One Mentor’s Journey: Query Trenches to Published Author by Dan Koboldt
Pitching contests can be a double edged sword. On one hand, they offer aspiring authors a chance to get some additional exposure to literary agents, often with the input of author-mentors who’ve already managed to land one. On the other hand, they’re notoriously hard to get into, meaning that the vast majority of hopeful entrants will get a rejection instead.
I’ve been on both sides of these pitching contests. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. But without them, my life would not be the same. Let’s hit the rewind button to two years ago.
The Author Side
In January 2014, I’d begun querying a manuscript for an adult sci-fi novel. That’s when I first got wind of #PitMad, a Twitter pitching event for authors seeking representation or publication. I entered, and I made tons of friends. But I struck out, agent-wise.
Soon after, I heard about Sun Versus Snow and Pitch Madness, which were more involved contests. I entered those, too, and waited on tenterhooks with hundreds of other authors who hoped to nab one of the slots. When I didn’t get in, I was devastated. Most writers put their hearts into their work, and so each rejection is like a punch to the gut. But I’m stubborn, so I kept querying the old-fashioned way. A couple of months later, I got an offer of representation.
Landing An Agent
Landing an agent is an important milestone for the aspiring author. It opens so many doors. Suddenly, the hosts of those contests that I hadn’t gotten into were asking me to mentor for them. Secret communities of neo-pro writers granted me access. It’s more than knowing that your manuscript will go out to the big five. It’s like being handed keys to a kingdom you never knew existed.
The thing is, I’d made so many friends in the query trenches. I didn’t consider myself an expert at getting an agent, but I wanted them to have the secret keys, too. So I started my own pitching event (#SFFpit) just for sci-fi and fantasy authors. And I said hell yes, I’ll mentor for those pitching contests. Those were some of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The Mentor Side
When I first became a mentor for Pitch Wars, it was a bit intimidating. Most of the other mentors had done it before. Some had gotten book deals or already been published. I was a newbie and had no idea what to expect. I’d landed an agent, but that was the extent of my credibility. It was a shock when 70 entrants picked me as a possible mentor.
This was also my introduction to the dark side of mentoring a pitching contest: I had to choose just one aspiring author for my team. In other words, I’d be handing out a lot of rejections. And I knew exactly how those authors would feel.
The power dynamic between mentors and hopeful mentees can do strange things. Sometimes we feel under-appreciated, and other times appreciated a little too much. When push comes to shove, the PitchWars mentors are not very different from the mentees. Having an agent does not shield us from rejections. They just come from different sources. Agents reject our latest manuscripts. Editors reject our submissions. Readers reject our published books.
If this isn’t obvious to the rest of the writing community, it’s because we are trying to be mentors. To put on a brave face and set a good example for aspiring authors. Several mentors have seen their mentees land agents and multi-book deals, all while their own manuscripts fail to find a home. We mentors support and commiserate with each other all the time. We might be one step ahead of the contest entrants, but it’s still very rough, very slow going.
The Book Deal and Beyond
I was extremely lucky, because by the time the next Pitch Wars rolled around, my agent and I had sold my debut novel to Harper Voyager. Some of the other mentors had also hit this milestone, too. It’s a thrill to take that next step, but also daunting, because you move from trying to get an offer of publication to other challenges: getting blurbs, soliciting reviews, planning the book launch.
As I’ve tackled these challenges, no one has been more engaged or supportive than the Pitch Wars community. When I needed a blurb from an established author, I asked another mentor. When we wanted to promote the cover reveal challenge for my book, my contest buddies came out swinging. We tout these contests as ways to help authors find representation, but they’re more than that. They forge close friendships among many authors who are at similar stages in their careers.
I would not be where I am without the friends I made in Pitch Wars and other pitching contests. Thank you for inviting me in to your community!
About the Author
Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and sci-fi/fantasy author from the Midwest. In the last decade, he has co-authored more than 60 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. His debut novel The Rogue Retrieval, about a Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world, was published by Harper Voyager on January 19th. Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard.
The Rogue Retrieval
Sleight of hand…in another land
Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time. What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.
That’s how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it’s only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.
Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.