We have something special for you today! Lately we've noticed that Twitter Pitch Contests - contests where writers pitch their work to agents or editors via Twitter - are becoming a THING. We wanted you to be prepared, so we asked veteran pitch contest participant, Laura Haley, to share with us her Twitter Pitch Contest secrets. Laura has participated in contests AND she's gotten agent requests - so pay attention, friends!
First, here's more about Laura:
Laura Haley is a YA author, freelance writer and social media specialist who calls the red rock deserts of Utah home. She is also an avid reader, a mom, and a perfectly adequate unicyclist. Though she falls off frequently, she always lands on her feet.
Take it away, Laura!
How writers can make the most of Twitter Pitch Contests in 5 simple steps
Ahh, twitterpation. That lovely feeling when two animals fall in love, smile coyly at each other, and then disappear into the woods to…
Wait! Hold on a second. Let me check my email.
Twitter pitching! I’m supposed to be writing about Twitter pitching. Not twitterpation. My bad. But you know, when it really comes down to it, Twitter pitching and twitterpation aren’t all that different.
You’re putting your story on Twitter hoping to catch the attention of an agent or editor. Someone who might be interested in a long-term relationship with your manuscript, and hopefully help you publish lots of little book babies to run out into the world.
So maybe you won’t get the chance to smile coyly at each other, but I’ll tell you right now, when someone clicks that little heart on your pitch, it’ll make your heart flutter the same way as those little twitterpated cartoon animals. So here are some tips on how to make that happen.
Step 1. Be prepared.
Most contests are for completed and polished manuscripts only. Pitch contests are pretty exciting, and that excitement can push you to toss in a manuscript that isn’t completely ready. But ask yourself this: if an agent you’d really like to work with favorites your pitch, are you ready to send it to them? If you’re not, are you going to kick yourself in the butt for not being prepared? I know I would. And if you don’t submit, and pitch the project again in another contest, the idea might seem familiar and not quite as exciting to the agents that saw it last time around. Don’t waste your chance at a good first impression!
In addition to making sure that your manuscript is as ready as it can be, you should also have a query letter and synopsis ready to go. Even though a request through a pitch contest might put you a little higher on the query hierarchy, you’re still querying. Different agents will request different materials, but most will still want a query letter. And there’s always a chance someone will ask for a synopsis. Don’t wait until those requests are burning holes in your email before getting those ready to go.
Step 2. Read the rules.
Okay, this is probably really part of Step 1, but it is super important. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the contest you are entering. They’re all different, and if you don’t play by the rules, you might step on somebody’s toes. And we all know how much we like it when our toes get stepped on. So go to the blog or the website of whomever is hosting the contest and read all of the fine print, every time you participate.
Even if you’ve participated in the contest before, make sure you double check to see if anything has changed. Brenda Drake’s uber-popular #Pitmad event recently announced a significant decrease in the number of pitches a participant can make. In past contests you could tweet twice an hour, but the feed got to be so overwhelming for agents and editors that they couldn’t keep up. So in December, new rules were put in place limiting participants to three pitches during the entire contest.
Now, is anyone going to go around policing your feed to make sure you aren’t pitching more than you should? Probably not. But being respectful and following the rules isn’t going to hurt either.
Step 3. This is where we get to the hard part: It’s time to write your pitches.
140 characters isn’t very much. Especially if you have to include a hashtag, and a lot of contests suggest tagging your age category or genre if you can. It helps the agents/editors sort through the mess to find exactly what they’re looking for. That doesn’t leave much room to work with. But don’t lose hope! It can be done.
Start by identifying the most important or unique characteristics of your story. What does your main character want? And what are the stakes? These are the most important aspects of any pitch, Twitter included.
I recommend coming up with several pitches then getting some feedback. Ask your writer friends if you can. If not, many contests offer pitching workshops ahead of time. It may be in the blog comments, or a hashtag you can use for practice. If it’s there, do it! But whatever you do, get some feedback from people who don’t know your story. Throw your pitches and see what sticks.
Tips for a successful Twitter pitch:
1.) Don’t include your character’s age unless it’s a really, really important aspect of the story. If you’re writing MG or YA, the agents will be able to figure out that your MC is in that age group. If you’re not, is their age really that important?
2.) Try to avoid made up words. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you’ve probably invented some terms for what’s going on in your world. But with only 140 characters, you won’t have room to use those terms in a context that’s understandable. So try and figure out how to explain what you need to without confusing anyone.
3.) No backstory! Backstory might be important, but it’s not the main plot of your story! We want characters and we want stakes!
4.) Have several different pitches in your arsenal. Don’t just change the words around slightly or put the hashtag in a different place. Try concentrating on different stakes. Different ways to word them.
So to break it down, your pitch should convey who your character is, what they want, and what the stakes are if they don’t get it. Bonus points if you can include something that makes your character unique and your genre.
