So, I once thought of doing a blog post on how to write a killer Twitter pitch — but I thought, I really have no idea how to do it so I put it on hold. Recently, a Twitter user (thanks, Rachael A Edwards!) asked me if I had any advice for writing pitches for Twitter pitch events, and I thought … Deities, why not?
I pitched at a Twitter pitch event this past October (#DVpit), and it’s the first little writing success I had, so it meant a lot to me. Part of me thinks that I just got really, really lucky and that my Tweet just snowballed — but another part of me thinks that there must be something I did right to get this lucky. So, I’m going to list some tips in no particular order, using #DVpit successes to illustrate (go #DVsquad!). (A lot of these writers are now agented and their books are coming out soon! So, if this post helped you in any way, please follow the links and go add their books on Goodreads!)
Briefly, here’s my success story: After joining #DVpit in October 2017, I received 100+ agent requests and signed with my dream agent, Peter Knapp. And now, my book, BLOOD HEIR, is coming out in 2019 from Delacorte Press / Penguin Random House!
So, Twitter pitches can do miracles in fast-tracking you, as well as exposing you to agents who “favorite” your pitch that you might have never come across before. Working these Twitter pitches right can achieve miracles for you — so here’s to hoping this post will help.
First off: What is a Twitter pitch event? A Twitter pitch event is a Twitter event where agents from all around the industry sign up so they can see pitches from participants. For a certain number of hours, they will track the Twitter hashtag (i.e. #pitmad, #dvpit) to see the pitches from participants like you! If they like the pitch you put together, they will like your Tweet, and that means they want you to query them. There are several renowned Twitter pitch contests/parties that run several times a year, hosted by some superstars in the publishing world, where you can enter your pitch with the relevant hashtags.
A Twitter pitch is a Tweet that you craft that pitches your book in 140 (or is it 280 now?) characters or less (like my example above). It’s a short, pithy summary with a lot of punch.
What happens if an agent likes my Tweet? That means you can query them in the fast track. Note the fast track portion. Just because an agent liked your Tweet does not mean they will sign you. All they’re asking is for you to query them because the quick summary of your book enticed them. When you get a Twitter pitch request from an agent, you should include it in your title (i.e. “QUERY: [BOOK NAME], #DVpit Request”), as well as something in the body of your query indicating this (i.e. “Dear Agenty Agent, you requested my query in #DVpit”). This means the agent will put yours to the top of their query list to read, and theoretically, you should hear back quickly. That’s it. If you query doesn’t stick and your sample pages aren’t polished, you will still get rejected. Obviously, this means you must be ready to query before you enter a Twitter pitch event. (You can take a look at my post on how to write a query letter or the Writers’ Resources section of my site for more help there!)
- Caveat: Do not query/pitch to agents on Twitter unless it’s for a pitch event. Best-case scenario is that they will ignore you; worst case scenario is that you will damage your reputation, because most (if not all) agents specifically tell you not to pitch to them on Twitter.
Now, let’s dive into how to construct a killer Twitter pitch.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Step 1. Button Down the Essentials. You need to boil down the essence of your story, and pitch it in the space of <280 characters. If you’re having a hard time finding where to start, answer the following questions — because a large portion of your pitch will center around them.
- Who is your Main Character (MC)?
- What is his/her goal?
- What are the stakes?
- What is stopping him/her from achieving that goal?
Step 2. Choose Your Words Wisely: The next steps are all about the wordplay. Next to each question, brainstorm some words/adjectives that differentiate them and make them unique/special to your story. For example, what are some differentiating aspects of your MC? Is it his arrogant personality? Her rebelliousness? His/her race/identity? Remember: you have to be extremely specific about what you choose to depict in your pitch, because in a good pitch, it should tie in to the theme or conflict of your book while painting a picture of that differentiating aspect. So, brainstorm, brainstorm.
Step 3: Putting it all together. Yes, this is a super-vague step, but it’s like playing with play-dough, and you want to massage all the aspects of your story until it sounds right. Do you focus more on the plot? More on the world intrigue? More on the character arc? Remember: you can’t cram everything about your story into your pitch — most successful pitches will choose to orient themselves around one aspect.
