Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Not Fair

Overall, so far this Pitch Wars contest has been great. So far, it's worked out wonderfully for connecting people with similar interests and a variety of publishing paths and aspirations together, though we don't yet know what the mentor matches will yield. But of course, as with any contest this large, there has been some arguing and some frustration and some nastiness.

I want to address this one: "But that's not fair."

My answer:


I'll avoid explaining the whole life isn't fair parable because you don't need to be patronized, but I will explain exactly why this contest is not fair and why that needs to be okay with you if you are going to participate.

Writing is an art. Which renders it one of the most dang subjective activities on the planet. It's no secret that some people love books that others hate, and they might even love them for the exact reason that someone else hates them. That's going to be reflected at every level of publishing. You are writing for your audience, and you are not writing to please everyone. It's true that some of the books in this contest legitimately aren't ready and that's why they're getting ignored or passed on, but in other cases the mentors just know it's not their thing. You may get some feedback after the contest that will help shed light on why you did not get picked, but you may not.

Every mentor who volunteered to help in this contest has tastes. You should not interpret those tastes as "bias" or "unfairness." Many of us did our best to list aspects of our taste that wouldn't be immediately apparent from looking at an abridged list of genres we accept, like that I'm a fantasy reader who prefers modern settings and K.T. Hanna doesn't want you to send her military fiction. That doesn't mean I'm saying period fantasy is crappy or that K.T. Hanna is saying military science fiction is worthless. We're saying we don't want it. But furthermore. . . . 

If we don't want it, chances are high we don't read it and therefore we wouldn't be very good at helping you with it. Pitch Wars potential mentees are entering because they want someone who's done what they want to do and they want some semi-expert advice. (Hahaha, us as experts. Hahahahahahaha. But anyway.) If someone does not read your genre (or a particular flavor of it), there is no practical reason to berate them for not considering yours "fairly." And on top of that. . . . 

This is a free contest made possible entirely by people donating their time, attention, and expertise. That means we give because we want to, and we can only choose one of you. That doesn't mean the rest of you who don't get picked must have written crap, or are being sent a sign that you should give up, or won't be requested by agents, or won't sell in the marketplace because you've written an unpopular or played out subgenre. It literally means you picked five people and none of those mentors chose you as their very favorite out of dozens (with some of us getting well over 100 submissions).

Subjectivity is one of the most difficult things to get new writers to swallow. I have already had the experience in this contest this year of reading a submission and thinking it's very weak, only to see it listed as another mentor's top choice. We are not gods, and we are not agents, and we are not your future editors or publishers. We are individual writers who might know a little bit more than you about what we're all trying to do because we've done it, but we do not have a consensus on what works and we do not possess the golden keys to the publishing gates.

This subjectivity that you're facing in this contest right now goes all the way up. All the way up, and all the way down too. You will write your book and face judgment from the contest mentors if you've entered, but even if you do get picked, you will then face agents' opinions, then editors' opinions, and . . . possibly most importantly . . . readers' opinions. We all select based on what we like (though in some cases agents and editors liking something is partially based on whether they think it will sell). Editors at large publishing houses sometimes turn manuscripts down because "I just didn't connect with it." That is what this business is. There is no way to make this process objective. Unless you think it would be somehow "fair" to come up with a scoring rubric that would be applied robotically and result in automatic, soulless selection of what is conclusively the best. (And I don't actually see how that could be done.)

We are a community of artists, and our consumers are appreciators of art. They are not obligated to like everything even if you worked hard on it or even if you followed the rules or even if you did what everyone says you should do. There is no "fair" in this world. And ultimately, as an artist, you should want it that way. So that when you do succeed, you know the appreciation is authentic and deeply felt, and you know your stories have touched people who honestly enjoyed it. In this contest, if someone gets selected and you didn't and you feel kind of bitter about it, that's okay, but try not to let it turn into resentment or belief that the contest failed you on fairness. We can't make it fair. We can only sort through what was given to us and hand-select one person whose manuscript matches our skills and tastes, and do our best grooming it to join others like it in the marketplace.

If your idea of fair involves expecting decision-makers at every level to ignore their own interpretations and tastes, then it's very likely you're in the wrong business and it's going to destroy you.


  1. Well said, Julie. I try to remind myself of this every time I get a rejection. And every time I enter a contest like Pitch Wars. Each time, I just hope the person looking at my submission is that person who will love what I wrote. :-)

  2. All true.

    It's funny how you say you thought something was weak but another mentor put it at the top of their list. The same thing happens with agents and editors--which I'm sure you know too. I've heard plenty of stories from writers who submit to one editor who says something is bad. Then a 2nd editor says that exact part is great. You just never know.

  3. It boggles my mind to hear that people are getting nasty over this. What are they going to do when agents reject them?

  4. I learned this many years ago during my first year in the writing department in university. I had three paths in writing to take and it was all dependent on what grade I got. My poetry teacher hated my work ( the path I had wanted to enter) and my fiction teacher was so/so on my work where as the play write teacher loved my play ( first play I had ever wrote). I think I remember I got the only A in the class... I basically realized writing is an art just like any art and we can never tell what someone will like or not like. Thanks, great article.

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  6. Thanks for this post, Julie, well said. I think it's important for writers to remember it's all subjective. Pitch Wars is my first contest and regardless of the outcome, it's been a great experience.

    (Sorry if this is a repeat of my last comment. For some reason it didn't post.)