Monday 1 August 2016

Pitchwars, When You Really Do Need to Phone It In

ETA: I'd hoped to have this up on another platform at the start of last week. I'm not quite sure what went wrong there, so apologies for the late arrival of this when an earlier appearance would definitely have been better.    

OMG! I want to take part in Pitch Wars, but I’ll be on holiday/out of the country/deep in the bush/spending a year dead for tax reasons.

This is the position I found myself in last year – I spent most of the Pitchwars selection period onboard a yacht off Greece, yet I still managed to make it as a mentee. The trick is to do a little preparation. First off, go read the Pitchwars submission information already posted here by Brenda Drake. To repeat the obvious, you need a submission ready manuscript, and files containing the first chapter and your query letter.

With that done, the problem breaks down into three phases which I’ve called:
  • Preparation
  • Submission
  • Selection
The Preparation phase is the pre-Submission period which we’re already into, Submission is that all too brief period from August 3 until midnight August 6 for getting your MS in the Pitchwars door, and Selection is the process by which the mentors winnow down the submissions and end up with a mentee they can work with.

A little more on mentors and Selection before we go further, the process actually varies from mentor to mentor, some will decide purely on that initial Submission, others want to talk to you, take a look at your full MS and figure out whether they can work with you. By a slightly complicated behind the scenes process, which apparently can’t happen this year, I ended up with two wonderful mentors, KT Hanna and Jami Nord, but KT was the mentor who I submitted to and who picked my submission out as one she was interested in (and then grabbed Jami to work with her on it). That lead to a request from her for the full MS, and a few questions, which I was days late in fielding from being in an internet free zone, and obviously I said the right things, because I got an email to say I was in on the day I was flying home.

I was actually out of the country, UK in my case, and away from my computer from pretty much the day after submissions until the day the mentees were announced. I got the email to say I was in 10 minutes before I checked out of my hotel. I wasn’t entirely out of contact for all of it, I had 4 days in Athens at the end of the period, but for most of it I was completely off the grid. With a bit of preparation it would still have been possible even without those four days, though if you’re completely off the grid you will lose any direct interaction.

Initial Preparation:

First, get your mentor selection done early. I did do that, then managed to lose the file and had to recreate it in a scramble the evening before Submission, so make sure you have a safe copy somewhere. I didn’t have a wide choice of mentors due to genre and age group, but some of you will and that will mean setting aside a sizeable chunk of time for researching and narrowing the field.

Next, not only do you need a complete MS, and a complete first chapter from it, but you need to make sure those are in submission format: double spaced lines, etc. There are a lot of guides out there, if you aren’t writing in submission format you need to change at the first chance you get, and it likely will take longer than you expect, so set an afternoon or evening aside to do nothing but.

Similarly, you need your query letter, and a synopsis, because mentors may ask for a synopsis and you don’t want to be writing one on the fly. There is a lot of discussion on queries, just check the #Pitchwars hashtag, so I'll just say a few words on the synopsis. Even if your mentor doesn’t ask for a synopsis, you will definitely need a synopsis by the agent round, so it is work that has to be done, it won’t be wasted. Your synopsis needs to be short, ideally just a page, two at most, something that sketches in the broad action and nothing more. Mine came in at 620 words, about a page and a half. There are a lot of guides to writing synopses and pitches, no two in complete agreement. Find one that works for you and put it into practise as early as you can.

Next you need to make sure that any mentor can get access to your full MS if need be. What I did was open a Drop Box account, and create a shared folder (using the guidance in the Get Started With Drop Box.pdf file that should be in your new Drop Box folder – basically create folder, select it, right click, select share). That process gives you a web URL, which will allow anyone using it read access into that shared folder (and only that shared folder). Similar facilities should be available with most other cloud services. Into that shared folder you need to put: Your full MS, your synopsis, and (IMO) separate files with either the first 50 pages of your MS, or the first six chapters, or both, because they are such a common request it can’t hurt. If you think other files may help, I included a timeline, they can go in there too, but there is no guarantee that the mentors will look at them. Have someone else: friend, family, CP, confirm that the link is working and they can read the files in the shared folder.

That shared folder URL needs to be added in a note at the bottom of your query, explaining that you are away from home during the selection phase, but that the full MS etc are available at the URL. You could put it on your bio (see below), but I’d recommend against – publishing the URL means you can’t control who can look at that folder.

Next you need a Pitchwars bio. I was hesitant to write one at first, but I think they’re helpful to let a mentor get a feel for you if you aren’t going to be available to talk to. It needs to cover a little bit about who you are, a lot about your writing and why you write, and a little bit about other interests. You’re writing a pen picture of who you are and you need to convince the mentor that they can work with you and that you are capable of completely rewriting your MS in two months. Take a look at other people’s to see what they’re covering and adjust as need be. Mine can be found here, you’ll see I went for a slightly humorous tone. You’ll notice a lot of mentor and pitcher bios are chock full of animated gifs, which is something of a Pitchwars tradition. You don’t actually need them, they give me a headache, plus I have friends with photo-sensitive epilepsy, so my bio was gif free.
And that should be it. But do it in advance, don’t leave it until the last minute.


If you need to make arrangements for submitting, make sure you do this well in advance. Study precisely what that page on submitting says. If you’re about between the 3rd and the 6th, great, you can do it yourself. If not, I’d suggest putting it in the hands of a trusted friend or family member, ideally a trusted CP if you have one as they know exactly what this means to you. Of course this means you need to make sure in advance that they have your first chapter and query ready to go, with very clear instructions on which mentors they are to submit to.


If you’re completely out of touch, there’s not a lot you can do, try to relax.

If you’re intermittently in touch, then your smartphone or tablet is your friend. An important point to consider, keeping them charged! If you’re in the boonies or a different country, this may be more difficult than you’re used to. Even if you’ve planned for it, things may go wrong. I had expected to be able to charge my phone and tablet and have at least phone service in the evenings when we were in port, but we found the household circuit on the yacht wasn’t working, and while we could run a single charger off the radio, that wasn’t completely compatible with my phone. So I actually ended up with phone coverage the first night, and then nothing more, even in harbour, until the last four days of my holiday when I was ashore in Athens. Make sure your phone or tablet is set up to hook into your email account, and that you know how to use it if you don’t normally do email from it. If you can put your full MS etc on phone/tablet, and have them available to send as attachments, then so much the better, but don’t rely on this. If you lose your phone, have it stolen, drop it, or just can’t charge it, then that Dropbox folder is going to save you.

That’s about all the advice I have on submissions; so good luck, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have all this in place by the 3rd.

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