Ah, Twitter pitch contests. They come with the stress of needing to stand out in a crowd and the unbearable torture of cramming the entirety of your novel into 140 characters…fewer, really, once you factor in hashtags. It seems nigh impossible to pull off, but I’m here to convince you otherwise.
I’ve been helping folks planning to enter #DVpit for the past several weeks, and I thought it might be helpful to compile my most common advice in one place for other #DVpit hopefuls as well as for posterity. Let’s get pitching!*
*keeping in mind that these are only my opinions, YMMV, etc. etc.
Rethink Your Goal
See what I said up there? About fitting a whole novel into a tweet? That’s the exact wrong way to approach pitching. You aren’t trying to summarize an 80,000 word book in 140 characters; if you are, you’re going to fail, because pitches aren’t synopses.
Your main goal should be to pique interest. That’s it. You want someone (either an agent or editor, not both) to be intrigued enough to ask for more. Personally, I think the best way to do that is to capture the heart of your story, but however you can make it happen is golden.
Know the Rules Before You Break Them
Having said that, there are definitely some pitching conventions, and they exist for a reason. Agents/editors will be looking for certain information in a pitch:
- category (YA, MG, Adult, etc.)
- genre (fantasy, contemporary, sci fi, etc.)
- goals (what the character wants)
- stakes (what happens if they don’t get it)
The first two are included so that the requesting party knows if your manuscript fits their basic guidelines.
The second two are typically the minimum components needed to get your story across. Can a pitch be successful without goals or stakes? Sure, technically, but only with a very unique pitch that’s exceptionally strong in some other way: voice or premise, especially. But I almost always recommend including all four listed elements.
Specificity, Specificity, Specificity
It’s not enough to have goals or stakes if they’re vague or generic. “She must save the world” doesn’t actually tell us anything. We don’t have the context (about the character, the world, the conflict) to care yet, and it certainly won’t make an impression when so many other books boast the exact same stakes.
Tell the reader what’s unique about your book. Focus in on the details that stand out, that draw you to the story.
One way to do this is to limit the scale. The instinct is often to lead with world-level stakes. Isn’t worldwide destruction a more arresting threat than a failed exam? No, not necessarily. In fact, in a Twitter pitch, where you don’t have room to set up the (likely complicated) situation leading to the world-level stakes, focusing on the personal can be much more memorable. We relate to individual characters easier and faster than we do with anonymous masses.
For instance, consider these two examples:
- 17yo archer takes on corrupt government. She must topple their regime or thousands will die.
- When Katniss’s sister is chosen to compete (and likely die) in the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers in her stead. Now she must fight and kill, or be killed in the arena.
Obviously the latter is too long for Twitter, but it’s late and I’m trying to make a point, not land an agent. Both of those pitches are technically accurate, but it’s so much easier to connect with the second one (although neither are particularly good pitches; again, I’m tired).
Related: make sure to name your character in the pitch. I understand the impulse to use descriptors instead of names, but readers connect with and invest in characters, not professions or titles or roles. This was probably the piece of advice I gave most often.
As with all things, of course, there are times where it’s better not to follow this advice. In particular, naming is counterproductive if you’re using this construction: “A thief. A spy. A sharpshooter. An impossible heist and an even more impossible group to pull it off.” (Btw, go read Six of Crows. This hasty pitch doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.)
But typically, name your characters!
Craft Multiple Pitches
Remember that you can (and arguably should!) have more than one pitch. You can use them to focus on different threads of the story, or to approach the same thread in different ways. Maybe you have multiple POV characters; write one pitch for each of them! Or rewrite your main pitch with a slightly different twist or using a different structure each time.
You never know what’ll catch each person’s attention.
Readability > Tons of Info
In the interest of cramming as much info as possible into a pitch, people will often take shortcuts, either through abbreviations (2, ppl, b/c, w/o, &, etc.) or funky grammar. I pretty much always advise against this, at least in large doses.
Agents/editors are scrolling through hundreds of tweets during pitch contests. You have to make it as easy for them as possible to read your pitch. The longer it takes to read or the harder it is to process, the less likely they are to linger.
Our brains are used to reading sentences that are written like this. We read smoothly and quickly and without incident. The words are absorbed immediately, meaning we can make a fast and confident judgment. its mch hrdr 2 rd lk this w/o hvng 2 stop & think @ the wrds. That’s an extreme example, but the point stands. If you have one or two shortcuts, especially if they’re spaced out, that can be fine. (And I basically never include the final period in a pitch since it’s unnecessary.) But be cautious about overdoing it.
Consider carefully which hashtags you use. If you use every possible one, it not only reads as cluttered, but also takes up a TON of valuable space.
There’s absolutely something to be said for including all applicable hashtags in case agents are searching specifically for them. But choose strategically. If you have #DVpit #YA #LGBT #Queer #F #R and #SFF, you’ve eaten a large chunk of your available characters. I recommend including the category, but leaving off the genre unless it’s wholly unclear from the pitch. But that’s largely personal preference.
So, like everything else in this post, feel free to take it or leave it. Though I do hope you found something helpful here, and happy pitching!