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How To: Pitch Contests
of the Twitter variety
With DVPit right around the corner (August 1 and 2, 2022) I thought I’d write my next How To on Twitter pitch contests. These are events that take place on Twitter wherein writers (usually unagented writers looking for an agent) tweet out a 280 character book pitch. Interested agents can “like” the tweet to request materials and interested editors can retweet them. There are a lot of them each year, and not all of them have much reputable agent engagement, especially now when people are extra overloaded and there are fewer editors to submit to.
My philosophy for pitch contests is: why not? So what if no one engages? What if someone does? No harm done if you don’t net any likes you want to reach out to, but a solicited query can be a big boon when querying, as it occasionally means you’ll be prioritized.
Personally, I’ve pitched in #PitMad (rip) and #DVPit, multiple times each. My current agents liked a PitMad tweet in June 2020 and that is how I ended up being repped by them. I have had pitches that net 0 likes, and once I had a pitch that net 156 (not all 156 were reputable agents). The difference between them? Literally nothing substantial besides timing and luck. They were for the same book. Just for fun on a different book of mine:
CRUEL PRINCE X YOUNG ELITES
In war there are only villains and Nola is one of them. She strikes a deal with a gang, plotting to murder her betrothed to end his war. But the gang is playing its own political shadow game. So is her betrothed.
So is Nola.
#YA #F #Pitmad #BVM
CRUEL PRINCE X YOUNG ELITES
In war there are only villains and Nola is one of them. She plots to kill her betrothed and take his crown to end the war he started. She’ll betray anyone to stay on top: her family, her heart. Unless they betray her first. #YA #PitMad #F #BVM
Personally I think they are of similar quality. They were tweeted on the same day within hours of each other. I don’t care to speculate on why one took off and the other didn’t, the point is nothing matters and all things tend toward chaos in both publishing and life.
So I can’t guarantee success, but I can give a general guide to pitch contests and writing a pitch.
Overview of steps
Write a complete book, revise it, and have it query ready [I’m not going to include this in the How To but it is a precursor step you must complete]
Find pitch contests
Familiarize yourself with the rules
Write pitches (3-4)
Schedule your Tweets (trust me)
Interact with the community
Parse through your likes + vet agents
Find pitch contests
I’ve already tipped you off to DVPit, off the top of my head there’s also PitBlk, APIPit, SWANAPit, SmoochPit, PitDark, and SFFPit. This is my flawed memory at play, please google it to find more. I just did and came across a couple resources, here’s the first. You can also add this handy dandy calendar by Keir Alekseii and Thalia Ishvari. People compile them every year, so just keep an eye out.
Some Pitch Contests are more well-established than others, but I don’t think that should factor into whether or not you pitch unless you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you just find them fun, pitch in all the ones you qualify for!
Familiarize yourself with the rules
I’ve put this next because you will not qualify to pitch in every single pitch contest, and you should very carefully read the rules to determine that and determine how to even pitch. Almost all pitch contests have rule pages. READ THEM.
For instance, DVPit has their eligibility rules, but it also has rules about how to pitch. No more than 6 pitches per book; no more than 1 pitch per hour; pitch between 8am - 8pm ET; if you’re not an artist, be careful about including visuals. Likes are only for agents, Retweets are only for editors. Comments and Quote Retweets are for anyone to show support (and don't reuse the hashtag in your comments and QTs).
Be kind and respectful. People will act a fool during these contests, don’t let them drag you down with them.
Write your pitches (3-4)
Now we reach the bread and butter of this How To. How to write the dreaded Twitter pitch. Firstly, I’m absolutely not even close to being the first one to write a little guide. Bethany Baptiste (@storysorcery) has a fantastic guide that you can and should read!
In fact, I am so anti-reinventing the wheel that I’m not going to explain in detail what each element of a pitch is, so you have to go read Bethany’s resource to find out that basic information. Come back to me afterward.
The Actual Pitch
Take a look at one of my tweets from earlier, which has these three basic ingredients:
You can’t forget the pitch and hashtags and I do recommend comps. Bethany will walk you through how to pick comps and hashtags, etc. I will focus more on the pitch itself and talk about what I most commonly see pitches lacking: stakes and mission.
