Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PitchWars--Team Dannie 2014 and Other Ponderings

Hey guys. So it’s been a tumultuous few weeks eh? I don’t know about you guys but for me having PitchWars coincide with WriteOnCon and the start of school has made all the stress even more stressful. That’s part of why I opted not to tweet feedback on my slushpile as I sorted my queries this year. I was concerned it wouldn’t be fun for anyone and would only contribute to people's stress.

The good news is that freed me up to give more concrete feedback in my response emails to the writers who queried me. I tried to give at least one piece of constructive feedback to all of you and I hope you find it helpful. I did write a rejection (God I hate that word—we need our own word for PitchWars) to each person who queried me.

There was one exception and I chose not to write that person a letter for the sake of the writer’s sanity and mine. Suffice to say that I was so disgusted with the stereotyping and downright inappropriateness of the themes in this writer’s kidlit query and opening chapter that I chose to keep my venom to myself.

You’re welcome.

For those who expressed concerns that the mentors aren’t taking this seriously this year or that we need to get our egos in check, I wanted to provide some concrete statistics:

Over the past week I logged 38 hours and 44 minutes in Gmail.
5 of those hours were on my personal and business accounts.
The rest were in PitchWars.
I wrote over 40K words in reply emails explaining my rationale in writers.

I’m not promoting a book for sale. I haven’t been pimping my editing services. I haven’t got paid for any of this. And I know many mentors who managed a lot more queries and gave a lot more time than me. And omg the amount of time, energy, love, and corralling of mentors and contestants alike that Brenda Drake does is so incredibly selfless, there really aren't words for it. 

Ironic, right?

I don’t speak for Brenda, any of the other mentors, or for PitchWars in general. But I promise you guys, from the bottom of my heart, this is a labor of love. I said in my mentor bio that this is the best writing contest on the internet. And it really is. So I hope it’s clear—and sometimes on the internet it’s hard to tell—that this is something I am taking 1000% seriously.

Other random notes:

10% of my inbox was teen writers. And you guys were ALL better writers than I was at your age. For real.

Nearly 20% of the manuscripts in my inbox in one way or another addressed the subject of suicide. This is important for you guys to know as you're querying. That's a huge percentage. You must make sure your manuscript has a UNIQUE hook.

Only one writer pissed me off this year. lol :)

I had one humorous manuscript in my inbox. One. And it is AWESOME. Honestly, I think she'll have an agent before the year is out. If we had two alternates this year, she would have been my second (and I told her as much in my response.) The take home message here is WE NEED MORE HUMOR IN YA!! For real. Next year, I want you guys to bring the funny, mmmkay?

Many of the strong, diverse manuscripts and authors wound up with other mentors. I honestly could split my diverse entries into three piles this year. (1) manuscripts that were trying to be diverse for the sake of diversity, (2) really amazing diverse manuscripts that got stolen out of my slushpile by other mentors, (3) diverse manuscripts that were not quite there yet but have huuuuuuge potential...actually I'll add on to that (4) diverse manuscripts that dealt with suicide or homicide. I couldn't deal with that much death over the next few months, guys. I've got multiple murders to manage in my own WIP.

Last year I provided step-by-step rationale for how I whittled down my inbox. This year because I was juggling so many things at the same time as PitchWars I neglected to keep the same kind of notes. But I did want to let you guys in on my general process. In case you’re curious or whatever. :)

I read each of my queries at least twice before making any decisions—and before reading any pages. There’s a really important reason for that. This is a pitch contest. It’s about the writing, yes, but it’s not just about the writing. I was looking for a writer who really knows what his/her story is about and knows how to sell it.

On the first read through if the query grabbed me right away, I requested pages. Some before I even read the first chapter. This includes both my mentee and my alternate. Their queries were fantastic.

The next thing I did was make note of the writers who I knew were teens (because they said so in the query or we’d chatted on Twitter) or suspected they were teens. I tried to request from all the teen writers in my inbox. If I missed somebody I’m sorry.  :(

On the second read through my inbox, I sorted the queries into two additional piles: those that seemed like they were stories I’d be a good mentor for and those that were just not my thing. For those I thought yes, this is my sort of story or those I wasn’t sure, I read chapters.  I made quite a few additional requests based on the pages.

For those I requested pages from, I read them each twice. I also practiced pitching them to my husband (who also writes YA). This was to see if I could articulate the story succinctly and also how I felt emotionally about the story as we discussed. Was this something I felt passionate about championing? Was it a story I felt I could mentor?

This left me with ten manuscripts. At which point I started praying and hoping other mentors would take you guys off my hands.

And some did! I was so, so happy for each of you!!!

There was one manuscript I was really ready to cage match over, and she ending up as my mentee. She was also the first writer from whom I requested additional pages. I believe that the same was true for Sonia Hartl last year.

My alternate was much more difficult. I had my heart set on having a teen alternate for most of this process. There was one teen writer in particular who really stood out for me. And for a long time I was willing to cage match over him, too.

Then Brenda decided to have an alternate show case.

At that point I felt like it was only fair to choose the second strongest manuscript in my pack—the one who was closest to being query-ready that I also fell in love with. I don’t feel like it’s fair to pick an alternate and then advise them not to do the showcase when there are other amazing manuscripts that I really think will be ready in time.

This left me with five writers. Two got snatched up by other mentors. And then from there it was really about which manuscript I feel like I am the best asset for. I think my unique background in mental health and substance abuse and my history as a clinician in a residential treatment center make me uniquely qualified to mentor this particular alternate.

So there you have it.

And I’m thrilled to announce and welcome the two newest members of #TeamDannie:

Heather Truett (mentee): Multiple POV YA Contemp—2 best friends. 1 is an anti-gun activist and a school shooter. The other is trying to save her life.  

Sean Lamb (alternate): YA Contemp boy book—A few months prior to his pending release date, a cadet in a ruthless military school must choose whether to toe the line or fight back against the school’s unethical headmaster.

To the 50 other writers in my inbox this year, please know that my heart is totally with you guys this week. This was not an easy decision and every rejection letter I had to write this year was tough. As many of you know, I’m getting my own rejection letters this week, too. I got 3 during the course of writing my emails to all of you and it felt like THE WORST KARMA EVER.

Rejection sucks. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? That's what I keep telling myself anyway.

I do hope you’ll all keep in touch. It has been my pleasure to read your words and I thank each of you for the opportunity.




  1. Thanks for all the hard work, Dannie. You, along with all the mentors, made time to help the rest of us. I wanted to let you know I appreciate the feedback greatly. Thanks and best of luck :)

  2. Thank you for sharing your process. It's very interesting seeing how the various mentors whittled things down. And it makes my heart sad that there's been enough negative rumbling (shame on them!) that you had to defend what the mentors are doing. All of you mentors and Brenda are beyond amazing in the way you selflessly give so much of your time. THANK YOU!!

  3. It's incredibly generous of you to do all that work and blog about it! Time is precious, thank you for sharing your process!

  4. Your description of my book would make a great Twitter pitch. >_<

    Thanks for picking me!

  5. Wow - 10% were teens! That's amazing. I swear the number of teen writers subbing to contests grows every year.
    (Also kind of wished I'd submitted to you simply for the thrill of pages being requested. xD)