As the 2018 Pitch Wars Social Media director, I’ve overseen a year’s worth of #pitmad events. (If you’re unfamiliar with #pitmad, it’s a quarterly pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch. More info at the link above.)
Overseeing #pitmad consists mainly of answering questions and keeping one eye on the hashtag for twelve hours straight (with help from our wonderful volunteers, of course!). Over the past year, I’ve made observations and thought I would share with you things that can increase or decrease your chances of a successful #pitmad.
Read the Rules & FAQ and … Follow Them!
I know it seems obvious, but so many people don’t bother to read the rules or think they’re somehow above them. Every single one of these rules is there for a reason — and it’s not to be mean to you or to make your life difficult.
For example: If your pitch includes a link or a picture, there is a very good chance many agents will not see it because they use search filters to filter those out — because they need to filter these out to filter out the thousands of spam tweets!
Agents and editors can see you not following/knowing the rules, which may result in them deciding not to work with you. Why would you want to establish a long-term professional relationship with someone who has publicly demonstrated they cannot follow a basic set of guidelines?
Those tweets go by lightning fast. You gotta grab ’em from the get-go. Your first 5 words are your bread and butter in a twitter pitch. Long sentences make eyes glaze over. Unexciting details or world-building are a waste of prime real estate.
With so little space, comp titles are a great way to convey a lot in a few characters. But they’re tricky to get right. Your comp title should convey more than simply a genre or a setting.
A couple years back, everyone with a space-set book was using Firefly as a comp in their pitches, when the only thing the stories had in common was they were (partially) set on a smallish space ship. Anyone who’s seen Firefly can tell you the setting was not what set that series apart.
You want to avoid using blockbusters as your comp titles. Using only the biggest titles to ever hit your genre tells me two things:
- You haven’t read widely enough in your genre.
- You have unrealistic expectations as to the success of your book. Anyone who says “my book is the next Harry Potter” is probably not going to be a pleasure to work with.
Your comp titles also need to be current. The publishing industry has changed vastly in 40 years; show me that you’ve read something published in the last decade. Though, using a very old comp title can work if it’s paired with something new.
No Room for Vagueness
It’s a single tweet. There is no room for vague or cliched phrases. This includes phrases like:
- “more than he bargained for”
- “will never be the same”
- “an impossible choice”
- “will change everything”
- “to make matters worse”
- “an incredible journey”
Specificity is exciting.
When crafting short pitches, I’ve always found it helpful to ask the following four questions:
- Who is your main character? (like who are they, not what is their name)
- What does your MC want/need?
- What stands in the way of your MC getting what they want/need?
- What happens if they don’t get what they want/need?
Alternately, you can ask:
- Who is the protagonist?
- What choice do they face?
- What are the consequences of that choice?
In #pitmad, you’re permitted to pitch each book three times throughout the day. The number one reason a great pitch doesn’t get a like is because the agent/editor doesn’t happen to be looking at that time. So don’t post your three pitches right in a row! Space them out so you’re getting a variety of eyes on them.
No agent/editor wants to work with a cheater. In #pitmad, this includes:
- deleting tweets that get no interaction so you can post more than 3 times (yeah, we see you)
- using an image to provide more info than can fit in a tweet
- linking to a page about your book
- pretending like a previously self-published book is unpublished
- threading tweets
Vary Your Pitches
You get to try three different pitches. Don’t just use the same one over and over again with one or two words changed. If “blah blah blah blah” didn’t catch someone’s attention, it’s unlikely “blah blah blab blah” will either.
I always recommend people try at least one pitch with comp titles in it, if they can come up with (a) decent one(s).
The fun thing about #pitmad, is there is nothing to lose! You can still query people if you get no interest. You can try again next time.
Don’t… Quick Round
- Be negative about your own work
- Be negative about others’ work
- Be negative about the event/agents/editors/anything else.
- Tag agents
- Yell at well-meaning people who like tweets (let it go, it’s okay)
- Use rhetorical questions
- Use 1st person, especially if it’s creepy
- Feed the trolls
- Introduce too many characters
- Introduce unfamiliar concepts (e.g.: call it a “time travel device” rather than a “Quantum Leap Accelerator”)
Do Your Research!
Literally anyone can put up a twitter account and call themselves an agent/publisher. And there are some scams, trolls, schmagents, and well-meaning-but-bad-at-publishing-as-a-business presses out there. Do not send materials to someone before researching them fully. The Pitch Wars volunteers cannot do this research for you.
I think it’s best to decide before hand what kind of interest you’re open to before ever tweeting a pitch. If your goal is to get an agent, and at the end of the day you only have interest from small presses, there are so many emotions that it’s hard to be honest with yourself about whether or not that’s the best decision for the career you want. But if you decide ahead of time that you’d be happy to see interest from small presses, you know you’re not making an irrational decision due to emotions running high.
#pitmad is one possible path (of many) to publishing success. It should be treated as an extra opportunity, but not the foundation of your career plans. It is by no means make or break.
Make friends. Tell other people you like their pitch. Support both friends and strangers. (just don’t use the #pitmad hashtag when you do; keep that open for pitches only)
ETA: Follow-up post-#pitmad post here.