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Pitch Wars … the uncomfortable truth by Mentor Liaison, Joy McCullough

Tuesday, 1 August 2017  |  Posted by Brenda Drake


This is my fifth year mentoring Ptichwars and I love so much about it. I love the community and the relationships built. I love the successes—the ones both immediately measurable and the less tangible ones.

I love when it gets uncomfortable.

It gets uncomfortable every year in a variety of ways. There are always things people ask us to change about the process to make it gentler on the applicants. Could mentors please not tweet about the subs they like? Could mentors please not request any fulls until the sub window closes? Could selected writers not celebrate on the hashtag?

Are there things we could do to make everyone feel more comfortable (supposing, of course, that we could control everyone who participates in this contest, which has become gargantuan)? Maybe we could try.

But part of our goal as Pitchwars mentors is to prepare you for the next step of your publishing journey—whether you get selected for mentoring or not.

For many of you, that next step will be the querying trenches. They’re not called trenches for nothing. It’s cold and dank and you may get gangrene. (Okay, maybe not. But it can be seriously unpleasant.)

(And real quick, before you scoff that I have a book deal and this is all really easy for me to say, let me establish my disappointment cred: I have received over 300 rejections as a novelist alone—more as a playwright—I queried five manuscripts before I got my first agent, kept writing, had five books go on submission to editors before manuscript number ten was the one that sold, with my second agent. I FEEL YOU.)

So back to the query trenches…

You’ll see an agent you just queried sign a really similar manuscript to yours.

You’ll see an agent rant about a mistake you’re sure YOU made in your query.

You’ll see an agent rave about loving a query and requesting the full and you’ll refresh and refresh and refresh and that request will never come.

An agent will lead you on with emails as they read your full and eventually NOT offer.

You’ll absolutely slay an R&R and ultimately NOT land the agent.

It’s so hard.

And getting an agent isn’t the end of the difficulties, either. Being on submission to editors is hell. Once you have a book deal, the whole publishing process can be extremely stressful and rife with comparisons. And then there are worries over reviews and sales and whether you’ll ever be able to write, much less sell, another book.

(And real quick again, I know it’s super annoying when people further along the road bemoan the agonizing burden of their agents and book deals and deadlines. I’ve so been there, but hang with me.)

The point is it’s never easy. It’s always uncomfortable. Writers in pursuit of publication are brave as hell. And part of the courage required is being uncomfortable and putting yourself out there anyway.

So keep that in mind when Pitchwars gets uncomfortable. Mentors may start squealing about subs before you’ve even hit send. You may not get any mentor requests. You may not recognize your manuscript in any teasers. Or you might recognize it in EVERY teaser. Your BFFs might get selected while you don’t. You might get mentored but get no requests in the agent round.

There are infinite ways to feel disappointed and insecure in Pitchwars (and in publishing) no matter how things play out for you. It blows. Also? You’ll survive it. And you’ll come out the other side stronger and more prepared for whatever your next stage is, whether it’s being mentored or moving forward on your own.

Except you don’t have to be on your own. Because if you take advantage of the Pitchwars community, at the very least you should emerge from this process with new friends and critique partners. And that is worth every bit of discomfort.

So chin up, Pitchwarriors. When it gets so uncomfortable you’re ready to hurl your computer out the window? Congratulations. You are officially a part of publishing.

About Joy …


Website | Twitter

Joy McCullough writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and her debut novel, BLOOD WATER PAINT, will be published in 2018 by Dutton Young Readers. She lives in the Seattle area, where she’s also a playwright and homeschooling mom. She’s the Pitchwars mentor liaison and is going into her fifth year as an MG mentor.

Check out her upcoming release …


Pre-order your copy of Blood Water Paint!

And add it to your Goodreads shelf!

Filed: Pitch Wars

  • Catherine says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this truth Joy! I for one needed to hear it.

  • ksmitch17 says:

    So encouraging to hear about your loooooooong journey to publishing, even though I know it was discouraging for you. I’m in the middle of that journey and it helped to hear another write who didn’t find success with their first agent/first book. Or even 2nd…or 3rd. So thank you!

  • Great points. On the flipside, it makes celebrating every milestone worthwhile because there is no final point where you ever relax and say, I made it! Instead, I try to celebrate each little victory. Each request, each positive comment, each milestone.

  • Susan Thumm Paxton says:

    I think your points are important for all of us–unagented, agented, unpublished, published. Writing is a journey and there are joys and sorrows along the way. One of the great things about Pitch Wars is that it is so much more than “a contest.” Brenda et all provide so much in terms of workshops, blog articles, interviews, etc. Your comments here are a perfect example of that!

  • Michelle Archer says:

    Thank you Joy. i love your post and completely agreee. It’s such an exciting process. I can’t wait for it to start and hopefully this will be my lucky year. If it’s not, I’ll try again and I’ll still want to experience the teasers and celebrations even if they’re not about my manuscript.

  • Way to tell it like it is. Thanks! 🙂

  • Great post, Joy! Thanks for all you do for the PitchWars community. I can’t wait to read your book!

  • Jon Peto says:

    Thanks for the encouragement to persevere. And congratulations: ten manuscripts!

  • Timely read for me.

  • Shari Green says:

    Excellent post, Joy!

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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