Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Peek Behind the Curtain: Being a Mentor

This year, I have the honor of participating in Author Mentor Match as a mentor. If you don't know about this program, it pairs aspiring Young Adult and Middle Grade writers who have completed manuscripts with experienced authors for mentorship (www.authormentormatch.com). This was AMM's third round (many writers from past rounds have already signed with agents, and the first AMM mentee book deal was announced last week), and the first time I've ever mentored in a contest or program like this. It's been a GREAT experience (and I'm beyond thrilled with the mentee I chose!). Below, I'll share a bit of a 'peek behind the curtain' that should be relevant to all mentoring contests like this one.


1) Choosing a mentee is really, truly, subjective. Sometimes, an entry's writing can be really polished, the concept interesting, and the characters fully fleshed-out, and a mentor still won't choose you. In many cases, it has absolutely nothing to do with the manuscript itself. When a mentor is wading through a inbox with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of entries, something will catch their eye, and it's impossible to say why. Could be something about the concept that resonates, or the main character's voice, or even something as minor as the setting. It often comes down to a je ne sais quoi, something undefinable, and that's obviously very frustrating for contest entrants. The best advice here is to keep entering contests with your strongest work and hope that it will eventually resonate with someone.

2) Some entries aren't chosen because their manuscripts are already query-ready. I always thought this was an urban legend: Sure, mentors will say this, but is it really true? I'm telling you, based on my own inbox in AMM this year... yes. It's true. I had a few entries where my only feedback was, 'Sorry I didn't pick you, but you don't need a mentor. Go forth and query!' It's maybe not the most helpful feedback, but I hope it was validating for those entrants.

3) A lot of entrants don't follow the rules. This came down to not attaching the right number of pages, forgetting a synopsis, attaching a query instead of pasting it into the email, etc. The biggest issue I found was entrants submitting a manuscript in a certain genre when I'd been clear in my mentor profile that there were genres I did and didn't want. This didn't bother me per se (I'm a contemporary writer, but it's FUN to read the occasional fantasy and sci-fi), but authors shoot themselves in the foot when they do this. I'm simply not the best mentor for fantasy or sci-fi, because it's not what I write, and I don't read much in those genres. You want a mentor who's really familiar with these genres because they'll be best situated to help you revise and query!

4) Giving feedback to all entrants takes a really long time. Before the submission window opened, I vowed to myself that I would give feedback to every author who submitted to me (as long as their entry wasn't chosen by another mentor). But let me tell you, that takes a LONG time. For each entry, I read a query, first 50 pages (sometimes more), and a synopsis, then wrote up 1-4 paragraphs of feedback. On average, it took about an hour per entry (and I'm a really fast reader, so it could have taken someone else quite a bit longer). I'm happy I did this, but it did amount to basically another full-time job over about ten days. So don't get angry if you submit to mentors and don't receive feedback for a long time, or don't ever receive feedback. I didn't realize until I did it myself that it's an extremely long process!

5) Gratitude means a lot to us. On that note, most of the entrants for whom I provided feedback sent back an email thanking me for doing so. That's in no way required, but it's really nice to know the feedback is appreciated. Especially helpful is when the author mentions what part of the feedback they found helpful, and/or what they expect to implement. That helps me hone my feedback-giving skills, which is something I, in turn, appreciate!

Do you have any questions or comments about the mentoring process? Feel free to drop them in the comments and I'll answer them!

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