I'm not the world's expert on this, and I'm obviously not an agent. But I have participated in a few of these, I've read all the rules carefully, and I've gotten a disproportionately large number of requests from these pitch parties. Plus, I'm a total twitter-addict and I feel safe in saying that I understand the "rules" of twitter and twitter parties.
1. Don't tweet all of your successes on the hashtag.
You can tweet that you got some bites, but don't tweet every single success. One tweeter sent out a tweet every. single. time. she received a request from an agent, and she did it in rapid-fire succession. It looks like you're gloating, and it spams up the tag.
Be excited, tweet off the hashtag (just don't put the # in front of the tag, for example), DM a friend, email, text, call, whatever. Just don't be a Gloaty McGloater Pants and spam up everyone's feed. You're making it harder for agents to see other tweets.
2. Make sure your story, and the stakes, are clear.
You do not want people to read your tweet-pitch and say, "What?!"
"Joey must decide if his shoes are important enough to stop the war against the elves. #Adult #Romance"
"Teenage witch Angie accidentally invents a new super robot and then falls in love with it. #Adult #Thriller"
These are made-up examples, but I promise you, they are no less confusing than a lot of the tweets I see on pitch parties. Yes, your pitch needs to be catchy, but it also needs to make sense. I promise, something that makes sense will trump a catchy piece of nonsense any day of the week.
Here's an example of what your pitch should look like:
Stakes are clear: girl needs to save her brother and overcome a family curse. The words "quest" and "curse" lead me to believe this is speculative fiction of some kind, though the author goes on to clarify that it's magical realism. It's succinct, it's clear, and it makes you wonder how the problem can possibly be solved.Boy taken in the night. Family curse that spans 3 generations. Girl on a quest to save her bro, even if it means her own life #AdPit MagiRel— Tess Martin Adams (@tessmartinadams) October 16, 2013
3. Your category needs to be clear.
If you're pitching in an all-adult twitter party, then you better be writing adult fiction. If you're pitching in an all-YA twitter party, then you better be writing YA fiction. Same goes for those "children's" pitch parties that accept all PB/MG/YA pitches - don't pitch an adult fairy tale and insist that it's "good for all ages".
DO NOT pitch if you don't meet the qualifications to pitch. Nobody will believe that your 17-year-old protagonist is so mature that she's really a New Adult character, or that your 24-year-old mother is so fun and ironic that teens will love her and you'll sell like crazy in the YA section.
Know your category and stick to it. Another pitch party for your category will come around, don't worry :)
4. Your genre needs to be clear.
If you genre is not clear in your pitch (more on that in a second) and you have the extra characters, please, please add your genre to the tweet. Abbreviations are fine. Fant = fantasy. UF = urban fantasy. Para = paranormal. R = romance. Thr = thriller. Lit = literary. You get the idea.
If you're pitching genre fiction, your genre should be pretty obvious from the words you use in your pitch. This won't always happen of course, but it should happen more often that it does. Words like "magic" and "sorcery" and the names of fantasy creatures like fairies, wizards, unicorns, centaurs, dragons, and elves tip us off that the story is a fantasy. (If it's not high/epic fantasy, you can specify urban fantasy with a quick "UF" at the end of your tweet). Vampires and werewolves are obviously paranormal, and you don't need to specify it. Time travel, robots, cyborgs, spaceships, and such all signify science fiction. If you use one of those terms in your tweet, you don't need to label the genre, it just takes up characters in your tweet that you can put to another use.
Pitching a story that sounds like science fiction but then tagging it with #Romance doesn't make you sound like a genre-bending genius, it makes you sound like you don't know what you're doing. You probably DO know what you're doing, so make your pitch reflect that.
5. Follow the rules.
This really should go without saying, but alas. It does not.
If the party hosts ask you to only pitch once per hour, that's your limit.
If there are category qualifications, or genre specifications, follow them. Don't pretend you wrote a science fiction novel when the most "science" in your story is the cell phone your main character uses to text her boyfriend. You're just wasting everybody's time (including your own).
There are unspoken rules in every twitter pitch party:
Don't favorite tweets unless you are an agent or editor requesting work.
Don't post fake pitches unless you tag them #FakePitch. I know. It's fun. But don't ruin the tag for everybody.
Don't post unless you're ready to submit TODAY.
Don't tweet directly at an agent or editor.
Don't promote other stuff on the tag. That's called spam and it sucks. If you have relevant information, post that, but don't post links to your books or promote giveaways or whatever.
6. Support others
Retweet their pitches. Respond to their pitches with a compliment or a question. Follow somebody who made a pitch that you love. Lots of ways to share the love, and support is what makes this community so great :)
7. Make your pitch as "proper" as possible.
I know. 140 characters is not a lot, especially when some of them are eaten up by the necessary hashtag. But PLEASE make your pitch as clean as possible. Substituting "your" for "you're" just because it's two fewer characters is not acceptable, and nobody will assume you're saving space. They'll assume you don't know the difference.
Use numerals if you have to, but only two describe a number of things. "2" instead of "two" is acceptable, but "2" instead of "to" or "too" is not.
Yes, this will require some tinkering, but it will be worth it. When others are shouting improper nonsense into the interwebs, you'll look a lot better by comparison.
Of course, this is all just advice, and you should treat it accordingly. But, I promise, I'm not trying to sabotage anybody or stop anybody from pitching. Quite the opposite: I want you to pitch, and I want you to do it well. I'd love to cheer you on as you make your way in this messy world of publishing :)
Go forth. Tweet. Pitch. And win the day.
Edited to add Rule #8:
Do NOT, under any circumstances, tweet your pitch, and then spend the rest of the day tweeting "Scroll down to see my pitch." Or "Visit my website to see my pitch." No. You play by the rules, and you do not make agents and editors work for the opportunity to see your pitch.
Similar: Do not say "Request my work and then we'll talk about my pitch. It's too complicated for twitter."
Okay. Now you may go forth and tweet and pitch and win.
EDIT: The rules of how often you can pitch have changed. Please follow the new rules on Brenda Drake's profile.