Friday, August 22, 2014

Ten Tips for Twitter Pitching

With WriteOnCon underway, and PitMad coming up, tis the season to be honing those twitter pitches. I've participated in several of these twitter pitch sessions and have had a good amount of success with them. Across two manuscripts, five twitter pitch sessions, I've generated over 80 requests. I joked the other day that I am better at twitter pitching than I am at writing books, and nobody disagreed. Even the people who have read my books. So. 

Of course, twitter requests won't automatically turn into full requests, and especially not representation or a contract if your book isn't ready. Like, ready-ready. I can't help you with that. 

But I can help you with your twitter pitch. 

1. Use correct grammar. A "complete" pitch won't help you if it's incomprehensible. Consider the following: 
In order 2 sav the wrld Lydie needs 2 work against the evil overlord with a plan. WerewolvesNVampiresNGhosts get involved with her #PitMad 
This looks unprofessional, thrown together, and lazy. Skipping punctuation can be okay, especially if it's just the period at the end of the sentence, but don't sacrifice clarity to find a couple extra characters in your tweet-space. Do NOT substitute "your" for "you're" and don't you dare use numbers in place of words unless you're replacing the spelled-out-word. "2" is acceptable if you are replacing "two" but not "to" or "too." 

2. Your pitch MUST fit on one tweet. You cannot tweet two- or three-part pitches and expect someone to keep up. You cannot write a blog post and tweet "Click here for my pitch". Make room for the hashtag. Try to include your category or genre, if possible. If not, make those clear in your pitch itself. 

3. Use genre code words. Your space is limited and "fantasy" "sci-fi" "thriller" "romance" and such all use up valuable space. If you can manage to encode your genre in your pitch, you save valuable space. Compare the next two tweets: 
Her mother's cryptic journal. An ancient spell. A prince on the run. Waking Sleeping Beauty was simpler when it was just a dragon. #PitMad
When Nadina finds Tav, she convinces him to cross the desert with her in order to save an old childhood friend. #PitMad 
Both pitches reference components of the same story, but one is very obviously fantasy. The first uses "spell" and "dragon" - both are pretty definitively fantasy. Arguably, "prince" and "sleeping beauty" help to underscore the genre. The second could literally be any genre, any age category. In fact, using the word "childhood" implies (at least to me) that it's YA, or that it's literary and we're delving into Nadina's past. 

If you're writing sci-fi, use "droids" and "cyborgs" (if they're in your story), romance can be conveyed with "steamy" and descriptions of the love interest, YA contemp can use more slang, and so on. Dig in and find ways to logically work these into your pitch. 

4. Write it out, then re-write it with more powerful words. Consider the same tweet from the example above (this tweet generated five requests from agents/editors): 
Her mother's cryptic journal. An ancient spell. A prince on the run. Waking Sleeping Beauty was simpler when it was just a dragon. #PitMad
"Cryptic" started as "mysterious" - which was too long and too vague. "Ancient" wasn't in the first draft of this tweet. I'd called him a "handsome prince" the first time, and didn't include that he was "on the run". And instead of comparing this version of Sleeping Beauty to previous versions ("simpler when it was just a dragon"), I'd originally just said it was Sleeping Beauty they were after. 

So it looked like this: 
Her mother's mysterious journal, a spell, and a handsome prince to keep her company while they try to wake up Sleeping Beauty. 
YAWN. 

Use punchy, descriptive, unusual words whenever possible. Don't go nuts with your thesaurus... just be different. This helps in query writing, too. 

5. Watch the hashtag and adjust accordingly. Every pitch session, a different kind of pitch will come into popularity and you want to NOT use that kind of pitch. Here are the most common types of pitches I see: 
  • The checklist. "Private lessons with Dumbledore. A new teacher with a fondness for fame. Teenagers in love. A dive into Voldemort's past." 

  • The X-meets-Y. "Zombie apocalypse meets Jane Austen." Note: in order for this pitch to work, make sure your juxtapositions are actually juxtaposed. "Buffy meets Veronica Mars" isn't a good pitch because those two things are too similar - both blonde, pretty teenaged girls, mixed up in dark, dangerous work that should be way out of their league. Similarly, don't say "Buffy meets fairy princess." Buffy IS the juxtaposition in and of herself. She's a cheerleader, and a petite, pretty girl that you don't expect to be slaying monsters. Crossing a pretty girl with a fairy princess isn't really a cross. 

  • The rhetorical question. "What if Buffy went down the rabbit hole instead of Alice?" This is a pitch that L.L. McKinney has pitched, and it's a perfect example of this type of pitch. You know automatically that you're looking at a YA horror-ish story, with a fantasy/retelling type of twist. It's pithy and it paints a very vivid picture right up front. 

  • The when-and-then. "When Lucy finds a hidden world inside a wardrobe she and her siblings are put into a war against a witch and her eternal winter"
There's nothing - I repeat: NOTHING - wrong with any of these formulas. In fact, they are excellent starting points when writing your pitches. Just watch out for being one-of-many using the exact same formula during the same contest.