To give you some great examples, I’ve de-constructed some successful Twitter pitches to show the different angles from which pitchers will approach their pitches.
DE-CONSTRUCTING SUCCESSFUL TWITTER PITCHES
1. Comps. This either means “comparisons” or “comparable works” (if someone knows please tell me), but essentially you are comparing your work to other famous works. It’s smart. It attracts the most eyeballs. Publishers use this in marketing all the time.
Think of popular titles that could represent your work. Most pitches will have two works — you’ll frequently see “WORK 1” meets “WORK 2,” and this is super powerful because of connotations. Every published work has certain connotations or imagery associated with it, and the right match of two could work magic in representing your book right off the bat.
You’ll see immediately above that mine starts off with “SIX OF CROWS,” which places my work in popular young adult fantasy that’s more upmarket. It also conjures up certain images: mysterious magic, grimy alleyways, gritty gangs, and smart-mouthed characters. My second comp, “ANASTASIA,” perfectly completes the image: a lost girl with no past, a charming conman, and all the majesty and grandeur of Imperial Russia (and after) bundled up in the single space of nine characters. Mix ‘n’ mash them together, and I think we get a pretty accurate representation of BLOOD HEIR.
Think of your book; think of the images it conjures; think of the books that are similar, but pick two that are exceedingly different. It’s like if you choose “pink” and “magenta,” you rub them together and get a darker shade of pink — but you lose your chance to showcase different sides of your manuscript. But if you choose red and blue, you show two polar opposite sides of your work — smash them together, and you get a dazzling purple.
It’s difficult to say which comps will catch the most eyeballs (besides the obvious “famous” category), so think of two comps that each represent unique sides of your book … that could create sparks when they collide.
2. Less Is More/Compress the Context. One common mistake is that, if your book is background/backstory-heavy, pitchers will try to establish all of the backstory and summarize the entire plot.
DON’T. The key thing about Twitter pitches is that they must grab attention. They don’t have to be a plot summary. They don’t even have to include the main plot of your book (though that would be best). Just summarize, as clearly and as hook-ily as possible, the interesting aspects that make up your book. Have at least a basic plot-dilemma, but focus on the things that make your manuscript unique.
Kosoko Jackson does a great job of it for the pitch for his book, A PLACE FOR WOLVES (coming out 2019 from Sourcebooks Fire). Notice he doesn’t go into details about his book, such as the details of the civil war, how the teens are related to it, and the whole setup of the black market organ profiteers. He lists (in a very artful, simple way) the interesting aspects that make up his book — and these catch eyeballs.
3. Start With The Character. As I wrote above, every book must be about a character, what they want, and what’s stopping them from achieving that goal. All pitches should at least highlight your character and a defining factor of that character that sets him/her apart or draws interest — but some pitches are character-centric, which means they focus on the character arc, and develop tension from that.
Isabel Sterling does a great job of this with her #DVPit pitch for her f/f YA, THESE WITCHES DON’T BURN (coming out 2019 with Razorbill!). Notice that she only states two facts about her character — but these facts immediately create conflict. We know already what kind of a character development arc and personal struggles her MC is going to go through.
Bonus? Isabel expertly links the two facts with the last line of her pitch: “She’s still very much in the closet about that.”
4. Turn Up the Twist. In the space of 140 (or 280 — depends, so read the rules of the pitch event you’re planning to attend) characters, you must create conflict. And that often means spinning up one sentence … and then brutally contradicting it in the next. The agents are looking for some cruel twist that makes us salivate after the book to know what happens.
The best Twitter pitches set up an impossible/unlikely scenario… and then add another brutal twist. A great formula to consider/work off of is: “When Character 1 [Event 1], he/she must [Goal]. But [twist].”
Hafsah Faizal does this brilliantly in her (warning: repetition) brilliant Twitter pitch for WE HUNT THE FLAME (coming from FSG/Macmillan in 2019). Her pitch immediately sets up something defining about her character (a huntress masquerading as a boy–this creates a great impression of what kind of a character that girl is, and let me give you a hint: kickass), creates conflict/sets up stakes (Prince of Death is tasked to kill her), and creates a brilliant twist: the prize of the tournament (which we assume MC is trying to win) might kill her instead. It’s gorgeously-written (and Alt-Arabia) — sign me UP.
