As a 2016 Pitch Wars mentee and a 2017 Query Kombat contesant, I know what it’s like to work your ass off and fail. It’s hard. You put everything you have into your work—into editing, rewriting, cutting, adding, rewriting again, and polishing your story until it shines. And you fail.
Call them roadblocks, hurdles, setbacks, whatever—they feel like failures when they’re happening. The point is getting past those failures. It’s hard, but you have to do it if you want to keep going. At least that’s what I told myself.
When I entered PitchWars I totally didn’t expect to make it in, so I was shocked when Kristen Lepionka chose me as her mentee. It was one of the best things that had ever happened to me, but also one of the toughest. So, when the agent round came along and I got zero agent requests, it felt like my biggest failure yet. I had put so much work into my manuscript during that two month revision period. I had stayed up late every night, missed time with my kids, skipped meals, birthday parties, you name it. I felt like I had failed myself and Kristen. But, while she never stopped believing in me, she made sure to keep my expectations grounded.
“Everyone’s path is different,” she would tell me. “You might get hundreds of rejections, but it only takes one yes.” Of course she was right, but it didn’t make that failure any easier.
After Pitch Wars, I kept working. I researched agents, queried, and entered every pitch contest and pitch party that came up. But my inbox kept filling with rejections. They stung at first, but I got used to them. Before long, I was taking them in stride. “My book isn’t for everyone,” I would tell myself. “The dark subject matter is a tough sell.”
But it only takes one yes.
So I kept going.
When Query Kombat came around, I was lucky enough to be chosen by Laura Heffernan, and was thrilled to be a part of her team. I faced off against some amazing writers in every round I made it to. And in each of those rounds I expected to lose. I did eventually get knocked out by fellow Pitch Wars alum, Maxym M. Martineau, but not before earning the top Adult Contemporary spot in Query Kombat. A win, right? Definitely. I’ll take it. And, even though I didn’t advance to the final four, I still came away with two agent requests. Better than the zero I got in Pitch Wars.
But those two agent requests soon turned into rejections, and I was back to the querying trenches. Another failure. I kept thinking, “I know it only takes one yes . . . but when will my one yes come?” Some days I thought it might never.
Well, some months later, after 280 total queries sent, and 279 rejections—279 individual failures—I got my one yes.
Michelle Richter from Fuse Literary had been at the top of my list of agents to query from the very beginning. My manuscript had matched not just one of her MSWL (manuscript wish list) items—it included several of the elements she’d been looking for. But Michelle was closed to queries.
I waited months, but when I finally sent her a cold query in June, she requested my full manuscript.
Three months went by. I knew this pattern. I’d seen it many times before. So, when I heard back from her three months later, I assumed her email would be another polite pass like so many others I’d received. Another failure to add to my growing list.
But it wasn’t. It was a YES.
And those roadblocks, hurdles, and setbacks were never truly failures either, though each one of them felt like it at the time.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that there’s only ever one real chance to fail, and that happens when you quit. When you stop writing. When you decide the last query you sent will be your last. Don’t. Keep writing. Keep improving.
Every one of those “failures” I though I was experiencing was just a low point along the path. Eveyone’s path is different, and they’re not all flat and smooth. Getting past those low points is damn hard sometimes, but having a great community of writers to reach out a hand and help pull you up is so important.
That’s really what Pitch Wars and Query Kombat and all the other contests and pitch events are about—the community. I’m so lucky to have gotten this far, and to have found a great group of people who all boost each other when we need it, and offer support through the good times and through those low points.
The moral of the story? Keep writing. Find your people. Cherish them, support them, and lean on them when you need to. Share your work with them, and hear them out. A good critique partner is worth their weight in gold. And don’t treat every setback or rejection as a failure.
If you never give up, you’ll never truly fail.