6. Watch the hashtag and adjust accordingly, part 2. Also avoid using words and terms that pop up a lot on that particular day. Sometimes, Buffy is used in about half of the pitches, it seems. Other times a phrase or word gets bandied around a lot. One time, I was pitching a Snow White retelling, and for some reason there were about forty other people using the word "princess" in their pitches. I had to avoid it, lest my pitches blend in with all the others.

7. Don't use more than one character name, two tops. We don't care who all these people are. "Bek and her BFF" is better than "Bek and Alyssa". First, it shows that Bek is unequivocally your main character. Second, it's voicey. And arguably, third, it gives category and possibly genre. Sometimes a second character name is okay, but definitely not a third. Just give their function: evil overlord, half-giant teacher, droid sidekick, etc. 


8. Lean toward shorter sentences. They're just easier to read. The stream moves quickly and you don't want to lose someone's attention for something silly like long sentences. 


8b. Use simple sentence construction. It's a continuation of the same rule, but deserves its own mention. This cuts down on punctuation, which saves you space. And again, the stream moves quickly and you want people to be able to read and understand your pitch in just a few seconds.

9. Use industry-standard abbreviations. There are enough writers, agents, and editors on twitter that some common abbreviations have developed. These are perfectly okay to use in your pitch and don't violate Rule #1. Some of the abbreviations I know of: 

  • LI: Love Interest
  • MC: Main Character
  • POV: Point of View
  • SFF: Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • CR: Contemporary Romance
  • PB: Picture Book
  • YA: Young Adult
  • MG: Middle Grade
  • NA: New Adult
  • UF: Urban Fantasy
  • PNR: Paranormal Romance
  • HEA: Happily Ever After
10. Mix it up. These pitch events usually last for twelve hours or so, and you're allowed to pitch twice per hour. That means you have twenty four opportunities to catch an agent's attention. DON'T waste these by using the same two pitches over and over. Despite the timeline moving quickly, those two pitches will look stale by the end of the day. For my Sleeping Beauty manuscript, I crafted thirteen different pitches and kept track of how effective they were. I counted retweets and favorites, and especially tracked favorites from agents that I specifically wanted to work with. 

Bonus 11th tip that I thought of later: Don't try to "capture" your whole novel. Your novel is something 80-100k words. You cannot possibly capture its entire essence in a sentence or two. Don't try. Look at the examples I gave for HALF-BLOOD PRINCE and THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE.


Private lessons with Dumbledore. A new teacher with a fondness for fame. Teenagers in love. A dive into Voldemort's past.
When Lucy finds a hidden world inside a wardrobe she and her siblings are put into a war against a witch and her eternal winter
Do we mention the allegory embedded in Lucy's story? No. We didn't mention the titular lion, either (though the witch and the wardrobe both make an appearance). And for crying out loud, we didn't even mention the half-blood prince in the pitch about the half-blood prince. 

Your job in a twitter pitch party is to catch an agent or editor's attention. PERIOD. 

Don't lie. Don't sell your book as something it's not. Don't even misrepresent your story. But don't stress about how "this pitch is missing this really neat part/aspect/character!!!" It doesn't matter. Craft another pitch that does capture that really neat part/aspect/character. The bottom line is it needs to attract attention, not encapsulate your entire work in a sentence. 

Now that you know how to do it, go check out The 7 Rules of Twitter Pitching (an etiquette post). 

EDIT: The rules of how often you can pitch have changed. Please follow the new rules on Brenda Drake's profile. 

11 comments:

  1. Ah, YOU must be Heather's friend Gina. :) Nice to meet you!

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  2. These are awesome. I'm terrible at Twitter pitches, but at least I now have a better idea what to do! Thank you.

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  3. Gearing up for the WriteOnCon pitch event and I had no idea where to start - so glad I found this. Thanks!

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  4. I'm trying to prep for Writeoncon too and this is WONDERFUL. Thank you!

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  5. All mc had to do was follow 11 simple rules to tweet herself from obscurity. If capable she'd break free from the evil computer #writeoncon ////or insert contest hash tag here.

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  6. Replies
    1. PitMad is actually tomorrow, September 9th from 8AM EDT to 8PM EDT. You can pitch twice per hour and be sure to use the correct hashtag (#PitMad - not #PitchMad!)

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  7. This is great! I have it linked from my blog at www.writeforapples.com. :)

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  8. So, this is just embarrassing, but Twitter and I are not good friends.... do I tweet on my homepage, just adding the #PitMad, and somehow the words will mysteriously make their way to the intended destination? Because I can't find a page to 'follow' to enable me to tweet on their. Sigh. Yes, my manuscript originals WERE in longhand.

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    1. Yes, when you compose a tweet, you'll include #pitmad in that tweet. This effectively means you actually have only 132 characters to spend on your pitch (seven for the hashtag, plus one for the space preceding it). Then watch your notifications for anybody favoriting those tweets. If someone favorites your pitch, go to their profile, scan their timeline and see how they want you to respond to that request. Good luck to you!

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