So Long and Thanks for all the Retweets! Pitching Tips and Tactics
Although I'm not leaving planet Earth (yet), I have retired from pitch contests, and I wanted to leave behind a blog with some tips, tactics and thoughts to help others. I love pitch contests; they're a great opportunity to network, see what agents are looking for and make friends. And, if you can get some likes and find an agent, that's pretty nice, too.
Who am I to give out pitching advice?
It's a fair question. I make no claims to be a pitching master, but I found my agent, the fantastic Jared Johnson, at #Pitdark, and I had a pretty successful run before that. Here are some of my pitches to give you an idea:
I took part in six pitch contests, from October 2020 to June 2021. In those contests, I received a total of 22 likes from people in the industry (note that most of the likes in the above pitches are not from agents), 12 of which were from agents, and 10 of which were from indie publishers. One of my pitches even made it into an article on pitching.
I haven't shared this before on Twitter, but I'm proud to say that I got at least one agent like in every pitch contest I entered.
Although every project is different, and some books don't translate that well to pitches, I know that even niche projects like mine can get great responses in pitch contests. So, if you're interested, I'm happy to tell you what I know about pitching.
Pitching is different to writing a query or a blurb. It's its own art form, with a special set of rules. I'll give you a quick crash course, then share my tips and tactics. Feel free to skip ahead if you already know the basics.
Pitch contests take place throughout the year (see Emma Lombard's site for a calendar of writing events). The biggest of these is #Pitmad. There are lots of smaller contests for different genres and diverse writers. Writers can tweet a set number of pitches in a given time frame. Pitches must be one tweet long and usually without pictures (unless it's stipulated in the rules or you're pitching picture books). Make sure to check the start and end times (they're usually EST). If an agent 'likes' your pitch, it's an invitation to send them your query. That's it, let's pitch!
Comps or 'comparison titles' are incredibly important; they are the first thing people see and often generate a lot of interest on their own. Choose two well-known books, TV shows or films that give an idea of your book and put them at the top of your pitch in capitals:
HARRY POTTER X HOT FUZZ - These might be the comps for the book Rivers of London.
Bonus points if you can come up with something unexpected, unusual or creative:
ROBOCOP X THE LITTLE MERMAID - Tell me you're not at least a little curious about this.
You can also take one title and expand on it:
JAWS, IN SPACE. - This was famously the pitch for the film Alien, and it's just perfect. It tells you exactly what you're going to get in three words. If you can do this with your comps, you're on to a winner.
There are several types of pitch. I'll go through three of my favourites. I suspect many more will be invented as time goes on. If you get these three under your belt, you'll be in good shape.
The Classic is the most important, and I doubt that will change. The formula is as follows: main character, conflict, stakes.
When detective John McClane visits his estranged wife at a Christmas party, he finds the building has been taken over by terrorists. Now, he must take them out singlehanded before they start killing hostages.
You should absolutely have a classic pitch in your arsenal. To do it well, you'll need to focus on the main conflict of your story and forget almost everything else.
The List pitch is becoming more popular. You basically just list a load of cool stuff in your book and then put a hook line at the end. You can also add emojis if that's your style.
A magical wardrobe
A world where it's always winter and never Christmas
A tyrannical witch
A majestic lion
Four children from WWII London must choose their side in the fight for Narnia!
These give a much broader idea of what's in the book, and they're pretty fun to write.
The What _____ Wants, What ______ Gets pitch is a fun twist on the list pitch. You list some things your MC wants to happen and then say what actually happens to them (it's fine to drop spoilers). This one is best served with some snark.
What Scott wants: to skate off into the sunset with the uber-cool Ramona Flowers. 🥰🌹🤟
What Scott gets: fights to the death with her 7 evil exes. 👊💀🙄
I'm not much of a romcom guy, so I went for Scott Pilgrim here.
Even though this one probably works best for funny books and romcoms, there's no reason you can't be creative and try it on something else. It's all good practice.
These go at the end of your pitch to explain the target age and genre of your book. You must also include the hashtag for whichever contest you are entering.
Every pitch contest has its own rules and hashtags you must use. If you don't use them, people won't be able to find your pitch. In my last contest, I put my first pitch out with the wrong hashtag (#Pitamd) and sat for 30 minutes wondering why I was getting no interaction. I only realised when someone pointed it out to me. Dyslexia can be a cruel mistress.
The last Pitmad had almost half a million tweets, so it's likely hashtags will become even more important in future, as they'll be the best way for agents to find what they are looking for.
Check out the contest rules for the hashtags, and make sure to include one for age (#YA for example) and, at least, two for genre (I've tried with one for genre, but it's almost never been as successful).
