If you haven't participated in a manuscript mentor contest at least once, I do recommend you at least try one, and this one's as good as any to get your toes wet.
Let's be clear here: I'm talking about PW's annual contest, NOT its quarterly Twitter pitch (PitMad) events. Those are totally separate and good for you to learn how to write a pitch in 240 characters, spaces included, hashtags included, comparable titles (X meets Y) included. Talk about learning to write lean!
Yes, every year thousands -- I think tens of thousands last year -- of hopeful authors put in applications to the Pitch Wars annual contest, hoping to be the lucky few chosen to work with a published mentor, or team of mentors, and get their manuscripts in shape in 6 weeks for the big showcase where dozens of agents will be shopping for clients.
No, your MS is probably not going to get chosen, but here's what preparing the PW application does for you:
1. Forces you to write a query letter. Yes, you have to have one, that starts, "Dear Mentors," because you can apply to up to 4 mentors/mentor teams, I believe. Query letters are notoriously hard to write, so get eyes on yours now. I recommend finding critique partners who will do this, but also Facebook groups like Queries, Synopses, etc., and KidLit411 and Sub It Club are great for this. You will rewrite it. You will get it wrong the first dozen times. Don't let that stop you. I'm personally at the point where I feel like the girl in Exorcist, head spinning, spewing vomit -- but on a page, not in a room. LOL! Still, I'm whacking away at my QL.
2. Forces you to write a synopsis. ARRRRGGGGHHH!!! This is perhaps the single most hated thing you have to do to get an agent and sell your MS, and it may be hated even more than writing the query letter. Synopses are single-spaced (regular 1" margins all around), 1 page, about 750 or less words. Yep, your whole book in one page. Get plenty of eyeballs on this, too. Your story makes total sense to you, but to others....? Yeah, not so much. You will rewrite this dozens of times, but again, just keep chipping away at it.
3. Forces you to really look at your opening pages. Do your opening pages do the one thing Sara Sargent (Senior Executive Editor, Penguin Random House, a Big 5 editor, folks) said opening pages have to do in a SCBWI talk a few years ago? Get the reader to turn the page? She had seven (7) criteria she said she looked for in opening pages: sense of intrigue, sense of place, compelling voice, tension, damn good writing, one good device and compelling character. Strictly speaking, you don't have to have all seven, but ... having several of these certainly helps.
4. Forces you to cut, cut, cut to reach an attractive word count prior to MS submissions. So, this year, I can (finally!) say that last year I got requests for my MS from mentors, and word count was definitely an issue. In one requesting team's words, "One thing we did notice was the word count. Ahem. Are you open to cutting?" The answer is not yes; the answer is cut the MS to within acceptable word counts before you submit your application. How do I know this? Because if your MS is outside the acceptable limits (mine was by about 12K, which is no small feat to cut, and I know this, because I've had to cut every single MS I've ever written by 10K or more), then you're really going to have a tough 6-week revision period, especially if your MS also needs significant structural work.
5. Be prepared to answer a bunch of questions about your MS. Here is a list of a few basic questions you should consider before you apply. I compiled these from those who requested my MS last year.
1. Query history on the MS. (Be prepared to send spreadsheets with agent names and dates queried.) This also speaks to the goal of Pitch Wars -- for agents to peruse your manuscript. If you've heavily queried the agents who are participating in the showcase, and they've all passed on the MS and a "no is a no" forever, then... yeah. Your MS won't have much chance of being chosen. And that's OK. Apply next year with a new, not as heavily-queried MS.
2. Your prior publishing history, if any.
3. Is this a 1st, 4th, 14th book? At what stage in revisions is the MS?
4. Why did you apply to Pitch Wars?
5. What do you want out of or expect from a mentor?
6. Have betas/CPs read this MS?
If they did, what were/are their issues?
What do you think the issues are with your MS?
7. Are you open to an overhaul, new scenes, ripping out characters, etc.?
Or do you think this is pretty set to go out into the world, but the timing of Pitch Wars worked, so you'd thought you'd enter first?
8. What is your schedule from November through February? The revision period includes the holidays. Are you taking any vacations or extended absences that will cut into your revision time?
Some of these questions are designed for mentors to figure out if they can work with you. Like #7. If the answer's not "yes," then honestly, I wouldn't apply. I'd skip straight to querying or self-publishing. Because mentor editorial advice can be brutal to a soft writerly ego, even though it's what we all want to hear, no? Hey, I cry too after I get particularly great, spot-on feedback. For some reason, that's always the hardest to take. But I always come back to it with grit and determination to out-stubborn the damn MS, acknowledging that I can still do lots more to make it better.
And it's key to consider #8. I hadn't, not really, before applying last year. And it's the main reason I'm not applying this year. I'm going to have my daughter home from college and darn it, I want to spend time with her. This MS can wait, or maybe once I've got it as good as I can, I'll direct query it.
Pitch Wars is not the only way to get an agent, and it's only the first of several contests like this that take place each year. And bonus: once you've prepped your MS for PW, you've more or less prepped for them all. Good luck!