WNDB Mentorships will open for applications in late summer or early fall in 2022.
By Karis Rogerson
As a writer angling for an agent and a traditional publishing deal, I have become intimately familiar with a variety of mentorships over the years. Pitch Wars, Author Mentor Match, We Need Diverse Books, Rogue Mentor: You name it, I’ve spent hours studying the mentor lists, carefully curating my selections, waiting with bated breath for a response.
If you’re unfamiliar, all of the above are opportunities for unagented writers to work with agented and sometimes published writers on their craft. At least one of them, Pitch Wars, involves an agent showcase at the end, in which agents actually look at and request material based on a short pitch and a couple hundred words. Getting accepted by these programs can be life-and-career-changing for authors, who are inducted into a thriving community as well as given one-on-one guidance for their own writing.
In fact, Laila Sabreen, the debut author of You Truly Assumed, who was both a Pitch Wars and an Author Mentor Match mentee, named the community aspect as one of the greatest benefits of these programs.
“These programs are really great for building community, that gets a little bit lost in the sauce but that’s one of the biggest selling points,” Sabreen said. “The relationship with your mentor and your fellow mentees…emphasizing community a lot more would be helpful.”
For this article, I spoke with several authors about what these programs are doing well and where they could stand to improve. One of those authors was Lauren Blackwood, a Pitch Wars mentor this past year and the author of 2021’s Within These Wicked Walls.
Blackwood pointed out that having a diverse pool of mentors is really key to ensuring a diverse group of mentees can apply and be chosen.
“There’s a lot of qualified mentors, but they are specifically going through the mentors because they’re like, ‘we want this to be diverse’,” she said. “Giving diverse writers who enter more of a chance to shine.”
Sabreen agreed with this take, saying that from her perspective as a former mentee and a Black Muslim author, it was encouraging to see diversity among the mentors.
“If you see a mentor who looks like you, writes books with characters that share your background…it helped me feel a little bit more comfortable with applying,” Sabreen said. “That’s something that these programs are doing well, making sure that their mentors are diverse.”
In addition to speaking with Sabreen and Blackwood, I also checked in with Lillie Lainoff, author of the forthcoming One For All and an advocate for disability representation and greater accessibility in the publishing industry. Though Lainoff does not have direct involvement with mentorship programs, she has made a habit of doing things like creating a document of mentors who specifically request disability stories. In addition, in 2021 she offered to assist disabled authors by reaching out to mentors who did not specifically request stories about disability to ensure they were open to these tales.
Lainoff pointed out that real changes have been made through the years—including an increase in diversity of mentors and also in ensuring plain-text formats of the wish lists are available for accessibility reasons.
“There are real positive changes that have been made and mentorship programs are doing a really good job,” Lainoff said, adding however that for programs like Pitch Wars, which have a constricted schedule to allow the agent showcase at the end, this can be an issue.
“I know so many disabled authors who wanted to submit to Pitch Wars but they knew they wouldn’t be able to complete the revisions in the turnaround time required for the showcase,” Lainoff said. “Whether that was because of chronic illness, because they had other conditions that affect how they are able to finish work in a given timeframe…it’s really hard for those authors to feel comfortable applying for a program when they’re not going to get to experience that showcase.”
While Lainoff acknowledged that the showcase is not the be-all and end-all of Pitch Wars, she did point out that “authors will self-reject…because they think, ‘I know I won’t be able to get revisions turned around,’” she said.
Sabreen, who has experience with both Pitch Wars (which includes a showcase) and Author Mentor Match (which does not), also pointed out that with these programs comes “a pressure to perform.”
“That’s really hard to do in publishing because so much of it is out of control,” Sabreen said. “I just try to emphasize that these mentorships are not the end all be all, at all.”
Sabreen suggested that publishing professionals’ involvement with the programs could lead to an intensifying pressure to perform. “I guess with Author Mentor Match, there wasn’t really that much of a connection to publishing, [it] wasn’t built into the program,” she said. “I feel like part of the connection to publishing insiders helps that idea … that the connection is going to help you.”
One step publishing insiders can take, Blackwood suggested, to improve conditions for marginalized authors both in these programs and in general, is to follow the mentorship contests’ footsteps and hire more diverse workforces.
“Not just hire, but promote,” Blackwood added. “Actually acquire these projects because they’re the ones letting people into the little club or whatever. The mentor programs are good for helping with the craft, if they’re looking for good books then that’ll help provide more quality books so that they can acquire them.”
Karis Rogerson is an American, Canadian, pseudo-Italian who loudly (but only sometimes fluently) speaks 2.5 languages and is proud to be of the auburn-haired club. As a reader and writer, her childhood heroes included Anne of Green Gables and Jo March (classic), and these days she admires authors like Angie Thomas, Sandhya Menon, and Heidi Heilig, who are changing the world one brilliant story at a time. Find more of her writing on her website, and follow her on Twitter or Instagram for writing updates and pictures of Italy and New York City.