Another important aspect is to weave in some form of a character arc into the events that you outline in your pitch. Yeah, it’s hard to make it up on the spot, which is why I always tell novelists that your Hero’s Journey should be both mental and physical: as the character goes through the events/the journey of the story, he/she should also experience a character development arc that runs in parallel to the events of his/her physical journey. Your pitch should hint at both your MC’s Hero’s Journey and your MC’s character development arc.
Take a look at Grace Li‘s pitch below, for her astoundingly beautiful and devastating book, THE FALL OF TROY. She places her MC, Helen of Troy, in an unlikely scenario (the afterlife), and conjures an grand image of a woman facing a multitude of men again (connotations, guys, of Helen of Troy). The best part? That twist at the end. “And they aren’t ready to forgive her.” In just seven words, she packs a huge punch that leaves us breathless anticipating for not just the story events that will happen, but also the potential character development arc that her MC could face. What will Helen of Troy do when she meets these heroes who sacrificed their lives for her/died facing her? How will she earn their forgiveness? Will she try to earn their forgiveness? And, best of all, can she forgive herself?
5. Pack Punches with Pithy Phrases. (Sorry, I’m a bit obsessed with alliteration.)
You only have 140 (or 280) characters, so you need to insert as much punch as you can into it. This doesn’t mean stuffing it full of eye-catching phrases that don’t make sense … you can certainly do that, but you need to be tactful about it. As long as these actually relate to your theme, your character, or your conflict in a cohesive and coherent matter, it should work.
Katie Zhao‘s pitch below has so many interesting and unique components of her humorous and full-of-heart MG manuscript, WARRIORS RISING: THE HUNT. A demon-slaying quest? Prize of immortality? Half-Chinese warrior? Family honor? And turning into a monster herself? SIGN ME UP.
6. Opposites Attract. This law definitely applies to Twitter pitches. If your novel contains opposites, throw them together and create a sizzling chemical reaction. It’s simple, but it works. Swati Teerdhala does a great job in the below for her novel, THE TIGER AT MIDNIGHT (coming out 2019 from Katherine Tegen Books!). A cat-and-mouse game between a soldier versus a girl who murdered his General — you immediately feel the conflict sizzling off the screen (and… dare I say… a hint of romance?). (Also, an Indian fantasy — I am so here for it.)
7. Don’t Forget the Tags. It’s important to categorize your pitch. Each Twitter pitch will have different categories for you to label yours, and it’s critical that you do — because agents search based on those tags. So read the rules carefully!
A few (I can’t guarantee that this is all-inclusive!) tags that I know are:
- #PB: Picture Book
- #MG: Middle Grade
- #YA: Young Adult
- #NA: New Adult
- #A: Adult
- #F: Fantasy
- #UF: Urban Fantasy
- #CF: Contemporary Fantasy
- #SF: Science Fiction
- #R: Romance
What are some Twitter pitch events I can join?
Here are the ones I’ve heard of that I can vouch for! (If you see any that are not on this list that you would like to add, do let me know.)
- #DVpit: For marginalized voices.
- #Pitmad: The Twitter pitch event of Pitch Wars.
- #SFFpit: Twitter pitch event for Science Fiction and Fantasy.
- #PBpitch: Picture Book pitch event.
- #Kidpit: Twitter pitch event for kids’ lit.
- #NoQS: Nightmare on Query Street.
- Sun vs. Snow
I hope this helped!
With that, I wanted to again give a big shout-out to the organizers of Twitter pitches, especially Beth Phelan, who hosts #DVpit (coming up April 25/26, 2018!) and gave me — and all of the above authors — a home.
Here are some more #DVpit successes from the #DVsquad! Check out their Twitter profiles and support their books!
J.S. Fields‘ pitch.
Nayani Jensen, represented by Taylor Martindale Kean of Full Circle Literary.
Jennifer Dugan, now represented by Brooks Sherman of Janklow & Nesbit.
B.D. Kennedy, now represented by Lauren Spieller of Triada US.
Good luck to everyone participating in the Twitter pitches! I look forward to seeing your soon-to-be successes.