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. 

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. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PitchWars Mentee Bio

About Me: 

I am a homeschooling mom. That takes up the bulk of my time. I have five children - all boys - two of which we just adopted from the foster system. Three of these children have special needs. Some of this is the natural result of two and a half years in the foster system, including five different placements, but the reality for us remains the same: The kids all need a ton of attention all day long. So that's what I do. I teach. I do physical therapy. Speech therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy. And then I clean up afterwards.

Lest you think I've thrown myself to the wolves, I have a master's degree in early childhood development and education, with a certificate in autism spectrum education. No. It did not all fit on my diploma.

I've been married to the funniest guy I know for eleven years. He's awesome. He's also an attorney, so a favorite game of ours is to watch TV dramas and yell about how inaccurate they are (Veronica Mars, we are most definitely looking at you).

Other than the mom-thing, and the wife-thing, and the reading-and-writing-thing, I really, really love to cook and bake. I don't get to do it enough because life just gets in the way, but the kitchen relaxes me. As long as I don't think about dishes.

I also eat a lot of burritos and wear a lot of really high heels.

My Writing: 

I write adult fantasy. I wrote one YA/NA romance (before NA existed as a category, really). It was cheesy and made me realize I really didn't enjoy writing those kind of books, and I should leave it to the people who love them.

So fantasy it is. The novel I subbed to PitchWars is WAKING BEAUTY, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It's part of a larger series of novels in which the traditional villains are actually the heroes.

This idea came around by combining two ideas:

1. History is written by the winners. Snow White "won" her battle, and so she tells the world what her stepmother was like, and we all believe her.

2. Every villain believes themselves to be the hero of their own story. Maybe that "evil" stepmother had a totally legitimate reason for trying to kill her stepdaughter... did you ever stop to think about her feelings in this whole thing?

WAKING BEAUTY is set in a desert kingdom, inspired by ancient Persia, but by no means is it actually ancient Persia. The characters are all dark-skinned, ranging from what we would consider Middle-Eastern to Sub-Saharan African skin tones. I did this because when considering the desert setting, I recognized that the indigenous peoples of hot desert climates are overwhelmingly dark-skinned. It would have been disingenuine to pretend otherwise.

The stories, from Snow White to Sleeping Beauty and all the others that are planned, are all part of a shared universe. The events intersect, but each book stands 100% on its own. You need not read Sleeping Beauty to understand Snow White, and vice versa, even though they share a continent.

What I'm Hoping For: 

I am hoping for that oomph. The je ne sai quois. My last manuscript (the second I wrote) received lots of full requests, each ultimately rejected for a different reason. There is no fatal flaw, except that nobody really connected with it. I want help figuring out how to fill that gap.

I'm willing to change just about everything. Pacing, specific events, characterizations, dialog, magic system, creatures, even the "twists" along the way. I'm willing to change it to present tense, if somebody really thinks that will work. Character names, the title, all of it is up for grabs.

I won't consider changing the POV or format, even though it's unusual. I won't change my ending, even though it's not a Happily Ever After. It has to be bittersweet. It won't work any other way. I tried. Three times.

I'm hoping for a mentor that will read it, give me notes, and be willing to discuss them a little bit afterward. Then possibly read through a tricky scene or two when it comes time to actually, you know, pitch the darn thing.

What I'm NOT Expecting: 

I'm not expecting to get in, honestly. We have, what, a 6% chance of getting in? Them's slim odds...

I'm not expecting someone to shower praise on me.

I'm not expecting a lot of feedback if I don't get in. Crossing my fingers and hoping for a "I didn't pick you because of this one thing you can fix, sorry". That would be amazing.

I'm not expecting someone to hold my hand through these revisions. I'm not expecting someone to do a ton of copy-editing and proofreading for me. I'm not expecting someone to read my book four times between now and November.

So that's it. That's me.

Thank you for doing this, for giving of your time and your talent, for helping others get better. The hashtag has been exceptionally helpful, seeing tips and hints for how to improve. I'm so grateful to everyone who has put in their time to make this contest happen. Even with a 94% chance of not getting in, I've had one heck of a time thus far :)