Just for fun, I’ll give you an example of some of the Twitter pitches I’ve used in the past.
First hike? Check. First kiss? Check. 27th broken bone? Check. Hiding her bone condition from the boy she loves? Dangerous. #PitchMAS #YA
Zoe hates being the girl with brittle bones, but hiding her condition from the boy she loves could leave her with a broken heart #pitmad #ya
Step 4. Time for the wind up annnnnd the pitch!
It’s time. Before hitting send on that first pitch, double-check the time zone the contest is happening in. If you’re in the window, then it’s time to toss out the first pitch. If you’re busy during the contest, use Tweetdeck. If you haven’t used it before, it’s an easy way to schedule your tweets. It will ensure that you’re pitches are properly spaced.
Once you hit send, it’s really tempting to stare at the Twitter feed and wait for those requests to come in. I would recommend not doing that. You’ll drive yourself crazy.
If you don’t have anything else to do, browse through the hashtag. See what other stories are out there that sound interesting. It’s a good way to find which pitches are working and which ones aren’t. It’s also a great chance to make new writerly friends.
Most contests discourage favoriting a pitch unless you’re an agent or editor. So don’t do it. Because it gives that writer a mini-cardiac arrest every time they get an email that someone favorited their Tweet. And it’s a brutal letdown when it’s not actually someone making a request.
But it is okay to reply! Talk to the authors. Let them know you like their pitch. Encourage them and congratulate them if they do well. Because we’re all wading through this swamp together. We might as well have friends by our side while we do.
Step 5. Mail it in!
Hopefully by the time you’ve reached step 5, you’ve gotten at least a few requests. If you haven’t, don’t let it get you down. Pitch contests like this can move extremely quickly. With thousands of ideas being thrown out into the Twitter-sphere, it isn’t always easy for agents and editors to go through all of them. It’s also possible that even though you have a great idea, it might not translate well into 140 characters. That doesn’t mean it’s not publishable. It just means that you might be better off with regular querying.
If you did get some favorites, it’s time to send it in! I know your finger is probably quivering over that send button right now, but take a minute and breathe. Before you send anything, make sure you do your research. While some of the pitch contests are only open to invited agents and editors, others are open to anyone.
Take the time to research the person who favorited your pitch. Is it someone you want to work with? Are there threads warning to beware of this person? Are they even a real agent/editor?
Also, take a minute to consider whether it’s an agent or editor and which one is a better fit for the path you envision for your book. Most people recommend against subbing to agents and editors simultaneously. It can burn some bridges. If you get a publication offer through a small press, are you ready and willing to handle the contract and everything without an agent? If you are, great! Just make sure you’re ready for whatever might happen if a “yes” lands in your inbox.
Don’t forget: you do not have to submit to anyone! You’re not going to hurt anyone’s feelings if you don’t. You need to do what’s best for you and your story!
Once you’ve made your decision, check the agent/editor’s Twitter feed to see what materials they want sent in. Then do one last sweep over your materials. Or maybe two. Better make it three just to be safe.
Read it slowly and carefully. Watch for sneaky typos, because they will get in there. When you’re really and truly convinced everything is as ready as it’s ever going to be, hit that button. Listen to the fun little sound that tells you you’ve sent your material out into the universe, and then take a minute to pat yourself on the back. Whether it lands you a deal or not, taking the step to share your work isn’t easy.
Upcoming Twitter Pitch Contests - Mark Your Calendar!
So now you’ve got all this information, and you just need somewhere to use it. Here are some upcoming Twitter pitch contests for you to check out:
February 1, 2016: Sun Vs. Snow
Open to all age categories and genres with the exception of picture books and erotica. Only the first 200 entries will be accepted, and the manuscript cannot have been featured in the agent round of any other contest.
February 3, 2016: #Pit2Pub
A chance for writers to pitch their manuscript directly to editors.
February 11, 2016: #Pitmatch
Writers are invited to pitch their work on the #pitmatch feed while agents and editors use the #mswl feed to post what they’re looking for. A team of “literary cupids” will work to match them up.
February 11, 2016: #PBPitch
An event open to picture books only.
March 7, 2016: #SonofaPitch
Open to YA, NA and adult, this event actually begins 2/15 with a round designed to help you refine your query and first 250 words. There is a free for all Twitter pitch contest on 3/7.
March 17, 2016: #Pitmad
Open to completed, polished, and unpublished manuscripts in any age category or genre. And if you have more than one manuscript that meets that definition, go for it!
That’s that. So get out there, do your best, and have some fun. And most of all, happy twitterpation. Oh, um, twitter pitching!
We'd love to hear from you in the comments! Will you be participating in one of the upcoming Twitter Pitch Contests? Let us know!
Have you participated in a Twitter Contest in the past? Share your advice in the comments!