So this post is a descendent many times over of the post I made after my first PitMad a little over a year ago.
In that time I’ve learned a ton, shelved a project, written a new book, revised it repeatedly and started pitching the new project. And did I mention? I’ve learned a TON.
The reason I’m going to focus on Twitter pitches is because the amazing C.E. Murphy has already written a fabulous post on Elevator/35-word pitches that is my go to source. It’s also important to note that I’m talking Twitter Pitches because there’s no gatekeepers when you’re a debut for Twitter pitches like there may be for Elevator or 35-Word Pitches. Contests are amazing, but they have way too many variables to control for.
So, without further ado, I’ll get into what I’ve learned since the last time I broached the topic.
Know Your Audience
In the business world I’ve learned a whole lot about creating and running a business, and I’ve worked in (and run) almost every department. The hardest for me has always been advertising, because I’m not confident in visual messages, but I never worried about Marketing because I’m used to analyzing groups people for consistent traits.
When you’re crafting a pitch, it’s key to think about who it is that’s going to be reading the pitch. In this particular case it’s Agents and Publishers. These are people who spend all their time pitching and being pitched books. As a result, they aren’t looking for the basics.
A lot of pitching advice comes down to ZOMG STAKES. (And if you don’t have stakes in your query ZOMG!) But for Twitter Pitches, you don’t have time for ZOMG STAKES. You only have time to piqué someone’s interest.
Instead, it helps to always be focusing on what makes your story special. What they may not have seen. How it’s a combination of elements that don’t normally go together. Every story should have something special, and if you find your story doesn’t, it might be worthwhile re-evaluating whether or not you’re ready for pitching/trad-publishing.
Your audience, the agents and publishers, have seen everything under the sun, even if they’re new. So focus in on the special and leave the broad overview for your query.
Know Your Market
So, okay, you’re focusing on the special. Great. What’s special? That’s where knowing your market comes in. You should be aware of what’s recently published in your category/genre, but you should also be aware of what your fellow hopeful debut writers are putting out there as well. There are thousands of ways to get an idea of what that looks like!
You can read the last #PitMad. You can read through the contest entries. You can read through contest feeds. You can volunteer to help people with their pitches.
In doing all of this, you have to remember THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT YOUR COMPETITION.
Your fellow debut hopefuls are your co-workers. Your compatriots. They’re your future fellow bestsellers! The only thing you can’t have if your books are similar is the same agent! And, guess what, due to their writing style, their subject, their experience, you probably aren’t even compatible with their agent anyway! So volunteer, help, give back to the community, but learn from them as well.
By helping others find what’s special in theirs you start to see a couple things.
a) What works in pitches, and
b) What other people don’t do that you do.
PLUS, extra bonus! You make TONS of writing friends who know exactly what you’re going through.
Not all Categories/Genres are Created Equal
Now that you’ve looked at a hundred other pitches, queries, first pages, and maybe even MSs. You start to notice that how you’d entice someone who loves Romance novels is not the same as you’d entice someone who loves MG adventure stories. This is where ZOMG STAKES may come into things. In an MG Adventure story the Stakes are almost always SAVE THE WORLD AHHHH! While in Romance it’s more often than not: get the guy. These tropes are the building blocks of approaching the different Categories/Genres.
Romance readers are going to invest in a relationship, so you want to give them the characters they’re going to fall in love with.
MG Adventure stories are about a character and how they fit in their particular world.
YA is often about how the character is going to fit within themselves.
The consistency is characters, the differences are what part of the characters matter most. Figure that out for your category/genre and hit it hard.
Divide and Conquer
I had long suspected, and finally got some hints this #PitMad that agents don’t just favorite based on the one pitch they come across. They compare your pitches to date and favorite the big picture. That means you have some flexibility. Create one pitch about the plot. Another about the relationships. A third about the MC. Drill in tight on the special in each separate pitch, so when they’re taken all together someone can see more than 140 characters allow.
Now that you’re dividing, make some gambles. Especially in the events that allow for multiple pitches. Something like #SFFpit with 10 pitches, you should be trying out 10 different pitches if at all possible. With #PitMad down to 3 you should have experimented and figured out what is working. But in all cases, do not write just as many pitches as are allowed. Write as many stupid, amazing, weird, fun, silly pitches as you can come up with and shop them with the people who are following the instruction to know their market. Figure out what resonates. See what’s totally unlike anything anyone else is putting out there.
Always Include Voice and Tone
OK, so you’ve drilled in, found what’s special. Written sentences that show precisely what is unique about your plot, or characters, or relationships, or world. Now look at them again and make sure they sound like your book. One trick is to write it as if your MC were explaining it. Another is to swap out the basic words you’ve chosen for other words that have more heft, or meanings.
Here’s one of my pitches:
Aboard the Floating Circus, young shifter Rhee becomes anything she wants, except who she really is.
I’ve got worldbuilding in the “Floating Circus” and “young shifter”. I’ve got vague stakes… or do I? I say she’s a shifter so “…become anything she wants…” I clearly mean that literally. “…except who she really is” I mean figuratively. This is how my MC would describe it. I chose these words because they feel like a teenager to me. They feel like someone super confident about her ability to take over the world one second and totally defeated by what is allowed of her. This has SO LITTLE of my story in it, but it feels like my story.
I pair this with comps that are modern and old. My favorite comps are RED QUEEN – a non-medieval European fantasy with political overtones, and CARNIVÀLE – A long cancelled TV Show about a gritty circus with Magical Realism overtones. I dislike using NIGHT CIRCUS which is also a circus with MR overtones because it’s not the least bit gritty.
This is how I communicate tone and voice with the minimal amount of words focusing on what’s not like the billion other magical circus books being queried right now. (And there are, but none that sound like mine!)
Yes, I realize this is a lot more about theory and homework and not a magical formula that you can just plug your words into, but I hope it helps all the same!