Monday, May 16, 2016

Pretty Little Pitches: Pitch Contests and Twitter Love

Dear Kim,

Last week I spoke with a group of writers at Life in the Spotlight. One of the authors asked me about using Twitter to reach her readers. You know I have a weak spot for The Twitter-sphere and shared my feelings as such with this writer. I think Twitter offers a great space to meet other authors, connect with teachers and librarians, share news about publishing, celebrate books, and even, for a select few, a place to nab a book deal.

In 2014 I entered Brenda Drake's PitchWars contest. This online contest provides authors of unpublished novels the opportunity to work with a mentor, polish a manuscript, and then place the manuscript in front of Brenda's team of reputable literary agents. My team, made up of Coach, Natalie Traver, and mates, Julie Dao and Jerilyn Patterson, quickly became more family than team and worked together to bring home second place in the contest. What began with a single pitch, turned into a crash course in whole novel revision, query letter writing, and, at least for me, unlocked the potential of using Twitter as a writer.

#PitchWars banner 2014

Brenda Drake is a generous host to many pitch contests on Twitter. From #PitMatch to #PitMad Brenda helps our writing community grow by fostering team challenges, hosting Twitter chats, and cheering on #PitchWars book deals. Here is a link to Brenda's 2016 pitch contests

Me, heading into the WILD WATERS of TWITTER
In reality, one of Mr. Duane Bryers' images of his Hilda.

That's how I dipped my toe into Twitter, a whopper of a contest. So, maybe dipped isn't the right word? Cannonballed? Anyway, the support I found through this Twitter event sold me on the world of Twitter for writers. It also helped cement for me the importance of developing a solid pitch. Traci Chee wrote a post analyzing the successful pitches crafted for #PitchWars. 

It seems that having a successful pitch is closely related to the information you release about the ACTION or CONFLICT within the pitch. This is no small feat on Twitter, considering in 140 characters you must give us a character to care about and a taste of the stakes. Even if you have zero interest in entering a pitch contest, analyzing successful pitches is a useful exercise in understanding how to describe your manuscript in a succinct way. 

This past week I participated in a brand new Twitter pitch contest, #PitDARK. Our host, Jason Huebinger, developed the contest for writers of dark fiction (some true crime writers were also present). I noticed similar patterns in the successful pitches, as Traci mentioned in her article for PitchWars. Even in genre fiction, agents and editors tended towards pitches that spelled out the stakes, much more so than an interesting character description or even flashy comp titles.

Here are a few successful pitches from last week's #PitDARK:




In #PitDARK I decided to pitch my YA physiological thriller, SIN. 

The full SIN manuscript has only been seen by one agent and I know that one agent isn't enough if I am serious about using it to gain representation.  #PitDARK helped me assess interest in the manuscript and helped narrow down my submission list of agents and editors interested in dark fiction. Here is the pitch that I used:


I sent off those requests on Friday and Saturday. Thanks, #PitDARK!

Just like researching your dream agent, there is a good amount of research that should go into entering online contests, especially pitch contests on Twitter. You'll see that most contests want only finished manuscripts to participate. 

One reason for this is obvious: If said agent favorites your pitch then requests to see the entire manuscript 3 days later, you are ready! But I think another, even more important reason, is so that you, as the PITCHER, really know the direction of your book from start to finish which will help you develop your best pitch. We all know that the outline of a book or the idea for an ending can derail once our characters get going, therefore, an unfinished manuscript isn't ready to have a pitch slapped on it. I would suggest sitting out a contest if your manuscript isn't finished, but watch the thread so you know what works when you do enter the next event.

Another bit of research that comes into play is time spent learning about the host of the contest and the agents/editors that they recruit. Researching your host often means finding out about the history of the contest. You may read loads of posts about success stories (YEAH!) but you may also find knowledge of the shady variety. In researching an online contest (not associated with Twitter) I found a warning about the lack of mentor support. Mentor support is what made my #PitchWars experience successful. Natalie gave (gives) helpful advice for both my manuscript and my career.

Coach Nat and her thriller, DUPLICITY.

Researching the agents and editors who request your work is likewise a smart use of time. In #PitchWars I had a number of full manuscript requests from the agents that Brenda invited to judge the contest. Shortly after the contest ended I received six additional requests for the manuscript. I had fifteen agents to research. There was one that I loved. She worked for a powerhouse of a literary agency. Only I couldn't find anywhere in all of the internet anything about her wish for dark fiction. Actually, I found quite the opposite, that she did not like horror and hated scary movies.

It was difficult for me to personalize her query letter as I couldn't connect my work to anything that she repped or that she wished to rep. I wrote the query anyway. Her rejection was short:

My research told me to expect that one. And maybe, if nothing else, that made this rejection sting just a bit less. In any case, do your research on agents, this will help you craft a personalized query, which is important.

Someday our INK SISTERS will offer a pitch contest with the added bonus of pitch coaching. We already have the theme: Pretty Little Pitches. What excites me most about hosting a pitch contest is that we will support a whole new community of YA writers. In the meantime, I'll keep working on my own pretty little pitches.

Much Love,