The New Pathways

Friday, February 1, 2019
By: 
Alex Fairhill

The recent increase in online mentoring and pitching events has opened new pathways for Australian writers to gain exposure to overseas industry contacts and expand their writing community. But, as with all opportunities, it’s important to ensure it’s right for you and your work.

Pitch Wars (pitchwars.org) and Author Mentor Match, or AMM, (authormentormatch.com), both US-based programs, are two of the largest for unagented and unpublished writers. AMM holds a couple of rounds each year and is solely for middle grade and young adult writers, while Pitch Wars is an annual event also open to new adult and adult manuscripts.

Both programs invite writers to submit an excerpt and supporting material to up to four mentors, who are agented or published authors or other industry professionals, and each mentor chooses one mentee. AMM’s next round opens for submission from 1-5 March, with matches announced a few weeks later. Pitch Wars opens its submission window for less than 48 hours, announces the mentees about six weeks later, and holds an online showcase through which agents can request partial or full manuscripts. The program’s 2019 dates will be announced in February.

Smaller events throughout the year, such as #PitMad (run by Pitch Wars), #RevPit (reviseresub.com) and #DVPit (dvpit.com) for marginalised authors and illustrators, vary from tweet-length manuscript pitches to offering full manuscript edits.

Australian writers Sophie Gonzales and Cass Frances both gained representation with US agents through online events, and have mentored through AMM to pay forward the support they received as new writers.

Query Kombat and Twitter pitch contests introduced Sophie to people who would become some of her closest writing friends and critique partners – and US agent Moe Ferrara clicking ‘like’ on Sophie’s #KidPit pitch in 2015 led to an offer of representation. Sophie’s contemporary YA novel ‘The Law of Inertia’ was released in the US in October, with ‘Only Mostly Devastated’ scheduled for 2020.

‘While we do have some excellent events in Australia within the literary world, my aim was to be published with an American house initially,’ Sophie says. ‘A lot of the people I met who were querying the same agents as me were based internationally.’

Cass entered her southern gothic YA manuscript into Pitch Wars in 2017, was selected by mentor Cole Gibson, and picked up by US agent Hillary Jacobson.

‘I knew that YA in the US was such a huge market, and community, and Pitch Wars seemed like a good entry point into that environment,’ Cass says. ‘It’s exposed me to a lot of the broader discussions in publishing, such as how best to support marginalised writers in our community.’

First, research

It’s important to ensure any opportunity is reputable, isn’t a competition with an entry fee masquerading as a mentoring program, and has strong industry connections.

‘Anybody can start an online competition, mentorship, journal, etc. New ones are popping up all the time,’ Cass says. ‘Thoroughly read the website, the websites of organisers and anybody involved. Make sure you’re comfortable sharing your work with them.

You can check them against websites like QueryTracker (querytracker.net) or Absolute Write (absolutewrite.com), and read through the tweets on the various hashtags.’

Selection criteria is crucial

Research the mentors well ahead of the submission period. Most will list their strengths, what they’re looking for, and what they don’t want.

Cass says AMM receives between 500 and 600 entries per round, and writers are improving at checking the selection criteria.

‘But I still received several that featured elements that I’d stated “were not for me”, which means they wasted an entry by not reading the website properly. Anecdotally, this is still a problem with a lot of submissions to agents and publishers.’

Following submission and other guidelines is a must – including harassment or bullying clauses – and be aware of international time zones, especially for short submission windows.

Prepare to work

Utilise online resources or information sessions on pitching and querying, and ensure your manuscript is complete. Pitch Wars Founding Director Brenda Drake says submitting to a mentor who didn’t fit the manuscript was the most common mistake of the 3400 writers who entered in 2018. ‘I do notice that many writers make errors in their opening pages or are confused about what goes in a query letter,’ she says.

Sophie says characters need to have clear stakes, and while it’s valid for a writer to be confident in their work, an unwillingness to edit or work with someone is problematic.

Cass agrees. ‘Mentorship programs are exactly that: mentorship. Only enter if you’re prepared to really work on your manuscript, which means being prepared to rewrite significant portions. It’s not a shortcut to getting an agent or getting published.’

Find a happy social medium

Highly visible online events can create a false sense of overnight success in which a request will automatically lead to publication. Online teasers designed to build excitement around writing competitions aren’t uncommon, but the anxiety they can cause writers is real. Pitch Wars mentors use the Twitter hashtag #pwteaser to post comments while they’re reading submissions. Last year the angst from writers waiting for manuscript requests was so high that the Pitch Wars team tweeted – only three days after submissions closed – that ‘Most mentors haven’t even made it through their initial read-through. The ones who have are the exceptions, not the rule.’

If this hype is likely to cause stress you can mute the hashtag – or submit to mentors who are less active on social media. Complaints, including those about not receiving a manuscript request or the ‘slowness’ of the process, are best kept to private groups or offline altogether.

Facebook groups, Twitter chats and forums for participants are a great way to meet other writers, and one of the biggest advantages of these programs.

Handle it like a pro

The mentees are announced and … you’re not on the list. Rejection is tough, especially when it’s public. Some mentors will offer feedback, some won’t – but don’t demand answers as to why you weren’t selected. It’s rare that unsuccessful applicants cross the line, but trolling, posting in online groups, and abusive emails have been reported.

Sophie says it’s disappointing to see people handling rejection in an unprofessional manner, but if an action wouldn’t be appropriate in the workplace, it’s not appropriate in the online writing community.

‘We’ve all been rejected, and we know how much it hurts and how personal it can feel,’ she says. ‘However, publishing is a smaller business than many realise, and you have to be aware that authors, agents and editors can see your behaviour in public forums, and that can have an effect on who would like to work with you in the future.’

Live and learn

Like any slush pile, publishing house or competition, the decisions are subjective and mentors select manuscripts they believe they can help improve. Use blog posts about what appealed to mentors, or common mistakes in submissions, synopses or query letters to improve your work.

Australian-based mentorship programs are also extremely competitive, but if you’d prefer to work with someone local, check out the Australian Society of Authors, Varuna, the Maurice Saxby Professional Development Program through the CBCA, ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY program, or other opportunities through Writers Victoria and Australian publishers.

About Alex Fairhill

Alex Fairhill is an emerging children’s and YA author. She posts writing-related thoughts on her blog and Twitter (@AlexFairhill).