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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thoughts on Pitch Contests

PitchMas is just around the corner and let me tell you... I'm excited. EXCITED. Because I love me a good pitch contest. I know some agents don't participate in those contests because they get so many queries they don't feel the need or have the time to take part. Well, they're right... pitch contests (depending on their elaborateness) can be time-consuming and brain-melting, but there's always this undying hope to find a gem, the one in a million. Maybe it's the thrill of the hunt, maybe it's the oooh, that agent likes this pitch, perhaps I should check it out, too. Whatever it is, it works for me. I've participated in quite a few pitch contests, both blog contests and Twitter pitch parties. Blog contests are usually quite calm and organised, Twitter pitch parties, on the other hand, tend to be absolutely MANIC.  Manic as in OMG. I just refreshed my Twitter feed and there are already 97 new tweets. I will never ever eat, drink, or sleep again, but I love love love it. 

But who cares about that madness when you find awesomeness you never expected to find? I've requested (and even signed) stories I didn't even know I was looking for. That's what I love about these contests. I can browse pitches, sometimes short reading samples, and there are moments when you find something you never thought you'd want to read, but there's this pitch that hooks you, and you just have to check it out. Before I started doing pitch contests, I didn't know I wanted to do Middle Grade. It just hadn't occured to me. I was so set on doing YA (besides adult), but then there were contest entries that showed me that MG is an AWESOME genre (or age group, whatever you wanna call it), and here we go, I'm totally in love with contemporary MG now. Who would have thought...

I think pitch contetsts are a fabulous chance for unagented writers. You get your work out there for agents (and sometimes editors) to see without having to query them all individually. A request means you've already sparked my interest so I will prioritise your submission over a normal query, so it's a bit like the fast lane of the querying process. And then there's the learning curve even if you don't get any requests. You get the chance to look at pitches/ tweets that got requests and get an idea of what might or might not work. I seriously can't think of any cons right now. (If you can think of any, please comment below!)

But these things are only fun when everybody taking part respects the rules, and even more importantly, the other participants. Some of you might not even have an idea how much time and hard work goes into organising and pulling off a great blog pitch contest, so always make sure to follow the rules the contest hosts have come up with. They're doing the contest for YOU, after all. And they're doing it voluntarily, in their own spare time.

Since Twitter pitch parties are open to everyone, from newbies to experienced Twitter pitchers, it's hard to enforce rules, but here's my dos and don'ts from an agent's perspective.

Dos:

The biggest rules since Twitter Pitch Party rules: only pitch if you are unagented and have a finished and polished manuscript. This is non-negotiable.

Mention the genre if you have characters left. I know, squeezing a pitch, the hashtag (i.e. #PitMad), AND the genre into 140 characters is tricky, but the genre can really make a difference. I want to know if it's adult (A) or children's fiction (e.g. MG or YA), if it's Sci-fi (SF), Fantasy (F), Paranormal Romance (PNR), or not. This information can really make or break a pitch for me. If I'm unsure, I will probably not request.

Focus on your hook. I see many pitches that are far too general, like "Boy meets girl. Things happen. Will they stay together?" This probably describes about 72.5% of all stories out there. Tell me what sets your story apart from all the others. What's so special about THIS boy, THIS girl, and THEIR story? Similarly, pitches like "Boy + girl + change = no happy end?" -- too general. The formula can work, but again, this specific example doesn't really make me want to read the story.

Again, focus on your hook. And what your story really is about. I've received requested material where the story wasn't actually about what the original pitch had promised. If your pitch mentions an unorthodox family structure and your story is about a family of dragons, I might feel slightly... misled.

An agent has favourited your pitch? Fabulous. That's a request. (Wahey!!) Check out their Twitter to find out what they want you to send in. Most agents have very specific "If I favourite your pitch, please..." tweets somewhere on their timeline.

When you send in your material, include the Twitter pitch party hashtag in your subject line, like "PitMad request: TITLE."

If you're super pro, you paste the original Twitter pitch I favourited into your query. It really helps to jog my memory and saves me the time to find your pitch in my favourited tweets.


Dont's:

Do not -- NOT -- spam us. If you tweet the same (or only slightly altered) pitch 50 times an hour, I will not request. Simply because you've managed to annoy me already. I'm serious -- your whole attitude during a contest or query process gives me a clue what it'll be like to work with you. Also, if agents are checking out the pitches (and they usually let you know when they're about the hit the feed), and you tweet yours once or twice, they WILL see it. If you've sent 50 tweets within an hour and haven't received a request, it's definitely NOT because we didn't see it. Trust me. I totally understand that you want to get your pitch seen, but I have bowed out of pitch parties before, just because it was the same pitches over and over and over and over again. Please don't be selfish and ruin it for everyone else.

