The Selfish Writer, #Pitchwars, #Pitchmas, and Yes My Novel is Not the Center of the Universe

Most people, if asked to describe me, would not choose “selfish” as one of their first adjectives.  Working for a human rights organization gives one an altruistic sheen, not always deserved, or not completely anyway.  Most human rights workers, honest ones, will readily come up with a list of less altruistic reasons they do the work they do.  They thought it sounded it like an interesting thing to do for a few years before their “real” careers began; they had friends doing the work; they like to travel;  human rights workers are hilarious and often fun to be around (it’s true!)

And then there are the human rights people who are working out “issues” that I won’t go into here.


Hajji Hussein (with child on lap) was a political prisoner for whom CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan team advocated. He was freed right after an Urgent Action e-mail Campaign we sent out on CPTnet. And right after #Pitchwars. Yes. Hajji Hussein’s freedom was really more important. Really.

I’m writing this entry because I’ve been really conscious over the last couple weeks of how my attention has NOT been focused on the needs of the people my organization serves, nor on the people near and dear to me.  Pretty much, all I have been able to think about is getting my novel noticed by an agent.

It all started with the #Pitchwars contest.  The premise of the contest is that “mentors”—agented authors, agents’ assistants or other people who have connections in the literary world, read the query letters and the first five pages of the novel that the authors are submitting to the contest and choose one author and two alternates to mentor.  Then they read the entire manuscript and help the author sharpen both the manuscript and query for submission to an agent.

I got a mentor interested in my submission based on our shared interest in Joss Whedon, although she was upfront about it being outside her genre, and I began obsessively following the #Pitchwars Twitterfeed to watch her and the other three agents to whom I submitted discussing the entries.  Now, I was getting ready to leave the country for another two-month assignment with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT); I needed to get my three substitute editors situated to take over CPTnet while I was gone; CPT was doing its end of the year fundraising push.  I was very conscious that my mind needed to focus on other things.

I think it was at the meeting of my church’s Pastoral Ministry committee when we were discussing the needs of people in my church that I felt the most selfish.  The other three people on the committee were discussing these needs–some of them pretty dire–and I realized I hadn’t really been giving them any thought, because I so very, very passionately want my novel–The Price We Paid, formerly Shea–to be published.  And this #Pitchwars contest had given me hope that a little mentoring might get me there.

With a little distance now, I know it was a good experience.  I am still surprised by how approachable the mentors were to unpublished authors with questions and how much time they put into their responses to the people they chose not to mentor.  I think I realized later that the contest was not for literary fiction, and hence, not the best venue for my novel.  I don’t mean that in a snobbish sense, but in the sense that the mentors who were critiquing adult fiction had a background in commercial and genre fiction.  The mentors who commented said I should look for agents who represented literary fiction.

I also got good ideas for sharpening my query.  For example, I think I’m going to have to cut out the Hosea and Gomer reference from all future queries, which hurts a little, since Hosea’s love life was the epiphany that led to the novel.  But in my last conversation with Jim Loney, who is taking over CPTnet part of the time when I’m gone, he told me he had forgotten the connection the novel had with the biblical story, and he’s one of the novel’s strongest advocates.

Right before I left, I did a 35 word pitch for the novel in #Pitchmas, knowing I’d be in Hebron when the “Winners” were announced (75 pitches get posted on a blog.  Agents pick from among the pitches.)  Usually, when I’m on assignment, the work has a way of engaging most of my attention, so I’m hoping the Twitter feed won’t take up as much of my time (our Hebron apartment has spotty internet, anyway.)

Years ago, when I got a fellowship to workshop my first novel manuscript with Lee K. Abbott, based on the first chapter I submitted, he asked if I had completed the novel.  Upon learning I had, he said the good news was that most aspiring writers never do that.  The bad news was that I would probably have to write five before I got published.  And I do have the beginnings of a fourth beginning to inkle about in my brain.

But I am not finished with The Price We Paid.  Apart from all the ignoble reasons I want it published, I believe in it; I believe it has a life and that I am supposed to advocate for that life.  I just wish I were a better promoter.

UPDATE: My Twitter Pitch ( “A” stands for “Adult”) was not chosen for the 75  “Pitchmas” pitches: “A/ Literary Dystopian Iz cheats on his wife but also helps her bring down corrupt religious regime that rules U.S. during 2065-2089 #Pitchmas”  Again, I’m not sure literary novels lend themselves to Twitter-length pitches.


#Pitchwars Mentee Bio

markieand tank blogI have to write about 100 tweets today for my organization Christian Peacemaker Team’s #GivingTuesday campaign and I’m leaving town tomorrow to speak at a conference, so I’m kinda going to cheat by just pasting in a short bio from the first page of my blog:

Author Kathleen Kern has worked as a human rights advocate with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) since 1993, serving on assignments in Haiti, Washington, DC, Palestine, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and with indigenous nations in the U.S. and Mexico. She has authored two histories of CPT– In Harm’s Way: A History of Christian Peacemaker Teams (Cascade 2009); As Resident Aliens: Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank, 1995-2005 (Cascade 2010)–and her work has appeared in Tikkun, The Christian Century, and The Baltimore Sun. Her first novel, Where Such Unmaking Reigns, was selected as a finalist for Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize.

If you go to the first page of my blog,you’ll see that people said some nice things about my Indie novel Because the Angels.  In addition to my @KathleenKern Twitter account, which reflects the mishmash of my writing and political life, I have an @FakeNovelPitch Twitter account, which, well, is like this:

  1. SciFi genre: In future, #CyberMonday is day Hallmark makes people feel obligated to give cyborgs, robots gifts, cards

  2. #Fantasy genre: Nomadic elves and dwarves battle over sacred campground before they erect their tents in #Pitchwars.

  3. #Dystopian: Big Corporation Sunday, to follow #SmallBusinessSaturday declared legal holiday. Citizens forced to shop.

  4. #Sportsfiction genre: Suzie perfects her metacarpal ball preparing to take on the Big League pitchers in #Pitchwars.

  5. #GraphicNovel: Scabby the Rat infects Chicago w/plague of lethal psoriasis. Will hospital workers unionize in time?

  6. #PoliticalThriller: Journalist Ace Tabby uncovers crypto-nazi from #PopcornTheTurkey‘s past; code name: Ayatollah Ebola

  7. #PoliticalThriller: Evil genius, #PopcorntheTurkey, leaks false intelligence that nuclear weapons cache found in Iran.

  8. #Dystopian genre: #Zombieapocalypse averted; Zombies lose all sense of meaning for their unlives; must enter therapy.

  9. #PsychThriller: Svengali behind #MileyCyrus personality change turns out to be pardoned sociopathic turkey Popcorn.

    I do take submissions for Fake Novel Pitches, by the way.  Rules are, you have to leave 21 characters for retweeting (that way, you get the credit); they can’t be racist, homophobic, sexist, etc.; absurd is good, and publication is entirely according to my whim.