The remaking of human history by the technological manipulation of the human nervous system belongs to the literature of science fiction, the [thought] experiments of social science that may illuminate history but not change it.Richard Lewontin
As I type this, I’m fighting down worries about Lewontin’s The Politics of Science, where he bitches out scientific research culture for over-indulging in “epistemic significance.” Allegedly, too many scholars pursue ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake,’ at the cost of effectively defunding practical benefits for ordinary citizens. “Magna Carta was all very well for the barons, but it didn’t do much for the peasantry.” Burn.
Funnily enough, he concludes his essay with that fantastic line about epistemic significance as the drive of science fiction. My genre. Cuz yeah, novelists are different. Too few of us get funded; we aren’t always obligated to be useful. But I’d like this blog post to be! I’m an unagented and unpublished, yet happy mentee of Author Mentor Match Round 8. Behold, an overview of my experience.
- WHAT IS AMM?
- APPLICATION PROCESS
- AGENT PANIC
- INITIAL EGO BOOST
- EPISTEMIC SIGNIFICANCE THO
- HARD STUFF I NEEDED TO HEAR
- LEARNING CRAFT
- IS IT ALWAYS THIS PERFECT FOR EVERYONE?
- IN SHORT
I. WHAT IS AMM?
Author Mentor Match is an annual mentorship program for writers with completed manuscripts in middle grade, young adult, and adult age categories. If you’re accepted, you and your mentor set your own schedule to revise your manuscript and query package (query letter, synopsis). Unlike Pitch Wars and RevPit, there is no showcase at the end. The post-application waiting period is also briefer than most, but it can be stressful. PW alum Gigi Griffis wrote a wonderful self-care article here.
I found it useful for learning a range of craft-related skills, psychologically preparing to query, and strengthening my sense of community.
II. MY APPLICATION PROCESS
Most of my materials were similar, if not identical to my same-year Pitch Wars submission package, during and after which I’d received a partial request, referral, and encouragement from alumni. I was rejected by PW.
- Manuscript: Adult scifi, 95% pantsed! 1.5ish waves of beta-readers through weekly Meetups, leaving the text with continuity issues but solid line-level coherence.
- Query letter: Struggled with “how much to spoiler?” Ended up including the first major twist and hinting at the final character dilemma (“Catalyst,” “Midpoint”).
- Synopsis: Built around this Pitch Wars post.
- Application form: Limited to 3ish paragraphs per section, being specific and opinionated even/especially in outlining my flexibility. Emphasized desire to revise, citing Neil Gaiman’s postscripts in the 10th edition of AMERICAN GODS. Avoided vagueness.
- Critiques: Betas and CPs aside, I signed up/lotteried into feedback from two Pitch Wars mentors, plus query letter critiques from Gigi Griffis (PW alum) and Adam Gaylord (excellent dude). I paid for a critique package from Rebecca Enzor (past PW mentor). I have never turned down a free critique, but I’ve luckily avoided toxicity.
My mentor, Melissa Work was a first-time mentor and I was a first-time mentee. She was kind of nervous about meeting me. She was direct about it. IT WAS VERY CHARMING.
III. AGENT PANIC
On the day of AMM R8 announcements, I was freaking out because I had non-offer phone calls scheduled with a literary agent. I must have E-mailed some folks ten times. Many thanks to Heather, Clay, Robin, Robyn, and Philippa for guiding me through!
My mentor, Melissa squashed my preemptive guilt about “snaking” a spot—I see you, fellow ruminators! She talked me through the timeline to decide whether to proceed with AMM, what factors to consider, and her opinion when I solicited it (and getting me in touch with Alexa Donne as well). The first 24 hours of our mentorship were more fraught than most! Ultimately, I chose to defer the agent discussions and proceed with AMM.
Gonna spell it out: unless you have an agent offer in hand you intend to sign (and even then, until you sign), you are eligible for Author Mentor Match. Partials, fulls, even scheduled phone calls, do not disqualify you. Don’t pull your material yet.
IV. INITIAL EGO BOOST
We all know partial/full requests, getting selected, etc. are already flattering. But beyond that, the amount of energy your mentor pours into your work on a volunteer basis is transcendent. You’ve probably never received this much commitment and detailed feedback.
As you’ll have read on her MSWL, Melissa’s not the fuzzy or cheerleading type, but her matter-of-fact positivity was enthralling. (Other mentors do it differently, but I’ve talked to a few and my impression is most radiate wonderful vibes on a spectrum of unique colors.)
To this day, I remember Melissa casually, unthinkingly advising me to “save [x deleted content] for [my] future Patreon,” or talking about my “future agent,” “editor.” I didn’t mistake these for promises, but as sincere belief success was possible. Nobody had ever talked to me that way before. It’s immortalized in memory as mind-shattering, drug-free euphoria delivered with maximum nonchalance by my mentor.