Tips and Tactics
Pitch Contest Plan in 15 Steps
1. Start building a retweet/comment list a week or so before a contest. This is a list of writers who will support each other at contests by retweeting or commenting on each other's pitches.
2. Tweet about your list and search the #writingcommunity hashtag to find other writers with lists. Offer to add them to yours.
3. 30 -100 people is a good number for a list. You can go higher, but it will take a lot of time to get to everyone. I actually took two afternoons off work for my last two contests.
4. Tweet your first pitch three or four minutes after the contest starts to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. You can use Tweetdeck to schedule them.
5. Once your first pitch is up, pin it and bookmark it.
6. After that, jump over to your list and start commenting on and retweeting other people's pitches. I pitched on my laptop and would usually have two windows open: one for my pitch and one for commenting on other people's pitches.
7. I advocate giving a mix of comments and retweets (RTs). Comments are great because, often, people don't get any. Have you ever seen a pitch with 80 retweets, no comments and no likes? What did you think? To me, it looks like everyone agreed to retweet it, but no one was interested enough to comment. If you see a pitch like this, say something nice and give them a boost.
8. Try to give comments that are specific to the pitch. 'Sounds great!' gets old after a while. This might actually be the most fun part of pitch contests. Taking some time to talk to people with similar tastes to you or whose book you love the sound of is always enjoyable and will take your mind off agent likes. I met several CPs and made lots of friends this way.
9. Do some 'laps'. By laps I mean, give 10 comments or RTs to other people and then check back to see how your pitch is doing.
10. If anyone has commented on your pitch, like their comment and write something nice back to them. If someone who isn't an agent likes your pitch (it happens, I'm afraid), try not to get too upset. It all helps make your pitch more visible, and it might even attract some agent attention.
11. Once you've lapped your way through your list, search the contest hashtag and do some more laps. It's fun to check out the pitches that are doing really well. See if you can pick out what they're doing well and friend the writer.
12. Wait 2 -3 hours (in a 12 hour, 3 pitch contest) to put up your second tweet. Once you do, pin it and bookmark it. Leave it up for an hour or two, do some more laps and see how it does. Then switch back to your first tweet for a while. Repeat this for your next tweet.
13. Your first pitch is the most important and will get the most interaction. If your goal is to get 500+ retweets, then you'll have to focus almost exclusively on your first pitch and only post your others when you feel the first one is becoming stagnant. Sometimes it's better to spread the time evenly across your pitches. It depends on how confident you are with your first pitch.
14. If you need a break to make dinner etc., put up a tweet saying you'll be offline for a little, but you're looking for mutual retweets when you come back. When you return, you'll have a bunch more people to interact with.
15. At the end, put up a tweet thanking everyone and the contest organisers. Go through the people you interacted with and add them as friends. Double-check that none of your likes were agents, editors or indie publishers (it's not always obvious). Pin your best pitch and RT your other two to keep them high up your feed. Don't worry if you didn't get a like, they can happen even a day or two afterwards. My agent liked my pitch while I was asleep.
When writing pitches, I think it's best to focus on the main selling point of your book. To figure out what this is, think about the aspect of your book that is most often mentioned in positive comments. It might be the plot, the characters, the stakes, the concept or the fact that it has extra meaning because it's an #ownvoices story.
I realised a while back that almost everyone said they liked the 'voice' in my book. So, I focused on making sure my pitches had plenty of voice.
Some people will tell you that you must stick to a formula to write a pitch, but that's not always true. In the above pitch, I didn't mention any stakes, and I asked rhetorical questions instead (we all know those are bad, right?). The reason it works is that it's funny, and it gives a taste of the voice in the book—my main selling point.
If you're stuck for inspiration, check out the Audible website for thousands of great pitches. Netflix is also a good place to go for ideas. Have a look at some of your favourite movies and see how they are pitched. Here's Audible's pitch for the awesome Six of Crows:
I read this a while back and wondered if I could do a funny version. The result was the pitch that got me my agent:
It's worth noting that this wasn't my most successful pitch, or even the one I thought was my best, but it was funny, and it got me an invitation to query my agent. The point is, it's worth trying a few different styles; you might be surprised by what works.
My pitches got better and more creative the more contests I did, and yours will, too, as long as you keep writing them. You can reuse old ones, but I would recommend you write at least one new pitch for every contest you enter. I'd also try a few different styles out to see what works for you. Make sure you show them to someone before the contest to get feedback. Hit me up if you need eyes on yours.
This is a matter of personal taste, but I recommend saving a few characters in your pitch for layout. You may have noticed all my pitches are nicely spaced out, and that's because I think this looks more appealing to readers than a large block of text without any breaks.
My last thought would be to think of pitch contests as an opportunity to make friends, network and learn. That way, whatever happens, you'll probably enjoy yourself.
Good Luck and Happy Pitching!