So I decided to submit my recent novel Islandblood to Pitch Wars since the timing was just too perfect. I was already about to start querying anyway and told myself it couldn’t hurt. Still, I didn’t expect to get any requests, as Pitch Wars is like querying but worse. Many of the “mentors” also aren’t people with any real experience in what does or doesn’t sell or even in making books better.
Sure, some of the mentors are editors (and, in my opinion, they’re the best picks for anyone submitting), but most are agent interns, published authors, or something similar. They’ve been through the process, but their job and mastery aren’t focused on the process. That’s not criticism—far from it.
These people are dedicating a huge amount of time and effort to help polish a piece of work that they will get absolutely nothing tangible from (at least, not in terms of money, awards, or publishing credits). That’s frankly amazing. Beyond amazing, really.
Buuuuut, that does mean it’s obviously (and fairly) more about personal picks than professional prospecting. That, in turn, makes Pitch Wars as obscure and unhelpful as querying unless you’re picked (or send to one of the very very few mentors that offer feedback to everyone). The lack of clarity from some of the mentors doesn’t help much here either.
I remember reading a particular mentor’s wishlist (what kind of books they wanted). They didn’t want any novels featuring rape, violence against women/children without reason (like a battle, I guess?), that kind of thing. And yet, they said they would accept dark novels and even listed George R.R. Martin as one of their favorite authors. You know, that guy who writes rape and violence against women and children.
I suppose a newbie author is a planet or two away from Mr. Martin, but still, it’s obvious that things are no more clear and tidy in Pitch Wars than they are in normal querying. You make a pretty little submission, send it off into the void, and then wait for an ominous voice to suddenly cry out, “YOU ARE THE ONE”.
Well, I submitted, but after getting some beta reader feedback, I realized that my chances of getting requests were pretty much zero. I’m not going to query this book either.
The reason is that my novel has some pretty dark themes that I admit make it a hard sell. Stuff like slavery, cannibalism-based magic, and suicide, for instance. I thought I handled them all fairly well. Not perfectly, but I did try to put care into all these elements. I wanted to write a fairly dark story but strove to make the themes meaningful. I worked hard on the topic of suicide, for instance. The aftermath, the difficulty of helping the depressed. That kind of thing.
I soon realized, however, that this wasn’t something a lot of people would happily read, much less agents/mentors who would have to guess I treated all this stuff appropriately. Even the mentors who wanted “dark” work probably didn’t want something as dark as mine, especially not when they could make safer bets. My beta readers wanted something less grimdark, and the few who enjoyed it already read stuff like Prince of Thorns which isn’t for everyone.
Yes, someone like Joe Abercrombie can write rape, violence, and sex and be loved for it. Yes, Mark Lawrence can casually start his novel with a bunch of young boys beheading people and raping women. They are, however, kind of rare exceptions and both had extreme difficulty getting picked up for publication.
So I’ve decided to throw Islandblood into the ‘ol desk drawer and start over. Again. Ah, the life of a writer. It’s okay. I’ve improved dramatically thanks to this novel (as it should be with any novel) and found a theme I love through the exploration of my Puerto Rican roots. I already have some great ideas for my next WIP and plan on carrying over some of the brighter pieces from Islandblood that I think would work well here. Overall, I think it’ll be a much better (and easier to sell or pitch) novel than Islandblood. It’ll also be a whole lot less dark.
So, here’s to another great year. I’ll be submitting to Pitch Wars again, though simply to kickstart my querying. Meanwhile, I’ll be posting about the industry, my progress, thoughts on bits I read on Reddit, and a few editorial ideas I have in mind to help out fellow aspiring fantasy authors.
It should be a lot of fun. My journey’s still ongoing and I’m still walking. I’m just not lodging down where I hoped to, but that’s okay. The journey itself is its own reward.