Twitter pitch parties are some of my favorite days of the year. Imagine a bakery full of every possible dessert and you get to eat as many as you like. That’s what it’s like. It’s a cornucopia of wordy goodness where an agent can hand pick books that are so right for her it’s like they were written with her in mind.
For those unfamiliar with the events, here’s a short explanation. On designated days of the year, authors tweet pitches describing their books, and agents then request sample chapters of the books they’d like to see. I love it because it puts queries in my inbox that are exactly what I’m looking for.
What’s even better is that there are several such events throughout the year, some general and open to everyone (like #pitmad and #pitchmas), and some geared toward a specific market (like #adpit for adult books, #kidpit for children’s books, and #dvpit for books with diverse voices).
It’s hard to imagine the scale of these events if you’ve never done one before, but it’s sort of like a million tennis balls flying at your face at once. In the 10 minutes you just spent scrolling through pitches, 100 new pitches have been posted. How can any agent read all those pitches? The short answer is that we can’t. We skim. We pop on during our lunch break for 15 minutes, then go back to work, then come back for 10 minutes when we’re waiting for our friend to meet us for drinks, then scroll through on the weekend when we have more time. Depending on the day, we might find more free time to browse, but no one can read all the pitches.
So how do you make your pitch stand out in this endless sea of pitches? Here are some tips:
- Show me the hashtags.
In addition to the hashtag specific to the event, use hashtags to specify the genre. This helps agents more easily find books that fall under the genres they’re interested in. Some agents will actually filter the event feed by these genre hashtags, so if they’re only looking for YA during #pitmad, and you don’t have a #YA hashtag on your YA pitch, they won’t see it. You can use both hashtags that specify the age group of your genre (like #A for adult, #YA for young adult, #MG for middle grade, #PB for picture book) and the plot-based genre (like #SF for sci-fi, or #LF for literary fiction). A complete list of hashtags is available in the link at the bottom of this blog.
- Show me the special.
Think about the bones of your story. What about those bones makes your book unique? It could be the setting, the time period, the protagonist, the conflict, or ideally, some combination of all of the above. For example, I love books set in the Victorian era. If I see a pitch set in 1880s Philadelphia, I’ll probably request it, especially if the pitch also describes an unusual conflict, like a lady detective trying to solve a series of murders. If the pitch doesn’t describe a conflict, or if the conflict is stereotypical (like the lady having to choose between following her heart or her father’s wishes), I might not bother. Or the point of interest might lie in the character. For example, I’m actively seeking out YA featuring transgender characters, so if I see that in a pitch, I’ll probably request it. Though again I might not if the conflict isn’t clear or feels cliché.
- Show me the stakes.
When I see a pitch that reads, “Melissa struggles to adapt to her a new town, while learning about life, love and family,” I move on to the next one. Why? Because a pitch like this tells me not much happens in the book. It hasn’t given me an idea of the overt action or tension that propels the plot forward. Yes, struggling to adapt to a new town is a conflict and there can be a tension related to seeing whether or not she manages to adapt, but I don’t feel any urgency surrounding her ability to adapt. If the pitch showed that there was a reason she needed to adapt quickly, I might be interested. For example, if it read, “Half-human/half-robot Melissa must blend in in her new town where a drop of human blood can get you killed,” this shows me why it’s so important that she adapt. Even better is “Half-human/half-robot Melissa must blend in in her robots only town before the Grand Executioner learns her secret.” This builds on the previous one by naming a specific person who’s after her, which makes her adaptation seem even more urgent.
- Show me the comp titles.
Another thing we agents love to see in a pitch is comp titles, or books the author thinks are similar in style or theme to his book. Comp titles give us an immediate reference point that tells us what to expect from your book. And if your comp title is one of our favorite books of all time, we’ll be especially excited to read it. Just make sure your book is actually similar to the book you’re comparing it to. I can’t tell you how many Gone Girl-esque books I’ve requested that didn’t meet the mark. Now when I see Gone Girl in a pitch I roll my eyes, (but usually end up requesting it anyway and being disappointed again). It also helps if you juxtapose two very different books as your comp titles. If I saw a book pitched as “Gone with the Wind meets Hunger Games”, I’d pounce on it just because it sounds so crazy that I want to know what it’s about.
Now that you’ve crafted the perfect pitch, rejoice my pitchers! Pitch Madness, aka #pitmad, is this Thursday, March 23rd! Here are the rules and all the genre hashtags you can possibly imagine! I’ll see you there!