In my pitch we know:
There’s a war, that sounds bad, the mc needs to end it
Her family and heart are probably going to betray her, that sounds bad too
Her mission is to kill her betrothed, yikes
Sometimes you can skip comps and sometimes you can completely mess around with the actual pitch formatting to make it fun. But you should never skip stakes, because we need to know what is propelling your character forward. My tweet is by no means perfect—it could be stronger on the stakes, honestly—but that folds well into my “everything is chaos” theory from before: perfection is neither attainable or necessary. Everything is subjective, and you never know what will hit.
Because I think this might be the most useful thing I can offer here besides redirecting you to great sources (how many times do I have to tell you to read Bethany’s guide?), I’m going to go over revising a pitch. Yes, you should draft then revise it! You should fiddle with it! Meddle with it until it’s within an inch of its life and you can’t look at it anymore.
I chose this one to look at because it doesn’t have comps and I wanted to showcase what I think is a great pitch that doesn’t have every aspect of a pitch formula. You’ll notice that Casey’s tweet format does not match my own tweet from earlier in this newsletter, because the books are different and thus require different things. Formulas are absolutely invaluable/wonderful/crucial but you can break them, responsibly.
The point of this before/after revision was to clarify stakes and aim for added specificity while retaining voice and using the character count efficiently.
Personally I think that all pitches should leave you asking questions, the point is to have people asking questions that imply they want to dig deeper into the specifics, not clarify the general details. The questions should be intrigued ones, not confused ones.
Stakes in the Before Tweet
Gevvie is a grad student who wants to pass her dissertation and resurrect her dead girlfriend.
Questions we’re left asking: how is she going to resurrect her dead gf? How do science and love combine? What do you mean her dead girlfriend’s girlfriend from another universe, is this a multiverse book?
Stakes in the After Tweet
Gevvie is a grad student whose gf was killed, she has an academic future that she’s now risking, she’s obsessed with using science based magic to jump universes and bring home a still-live version of the gf, oh my god she’s being chased by magical creatures who want her dead!!
Questions we’re left asking: Who killed the gf? Why do the magic creatures want her dead?
These questions about the after tweet are questions the plot itself wrestles with: how the gf died, why Gevvie’s being chased, etc. They’re intrigued questions, not confused ones.
We’ve also packed a lot more specificity into tweet two, both in language and content. While “her dead girlfriend’s girlfriend” is a super fun phrase that readers of the book will enjoy, it’s harder to parse in a short tweet/pitch. Instead we can remove that bit and use the space saved to pack in a tad more plot: instead of “resurrect her girlfriend” we know how precisely that’s supposed to happen, “traveling to an alt universe where her gf survived and bring her home.” The first could imply necromancy, dark deals, etc. The second makes clear this is a multiverse book, suddenly the pitch has actually perfectly summed up the plot: Gevvie will attempt to crack multiverse travel using physics-based magic, then try and convince her still live girlfriend to return to Gevvie’s original timeline.
Your tweet shouldn’t be an overwhelming list of everything that happens, the goal is not to be comprehensive, it’s to be specific and precise. You should have your main character (grad student Gevvie), their goals (get the girl), the plot (jump universes), and the catalyst (gf dies, Gevvie enters grad school).
I’m not going to go over each, but Casey has 3-4 pitches for this book and will use them all in pitch contests to change things up. I recommend you develop 3 tweets, up to you if they’re fairly slight changes between each or totally different formats/vibes.
Everyone say thank you for your help and good luck, Casey!
Schedule your tweets
Sure you can tweet them live but why on earth would you subject yourself to having to remember that? Especially if you’re getting likes, you might get overexcited and forget to drop your next tweet. The time doesn’t really matter in my opinion, but I would always tweet 3 pitches and time them like this:
8 am ET, 10 AM ET, 12 or 1 pm ET.
You can use TweetDeck to schedule your pitches, especially useful if you’re in a different timezone, offline, etc.
