The criteria for whether you’re ready to apply for mentorship in contests like Author Mentor Match are pretty clear: you want to be traditionally published and you have a full manuscript that you’ve already fixed up as much as you can. But are you ready to be a mentee?
Actually, it’s a bit of a trick question, because you can’t know for sure unless and until you get a mentor. Hopefully you’re already anxious to have someone help you make your book better and more marketable. I want to tell you more of what it felt like for me so that you’re prepared if you get selected!
First, it feels amazing! I’m not gonna lie, after hearing crickets through two rounds each of PitchWars and AMM, and getting thisclose in #RevPit twice, finally getting picked felt every bit as exciting as I’d hoped. My mentor, Cat Bakewell, was so excited about my book, and knowing that somebody else gets your book leaves you as giddy as a good first date. You can read about that here!
Second, it feels overwhelming. Even though I knew my mentor picked my book because she liked it, it was hard reading my first “official” edit letter—everything that was wrong with my manuscript baby, all at once. Actually, it wasn’t even everything, just one big thing. Worse, I didn’t like her suggestion for how to fix it.
Now, I was no stranger to feedback. I had gotten feedback from multiple critique partners, I’d gotten wins and rejections from contests, and I’d revised my previous manuscript so many times that I thought I’d already experienced changing everything there was to change about a book. Yet there I was feeling defensive, which I knew was exactly the wrong reaction to feedback.
Fortunately, a mentor isn’t a critic—they’re your friend and cheerleader! They already picked you! They want to make your book even better! So I kept talking through my hesitations with my dear, patient mentor, Cat. I also kept working on myself, realizing that some of my defensiveness was just inevitable. The manuscript that got picked was as good as I could possibly make it, yet I needed a mentor to point out how to take it up the next notch. By definition, it was the best thing I’d ever written, so to hear that it still needed a big change was hard.
I’m so, so glad I got to go through that with a mentor before an agent (who is also in your corner and picked you, but there’s potential money and career riding on it!).
Third, editing can feel hopeless sometimes. All writing can, honestly. Some of you will get picked and you’ll be “lucky” enough not to have to make deep changes—but I use the scare quotes because it’s not entirely luck. While there is definitely some luck involved in finding the right mentor match, there’s very little luck in the quality of your book; you’ve put in the work! But others of you will be in the same boat I was: staring at a mountain of work.
Cat very patiently worked with me until I understood the problem, but then it took months to figure out a fix we both liked (i.e., that I liked). Of course, throwing in a global pandemic and the chaos of my husband working from home and my kids schooling from home probably extended the timeline beyond what it would have been without (though we were lucky in that we’ve been untouched by covid directly and can work/school from home). But I was stretching and learning and growing, and there’s some extent to which that can’t be rushed.
Throughout, Cat was unfailingly encouraging, kind, and helpful. We brainstormed until we agreed on an outline (this was in June, after mentees were announced March 2nd!) and then I sat down to rewrite. Turns out improving the character arc revealed I had the wrong antagonist, too, NBD.
Fourth, it feels victorious! Even though it went so slowly and I felt like I was flailing helplessly in the mud, I knew she was right and I kept believing the manuscript was getting better. Sometimes editing still felt like I didn’t know if I was improving it or just changing it, but then I sent out the new first act. Hearing from my critique partners and then from Cat that it really was better made all the hard work worth it.
So, if you have a middle grade fantasy with heart, see if it fits with Cat and Trisha! You will not regret submitting to them!