So You're Looking For Mentorship?
We’re on the brink of announcements for Author Mentor Match (AMM) mentees for Round 9 and the PitchWars Class of 2021 showcase, so it seems like a good time to reflect on the concept of mentorship for authors and what it means on the path to publication! I first jumped into the world of traditional publishing and book twitter two years ago thanks to PitchWars, and as part of the PW Class of 2020, the mentorship process has been extremely important in shaping my journey as a writer (shout-out to my amazing mentors Kat and Daph :D). But what is mentorship all about, and is it truly necessary for someone who wants to be published?
(TLDR: Jump to the end for tips on navigating the mentorship process!)
Applying for a mentorship programme—what’s it like?
Deciding to take the leap and apply for a mentorship programme can be a stressful process for many authors. Competition is stiff—there were over 4000 entries in the year I applied for PW!—and there’s often a misconception that if you don’t get selected, it means your work isn’t good enough (totally untrue). Before submitting, I faced all these anxieties along with everyone else, and the lead-up to the opening of the PW submission window was both an exciting and nerve-racking period at the same time. There were times when I considered not submitting, because if you don’t submit, you can’t get rejected! But in the end I decided to bite the bullet and yeet my application in anyway. After all, what’s there to lose? If I don’t get in, I’ll just be back to status quo.
Before submitting, I spent a lot of time looking through the list of mentors and their MSWLs, adjusting my mentor picks again and again before I finally settled on four that I thought would be a best fit for me and my MS. After that, I went onto the PW forum and found some fellow applicants who were willing to take a look at my sub package—I received lots of useful feedback from this, and gained some new friends too! The post-submission window was probably the worst, because that’s when you fret about getting requests and stress about the silence (and the teasers). Unfortunately there’s no running from this waiting game. There are mentors who request quickly, and others who request at a slower rate, and you never know when you might get an email—even all the way till the day before announcement of mentees!
What happens after you get a mentor?
This is when the hard work begins! Most mentors will send their mentees an edit letter for their MS that is full of warm fuzzy feelings (all the things they loved about your work!) and then the suggestions for how the story can be improved. The length of a mentor’s edit letter can vary greatly, depending on their personal critique style and the amount of work they think your MS needs. Based on the feedback you receive in the edit letter, you’ll need to dissect your MS and figure out what you want to change or keep. For some mentees, this could mean a complete (>90%) overhaul of your MS, while others may only require more minor tweaks (<50%). For my MS, I probably did about a 30-40% change on my original draft, although some major plot details were adjusted.
For my first round of revisions, I used the reverse outlining method to generate a beat sheet for my MS, after which I went about colour-coding the key plot arcs (see image below for a glimpse at what my beat sheet looked like!). My mentors recommended doing that so that it would be easier to see whether or not each plot arc was spread evenly throughout the MS, or whether there were large gaps where certain plot arcs were neglected. After that, I made edits to beats in red so that I’d know what to change. My mentors then helped to take a look through the revised beat sheet first and we talked about other possible adjustments before I actually dived into editing the MS itself! Once the revisions were complete, my mentors took another look through and they helped polish the first 50 pages (because that’s what many agents ask for in a partial) at a line edit level. They also helped with edits for my query letter so that the MS would be submission ready :)
Is there an expiry date on mentorship?
It really depends. Some mentors and mentees prefer to limit the mentorship to the duration of the programme itself (for PW that would be a two month period), while others are happy to continue indefinitely! You’ll need to establish those expectations for yourself at the start of the mentorship. My mentors were happy to help even after the PW showcase and when I started my querying journey, they helped to vet through my agent list and offer suggestions on who I could query! When I got the email for “the call” (one whole year after my PW cycle), they were also kind enough to give me a list of questions that I could ask the offering agents.
What should you do if you want to apply for mentorship?
Be diligent with trawling through mentor profiles and MSWLs to find mentors who are most likely to be a good fit for you! Some mentors may be more high profile than others, but it doesn’t always mean they’re the best person to help you take your work to the next level. It’s important to ensure that your potential mentor has the relevant experience to add value to your work, and that what they are able to provide meets your expectations of the mentor-mentee relationship.
Get another pair of eyes on your submission package—you’ve probably looked at your own query and pages so many times that you can’t see the blind spots. Also, if you volunteer to give feedback to sub packages of other authors, you might glean some new ideas about how to structure your own!
(If you get a mentor – yay!) Take some time to sit on your mentor’s edit letter instead of rushing to get started. Some things might resonate more than others, and that’s okay. Your mentor is there to help you polish your work, but ultimately it is YOURS and the final product has to be something that you are proud of and happy to put your name to. If there are things you don’t understand or disagree with, have a further discussion with your mentor and see how you can work it through.
(If you don’t get a mentor – it’s alright!) Mentorship can be helpful, but it’s not the be all and end all. There are tons of published authors who have never gone through mentorship programmes, and I’ve met many writerly friends who have gone on to land agents far quicker than I did even though they didn’t get picked for mentorship programmes. Repeat after me: Not getting a mentor is NOT an indication of the quality of your work.
Revise and be proud of your new, shiny MS! Very often the mentorship and revision journey is not an easy process and it doesn’t mean that the MS will get an agent and book deal immediately (or at all), but if you persevere, what you should have at the end of it is a stronger story and new skills that make you a better author :)
The best part about a mentorship programme is the community! I mean every word here, because the people I’ve met through PW (not just fellow mentees, but also other applicants in the lead-up to the sub window) have become such a valuable part of my writing journey. Take the opportunity to find betas, CPs and writerly BFFs that you’ll keep for a long time to come!