Writer Wednesday: Following Up on Mentorship Programs
Good morning authors and welcome to the middle of the week. Before we get rolling here, how goes NaNoWriMo for those participating? Remember NaNoWriMo is a fun challenge, every word is a victory. Take care of yourselves and drink plenty of water.
Now, not all that long ago I posted about author mentorship programs to watch for and, in light of recent events, I think it's time for a follow-up to that post because while I do indeed appreciate and enjoy the concept behind mentorship programs, there are indeed caveats that an author should be aware of when applying.
Purpose vs Reality
I stand by the core concept of mentorship programs. There are many fantastic mentors out there who put in the work to genuinely help upcoming authors. However, sometimes the selection process of manuscripts goes sideways. Sometimes the optics of certain of decisions aren't thought through, from both a mentor and mentee standpoint. This came into sharp focus with the recent mentee selection from Pitch Wars which revealed an agent had been chosen as a mentee. That agent did step down shortly after and the mentors chose another author, but it revealed some glaring holes in this system.
When you take the concept of mentorship, it is meant to help a budding author who has a solid concept and skill, but requires guidance for their manuscript to achieve a more polished coherent structure, and to craft their querying package. The query often feels just as difficult as the novel itself. Don't even get me started on the synopsis. While many agents are also authors, they possess a pretty thorough knowledge of the process. This resulted in a backlash within the community which boiled down to someone with industry know how and connections taking a slot from authors with a great deal less privilege. There may have been no rule on the books, but there also seemed to be no initial consideration for that privilege either.
This example is recent but it is not the first time that mentee selections have been side eyed, not only for Pitch Wars, but for other mentorship programs. Did that novel really need the help from a mentor? Were there other, rougher manuscripts that were more deserving? Should I be entering into a mentorship program with the knowledge I have of the process? Mentors and mentees are human. We make mistakes. And it is hard not to go for it because several of these mentorships dangle a very tantalizing perk.
The Big Draw & The FOMO
Let's talk about that agent showcase.
One of the greatest perks many of these mentorships offer is after months of editing and tweaking your manuscript and your querying package, the efforts of your hard work are rewarded with a direct line to numerous agents. A showcase, to have your query seen in a sea of pitches. To have your manuscript directly requested, and possibly, signed.
It's a huge opportunity. For authors in the querying trenches, banging their heads on the wall from numerous rejections and not feeling seen in Twitter's numerous pitch events, it is an opportunity too good not to shoot for, even if your manuscript doesn't really need a mentor's guiding hand. Even if you have some experience with querying and publishing, but haven't managed to land an agent yet. The FOMO is intense, leaving you with a sense of missed opportunity despite your skill and knowledge.
There is also an expectation that comes with that showcase, but the truth is, the opportunity, like so many in publishing, has no guarantees. Months and months of work might still not yield the results you hoped to achieve. There is absolutely no guarantee that your novel will be requested by agents in the agent showcase. There is absolutely no guarantee that even if do get lucky enough to be signed, that the novel you signed with will sell. There is no guarantee your hard work will pay off.
However, that perk is hard to deny, and not being selected for a mentorship program despite the hundreds of other applicants vying for a very limited number of spaces, can feel absolutely crushing. And it's okay to be disappointed, but the take away is this: you didn't make it in and you didn't fail.
Mentorship is A path, not THE path
I will never get off this soapbox. The publishing industry is not a one and done pathway to glory. There are so many varying paths and journeys and success does not look the same to everyone. Publishers are signing authors off of Book-Tok. Tweaked Fanfiction can become a multi million best selling franchise. After years of other platforms doing it, Amazon is finally dipping their toe into the serialization pool. The government just slapped down a merger to prevent a publishing monopoly.
How is that connected? This industry is wild. It is constantly shifting and evolving and while that 'big publishing deal ' is still a goal for many aspiring novelists, it is not always the best path for you. Getting a mentorship can be a boon, a huge boost to your skills, perfecting that novel you've been struggling with, and giving you a chance to be seen in the querying mosh pit. It can also give you connections and friendships with other authors to push you and help you on your journey. But, it is not the only opportunity or pathway to success as authors. Keep your mind open and your expectations grounded.