Tag: author life

Are you ready to be a mentee?

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!

Woman jumping up and down and screaming from happiness
Me when I got picked

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.

Man pointing sharp stick saying "Back away!"

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.

Woman sitting at school desk collapsing face first onto it

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.

Young woman smiling and saying "You can't rush perfection"

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.

Man throwing his hands in the air and yelling "Victory!"

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!

I have a mentor!

What does that mean? Technically nothing, emotionally everything, and practically, somewhere in between. 

What do you mean, a mentor?

There are many writing contests run online, usually publicized through Twitter, where writers can win mentorship and/or editing from another author, an editors, or an industry pro. Mentors publicize what they’re interested in reading, what their editing style is, and what they look for in a mentee. Writers submit a query, first pages, sometimes a synopsis, and sometimes answers to questions about themselves/their book, choosing two to four mentors to read their entry. The process is very similar to querying agents, by design! Then each mentor picks one (or sometimes two) authors to help with polishing up their work to a diamond shine.

I saw some mentors that seemed perfect for my second novel, code-named Ballroom, so I entered. I got a request within four hours of submitting—which, to be honest, has a lot to do with luck of who’s reading submissions. Like agents, mentors are searching for a love connection with a story, and in these contests, additionally for a book they have ideas to improve.

Reader, I made a love connection.

Technically nothing

I mean, as far as career progress that the IRS would consider taxable, a mentor doesn’t count. Getting one means having another critique partner, a cheerleader, a guide, one who’s walked the path you hope to be on, but that’s it.

Emotionally everything

But “that’s it”? Oh, no, dear reader! Having someone who’s never met me and doesn’t know me pick my story out of their submissions and want to read more is the most validating experience an author can have. And then to have that mentor be so, so excited about so many of the things you love about your own story, well… that’s everything!

Practically, somewhere in between

I feel so loved and supported and uplifted. Sure, winning a contest doesn’t guarantee an agent or a book deal, but it guarantees having one more friend in my corner to encourage me, challenge me, and support my question. Cat, I can’t wait!!

Anna from Frozen being super excited
Me all day today

At least I’m not alone

As we’ve already established, I’m a terrible boss for myself. But at least I’m not alone.

Like a Boss: Writing a Book is (and isn’t) Like Writing Software

The other day, I was feeling bad about not getting enough writing done. Despite having written more than 45,000 words in just over two months, I wanted to have written more.

Contrast that feeling to when I worked at a big tech company. As I grew in my career, I could put in a hard day’s work and feel good about my code, knowing that three layers of management above me (sometimes more) were responsible for making sure the product shipped. Much to the chagrin of the people whose job it was to ship, I would have conversations like this:

Boss: I need your estimates for how long it will take to finish this feature.
Me: I don’t give estimates. Here’s the list of tasks I expect to do.
Boss: But if you don’t give me estimates, how can I know when the feature will be done?
Me: Even if I gave you estimates, you still wouldn’t know when the feature will be done, because human beings are generally terrible at estimating complicated, creative tasks.

Suit-up-Like-a-bossI realized that I am now both the boss and the employee of Abigail Welborn, Inc. (not a real thing). As it turns out, not only do I not like being the boss, I don’t like working for me, either. As the boss, I can see the end goal so clearly — the beautiful, finished book. At the end of a work day, when the writer (also me) tries to feel good about hitting the goal of 2,000 words written, the boss in me sees only how far I have to go and wishes I could’ve worked just a little bit harder.

But at least I figured out why I’m such an awful boss. I hate not knowing when my book will be done. I can’t look forward to it or plan for it. Even tracking my progress doesn’t make me feel like I’m getting closer, because I just don’t know how long it’s going to take to edit this thing into shape.

So, former bosses (and others who were tracking my work), while I can’t say I’m sorry for refusing to give you estimates, I can now say that I feel your pain. I’ll try to be as nice to me as you were.