Before I get too deep into this post, I’d like to give a shout out to Anthony “The Mooch” “Joffrey Baratheon” Scaramucci. The man really does define the term “douche bag” in ways that the 80’s would be proud off, from the expensive haircut, the million dollar dental work, the frat-boy asshat entitled attitude, all the way down to his greasy, black, hedge-fund-manager-ripping-off-retirees-and-the-poor greedy black soul. He sold his company for a job he didn’t get, then got a second opportunity at the job and left his wife for it, failed to show up for the birth of his child because he was too busy having dinner with his lord and savior, saw her file for divorce as he committed himself to slavish devotion for a back stabbing billionaire whose self-interest eclipses the entire sense of compassion of whole nations, went on a tirade ON THE RECORD with a reporter, and soon felt the sharp steel of his boss’s dagger as it took him in the back. Way to go Anthony, you are this week’s Biggest Loser. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Hey, how’d that “I only report to the president and I’m here to serve my country” stuff work out for you? Dude… get a job, you lazy bastard, what a mooch!
This morning I entered Pitchwars again. I’d done it once before, last year, when I didn’t make it out of the selection round. But, it’s the old “if you don’t try, you’ll certainly never succeed” theory. I’m certain I have a good piece of work, and the pitch letter is decent as well. I’d say at this point I have a better than… oh… let’s give it 20% shot of being selected by one of the six mentors I sent my Pitchwars submission to (note: you only get four mentor reads out of the box, but I donated the $20 extra to get another two, figuring it was a small amount to pay to increase my chances a little more). This year’s submission is light-years better than last years, so I will, as always, remain cautiously optimistic.
It really benefits you to take part in these types of contests. Not necessarily Pitchwars, since if you don’t get selected by a mentor you won’t benefit much from it other than the comraderie of your fellow competitors in the build up leading to it (which I didn’t participate in much I’m afraid due to the competing priorities of work, family, and trying to resist the Cheeto in Chief). But other contests that give you solid critiques of your queries and/or first pages can be a HUGE benefit to improving your material and getting yourself noticed by the poor folks who have to spend all day reading through the slush pile.
Ultimate, that’s what you want. That’s why the first page, first chapter, first fifty pages, are so damned important. Agents and their assistants have to wade through hundreds, even thousands, of submissions every year to find the gems. Imagine a stack of documents sitting on the desk of some agent’s assistant. They’ve had a long day, the kids were slow getting ready for school, it’s raining out, they have a cold. They now have to sit and read a ton of trash for a couple of hours, trying to spot writing which has a spark, something interesting, something sellable. Now, imagine you sent them your first draft of your NaNoWriMo project from last November, fresh off the computer, barely touched. I mean, yeah… YOU know it’s brilliant! YOU know it’s going to make everyone tons of writing bucks! YOU know this is going to get optioned for a movie after a long, protracted, multi-company bidding war over it!
But no, you don’t really think that. Because you know you submitted something you wrote by vomiting on the page. There are spelling and grammar errors. There are plot holes big enough to be considered the reason for the Bermuda Triangle. Your eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Rakowski, would give it a failing grade, and she was the one who applauded your essay on Moby Dick and said you had a future in writing. She would be so very disappointed in you. The slush reader slides the document in front of them, reads that first line, maybe the first paragraph… and you’re rejected, they’re on to the next thing.
Your goal is to get past that part. Get passed the slush pile. Make that your very FIRST goal. So polish, edit, and fix those first pages. Make them shine. Make them glow. Make them the exact OPPOSITE of Anthony Scaramucci in fact. Don’t put lipstick on a pig and assume it’ll win a beauty contest. Turn that pig into a… wait, where am I going with this? What are you doing with that carving knife?
But you get it. If you’re reading this and you’re a writer, you already know all this. Don’t beat yourself up over the rejections, less than 2% of queries ever make it out of the slushpile. Less than 1% ever get to the point they might get published. But take that FIRST step, get past the slush pile, and give yourself a chance. Once you’re past the slush pile, your chances start going up. You’ll get to full read next, and maybe it’s 4% at that point. Then an agent will sign you, so you’re getting closer to 8 or 9 percent. Then off to an editor for some work over, and now you’re at 15 or 20 percent. And on and on. But you can’t start increasing those odds until you get past the first step.
And when/if you do get rejected, chin up: you’re in great company since 99% of us are right there with you. And I’m WAY nicer than the Mooch. I won’t even steal your lunch money.