Interact with the community
You probably shouldn’t transactionally exchange support during Twitter contests. You’ll see people say “comment below and I’ll retweet your tweet if you retweet mine.” This messes with the algorithm and clutters the feed—support tweets that you like! Use the event to find new friends who are writing things that sound interesting to you.
Or don’t. Every time I pitched I was at work, which meant I scheduled my tweets and was off Twitter for pretty much the whole day. I wish I could have combed through and left comments on every pitch I personally appreciated, but I couldn’t and it’s not a prerequisite to participating. Do what works for you, but remember if you walk out of DVPit with a new critique partner or friend, you’ve arguably gotten more out of it than an agent like or two. Your community is important.
Parse through your likes + vet agents
Once the day has closed (or throughout the day, whatever you prefer) you should pull the names of agents who liked your tweet and editors who retweeted it. For everyone on the list, you should go to their Twitter page where they should have tweeted out what their guidelines are for submission. You’ll mainly be looking for agent guidelines as most editors don’t take unagented submissions, but some editors might.
These guidelines usually differ from their standard guidelines, so find them and follow them! Often they’re like “put #DVPIT in the subject line of your submission.” They also often specify how much material to submit (query only, 10 pages, 50 pages) and occasionally require you submit through special Query Manager links. I like a good spreadsheet, and recommend you pull all this information and put it in a spreadsheet.
Then, vet your agents. Go through their wishlists, note down their agencies, ask your friends. Check their deals on Publisher’s Marketplace, if you can afford an account. See who else they represent. You do not have to submit your materials to every single person who requests them. I’m going to say that again, louder, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUBMIT YOUR MATERIALS TO EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO REQUESTS THEM.
You’ll have to use your own judgment on who to actually send your materials to, as it’s a completely individual evaluation (eg., if you want to go indie, maybe you want to submit to indie editors who might request; if you’re committed to trad pubs, you can make a note of the indie presses and skip them for now).
Some miscellaneous scenarios:
Two agents from the same agency liked my tweet, what do I do?!
Usually an agent will tell you what to do in their tweeted guidelines, but if not, comment under their tweeted guidelines and ask.
Someone at xyz agency is already considering my query, but someone else at the agency liked my tweet and I’d rather submit to them, what do I do?!
Don’t double query, either let the original agent finish considering your work or withdraw it and resubmit it to this new agent. FYI, if an agency uses Query Manager they can see that you’ve submitted it to another agent before. That’s not usually a bad thing, but be respectful about withdrawing and requerying.
Also if you believe the person considering your materials already remains the better wishlist fit, there’s no reason to withdraw just because this new person liked your tweet.
Someone at xyz agency is already considering my full/partial, but someone else at the agency liked my tweet and I’d rather submit to them, what do I do?!
When this happened to me, I reached out to the original agent (via email) and said “your colleague requested my materials but you’re still considering, how should I navigate this situation? Are you still considering my work?” then I did what they told me to do. In my case, they shared my work internally with said colleagues.
Someone at xyz agency is already considering my materials and liked my tweet for that same book/a different book, what do I do?!
Comment beneath the agent’s pitch guidelines tweet and ask. If they’re considering Book A and liked a tweet for Book A, say “hi! You liked my tweet today in [contest] but are already considering my materials, should I requery with these new guidelines?”
If they’re considering Book A and liked a tweet for Book B, say “hi! You liked my tweet today in [contest], but are already considering a different book of mine, should I still query you with this new book?”
Someone at xyz agency liked my pitch, but they already saw and rejected my book previously, what do I do?!
Ask! Comment beneath their pitch guidelines tweet and say “hi! You liked my tweet today in [contest] but I’ve queried you before and you passed, would you like me to requery you?”
If you’ve revised since they passed, it’s definitely worth highlighting that and saying “hi! You liked my tweet today in [contest] but I’ve queried you before and you passed. I’ve since undertaken substantial revisions on the book, would you like me to requery you?”
You don’t have to send your stuff instantly, if you need a couple weeks to line up your ducks, then take a couple weeks. But when you’re ready, go forth and send your queries!
Phew, this was a long one! I’m sure it didn’t cover every possible scenario, but I hope it helps you plot a course forward and take advantage of upcoming contests!
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