they wouldn’t be able to do. @drwillisbooks had this issue. I realized it in the middle of chat what I did and did eventually linked to the right page, but I may have missed a few people who wanted to enter and thought they couldn’t.
  3. When I announced the winner, I tweeted a screenshot of the Rafflecopter winner so everyone would know I just didn’t pick someone (this rules out favoritism). Rafflecopter adds personal information to the winner pick that shouldn’t be made available to the public. A kind person on Twitter called me out on it, and I took the tweet down. Luckily it had only been up for maybe 45 minutes so hopefully, no harm was done. I wasn’t impressed with Rafflecopter as a whole anyway, so I am going to look for another way to give my books away during chat.
  4. Keep a tab open for Notifications and the #smutchat hashtag. Hosting a chat was new to me, so sometimes even I forgot to add the hashtag to my tweets. Keeping both windows open allowed me to keep an eye on both sets of traffic.
  5. Be actively involved on Twitter and in the community you are a part of. Having friends who supported me definitely helped. I couldn’t have done it without them.
  6. Try to choose a night that does not host a lot of other chats. I researched a good night for chats, and chose Thursdays. I know nights may not always work for everyone, but you won’t please everyone so you need to choose a night that works best for you, as you are the host and moderator and need to focus on the chat.
  7. Be prepared to be online for longer than the chat. Late-comers started answering questions almost at the very end of the chat, which is perfectly fine, but if you want to give them a personal “hello, thanks for playing,” be prepared to be online for a lot longer. I may eventually call this the “chat after party” since I was online for 2 ½ hours for a one hour chat.
  8. Space out your questions. Sometimes I let too many minutes go by between questions. If you stick to a schedule this will keep the chat moving more easily as your participants will have a new question to answer. I don’t think it was too obvious, but sometimes I forgot to put up question because I was busy chatting.

And that is all the tips I have for now. I don’t know how the second chat will go, as I’ll be trying out a new giveaway mechanism, so there will be another learning curve. Overall, hosting the chat was fun, and I have questions already made up for many more. I hope you all join me!