V. EPISTEMIC SIGNIFICANCE THO
Then I got fortification on a deeper level I didn’t know I needed. See, I’m a confident person, but humility, inexperience (I’d only queried for 4 months pre-AMM), and the inherent publishing challenge of balancing practical interests with your heart meant I’d written an entire book without knowing what I meant to say.
Melissa emphasized the “vision” in revision, questions that had felt self-aggrandizing before. “You might have multiple points you’re trying to make, but one of them is the MAIN point, the lesson of the A-story, the one all the other points hinge upon, without which the book wouldn’t even exist.”
“Another way to think of this is like a research paper,” she suggested, not knowing her analogy would eventually dovetail perfectly with an article called The Politics of Science. “You have your thesis, i.e. a statement you’re arguing is true, and the paper itself presents evidence showing WHY and HOW […] you have your story, which is the body of the paper in this metaphor; what’s the thesis statement it’s supporting?”
In Lewontin’s terms, what was my thought experiment? What did I mean to illuminate? Even the decision to just vibe or merely entertain would be a decision.
You might have multiple points you’re trying to make, but one of them is the MAIN point, the lesson of the A-story, the one all the other points hinge upon, without which the book wouldn’t even exist.Melissa Work’s Edit Letter
Not only did Melissa provide tips about infusing my manuscript with character voice (see below), but she was also sincerely interested in developing my identity and voice as a writer.
She was also fantastic at periodically reminding me editing never ends, and not all problems as perceived are problems actually. She even pointed out several times she thought she might simply not ‘get it’ with my work and encouraged me to make my own decisions. If she made a rewording suggestion but I chose a different one, she provided her unequivocal support. (You may find that Melissa doesn’t equivocate much.)
VI. HARD STUFF I NEEDED TO HEAR
I’m one of the least sensitive people you’ll ever meet, but I got a good (not dismissive) laugh out of this one: Melissa told me early on, “I wouldn’t query this the way it is now.” Reminiscing with other friends, their faces expressed secondhand mortification. (Note: Melissa’s tone was lovely and her edit letter described my work as “outstanding and oh-so-marketable.”) (In psychology, we call this “dialectics.”)
But to be fair, it’s right there in her MSWL—why apply to a mentorship program if you’re sure your work is query-ready?
Under all circumstances, the “hard stuff” was productive and thoughtful. Further, one of the first questions Melissa sent me was about what ratio of praise to critique I wanted. I provided my honest answer. I plan to copy this practice forever.
On our first Zoom call, I complained at length, in bold, maverick style, about the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and suffocating formulae, as someone craft-naive. She listened, nodded, then told me, “Well, your novel fits perfectly into three acts!” and moved on. She didn’t mean to kick my ass, but I sat down and studied Save the Cat Writes A Novel and it was really cool.
is magic! Obv this is heavily mediated by individual characteristics. Not everybody can and should be friends; I believe it’s totally acceptable to apply to a mentorship with no interest in fostering a long-term relationship. But it’s worth rolling the dice for, if you can!
VIII. LEARNING CRAFT
Note, I entered AMM an exceptionally (but not uniquely) under-studied person in “formal” craft. I didn’t know what a “beat sheet” was, had never read a technique book, possessed a high school understanding of the Hero’s Journey.
Melissa has shown me some of her craft materials, and I hope she figures out a way to distribute them. I learned many techniques and strategies for: cutting word count (I have problems obv) vs streamlining plot, reverse outlining, and taking breaks to “percolate” between read-throughs in order to adjust your brain back to baseline. Voice! Dialogue tags! Trimming those pesky diminutives. Or else. That being said, Melissa was very direct about rejecting prescriptive advice when inspiration struck.
(She also had me remove lots of italics, which is probably why there are SO MANY caps in this post.)
I learned that when you discover problems the second read-through that were already present before, that’s a good thing—honing and polishing. At some point, the excision or replacement of dozens of pages is less about structural gutting and more about trying a new build of something that was conceptually sound. It’s a whole galaxy brain experience. It’s shaped how I draft ever since!
IX. IS IT ALWAYS THIS PERFECT FOR EVERYONE
Nope! Every writing mentorship I’ve ever heard of has limitations, individual and yearly variability, and problems—and I don’t hear everything. Some professional editors warn against relying on writers, rather than editors, for critique. But from my understanding, things worked out well in R8 and the program assists lots of folks in getting published.
X. IN SHORT (HA)
I had a great time in AMM. Long as this article is, there’s a lot I skipped, such as: community-building initiatives by fellow R8 mentees, and Melissa’s assistance beyond the formal obligation with querying advice.
The Round 9 wish lists just came out! You should try the thing. As writers, funding is ever scarce, but our community has some fantastic volunteers who will help your peasants eat the barons or whatever your book’s about. Good luck!
Feel free to direct questions to Twitter.