Don't tweet your pitches to me directly. When I'm on the hashtag, I make sure to check out ALL the incoming pitches, so again, I WILL see yours. If you think your story is exactly what I'm looking for, query me. I'm always open to submissions. But please don't clog up my personal Twitter. (Those agents who want you to pitch to them directly will let you know.) I've also seen writers tweet their pitches to other agents directly, and even though I thought it sounded interesting, I didn't favourite it because I felt like the writer only wanted the other agent.

Don't tweet links to your Goodreads, Amazon, or other sites. We will NOT click on them.

Do not lie about requests. It doesn't happen very often, but... well, it does happen occasionally. If you send me your material claiming I requested it during a contest and I didn't, I will find out. To be on the safe side, if I've requested your pitch, you might not want to delete that pitch before I get back to you.

You don't have to send your material to every requesting agent/ editor. It's an invitation for you to submit your manuscript, but it's not an obligation. If you already know that you don't want to work with that agent or editor/ press, there really is no point. It's just a waste of your (and our) time, so focus on those agents/ editors you'd like to partner up with. Similarly, if you're set on finding an agent before getting published, really think about sending your work to a small press. Normally, if you were querying, we'd tell you not to submit to agents and editors at the same time. I know contests can make this difficult... I just want you to be aware of this.

I think this is all from me right now. I'm sure there are tons of great points I forgot to include, so feel free to leave a comment with your questions and/ or remarks. :)

See you at the next Twitter pitch party.

~Julia





Come on, did you really think I wouldn't post a picture of Monsieur Efron? You must not know me very well...





19 comments:

  1. Question: So if we were to tweet a pitch with a link to a sample--would agents go look at it?

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    1. To be honest... probably not. I know I wouldn't. Twitter pitch parties are just too crazy, and if everyone started tweeting links to reading samples, it'd get even crazier.

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    2. Good know. Now I don't have to try and squeeze it in. Thanks.

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    3. Yes, save those precious characters for your actual pitch! :)

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    4. Thank you for all the advice! Even though I have already queried you, I deeply respect you and I am so excited for PItchmas! :-)

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    5. Thanks so much!! And I hope Pitchmas works out for you. Good luck.

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    6. Most people have a website link on their Twitter home page. If an agent or anyone else really wants to do research on you, they can do it easily. No need to clog your pitch up with links.

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    7. It was really hard to whittle my book down into the 140 characters plus the hash tag information, although I think based on the subject matter, it'll be pretty obvious what category/grade level my book is for.

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  2. Awesome advice. I would add that it really pays off to look at past twitter pitches that were successful. Doing that helped me realize that I was barking up the wrong tree with the pitches I had written. It also helped me understand what it's like for agents and editors doing these contests. They have to read and judge a LOT of pitches without getting jaded. It really encouraged me to make my pitch succinct and to the point instead of gimmicky and distracting.

    Question for you: I've been encouraged to tweet my pitch during a contest no more than twice per hour. I have several different version of twitter pitches written and can't decide between them. Would you suggest I pick what I think is the best and send that one every hour, or is it beneficial to keep things fresh and pitch the different versions throughout the day? Would that confuse the agents and editors too much?

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    1. Thanks for your input. I'd try the different versions throughout the day. That gives you a chance to see which one works best (or not at all). I've had the case before where I saw a pitch for a story that sounded like it had potential, but the pitch itself was weak. The writer then tweeted a different pitch (for the same story) and it sounded awesome, so I ended up favouriting that one. :) But yes, sticking to two tweets per hour sounds perfect.

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  3. I'm so glad you posted these do's and don'ts, and I'm excited that you're excited for PitchMAS! xo

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    1. I'm excited that you're excited that I'm excited. :)

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  4. Again, Julia, I am SO glad you joined the YA Stands family!! Great insights!

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  5. I will add: Twitter likes to block tweets that look like spam. If you pitch the same tweet, it could get trashed by the Twitter Patrol. Just changing a word with a synonym, or moving category/genre from front to end of a sentence, during one Tweet to another can make a difference.

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  6. Thank you so much! This is an enormous help, as I'm preparing to send in requests from PitchMas. :)

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  7. Thank you for this information Julia! (I almost direct tweeted you by accident because every time I typed my main characters name it would drop down to suggest you! - Reallllyyy glad I caught that)! This was my first #PitMad pitch party, and now I know what I should & shouldn't do for the next ones.

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  8. Awesome tip about screenshotting the requested pitch! Hopefully I'll get a request for #SFFPit and can make use of that little tidbit :)

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