THE PITCH AND THE BLACKNESS

WHY AND HOW YOU SHOULD BE PITCHING 

The only reason I got on Twitter was to do #pitmad. I’ll be completely honest about that. I can’t tell if I love or hate the platform, and whether or not it hates or loves me remains to be seen.

But this is not a post about Twitter.

This is a post about pitching, and that just happens to tie into Twitter very nicely.

There are many ways to find an agent or a publisher, but pitching contests should never be discounted. One of my friends recently took a poll of her followers and found that 18% of the authors who replied hooked their agent via a pitching contest. That’s almost one out of five. That’s a lot of people.

Most of these contests are found on Twitter, and the paradigm has to be Brenda Drake’s #pitmad.[1] The rules are very simple: You have 280 characters to pitch your book. That’s right. 280 characters.

And you thought your one-page summary was hard.

I am certainly no expert, but I have entered the contest, and I did end up with a contract because of it. My advice is to try to mirror the attitude of your book as best you can in a short, snappy phrase. Is your story funny? Make your pitch funny. Is it mysterious? Romantic? Action-packed? Make it whisper, coo, and pop (respectively).

The goal is to grab the readers’ attention, but once you do, be sure to get them invested. How do you do that? Lay out the stakes. You can easily hash out what’s on the line in 280 characters—no pun intended. If you want to use comp titles, use comp titles, but that’s completely up to you. Can comp titles say more about your story than you can?

Of course, I’m assuming you’re not a marketing specialist,[2] but if you’re an author, you really need to fake it till you make it. Writing parsimoniously, or in an excessively stingy manner, is a hard skill to acquire; but it will serve you your entire career.

Here are some of the tweets I came up with when pitching Patel:

Between hunting monsters, breaking curses, and saving his kooky aunt, Patel Patterson may not get around to his algebra homework.

Between monster hunting, outwitting mob bosses, and saving his kooky aunt, Patel might not get his algebra done.

Being the new kid from India is hard. Being the new kid on a team of international monster hunters is even harder.

Thwart the undead armies. Save vampire-slaying aunt. Pass algebra. Patel Patterson has his hands full this week.

As if battling undead armies and escaping a magical kill ring wasn’t enough,

When the King of Death is after your blood, 8th grade bullies are the least of your worries.

Eh, middling. Here are the pitches that got me agent and publisher requests:

Being the new kid from India is hard. Being the new kid on a team of magical monster hunters is harder.

Being the new kid from India is hard. Becoming an international monster hunter to save your aunt is even harder-Buffy meets Fowl

And that was only my first round. #pitmad happens about four times a year, and the rounds go fast and furious. If you didn’t find your pot of gold after your first try, you have three months to refine your pitch and try again. Maybe you need a little practice. Maybe you need some help with retweets from your friends. Maybe the right players weren’t watching the feed, but they will be the next time you participate.

And #pitmad isn’t the only Twitter party out there. #Pit2pub, #dvpit, #kisspit, #SFFpit—the list goes on and on. These things are in every genre at any time of the year. Find where your book fits, go check out the rules, and get rolling. Carissa Taylor has already done the hard work for you and compiled a list of contests on her blog:

http://carissa-taylor.blogspot.fr/2013/01/contest-madness.html

So considerate, right? Gotta love author-bloggers.

A WORD OF CAUTION: Read, reread, and triple-read the rules for ANY contest you enter. Your gut will tell you that every pitch party follows the same rules—they don’t. I participated in #pitmad back in 2017, and I know that the rules have since changed.  

“But Hannah!” you cry. “I don’t want to be on Twitter and I shall never be on Twitter!” *shakes unicorn mane* “I don’t need any of this!”

Maybe wrong, maybe wrong again, but certainly, definitely, and egregiously wrong on that last one. Whether you do Twitter pitches or not, you do need a pitch and you do need parsimony.

Let me tell you this little anecdote: I’m sitting in a bar, making polite conversation, when I suddenly find myself face-to-face with a literary agent in his natural habitat. We’re just having beers, but he asks me if I write. Here’s what I expected to happen:

Me: (drooling from the side of the mouth) Uh… Duh…

Him: Oh! Sorry. I didn’t realize you were a troglodyte. I’ll go look for an evolved human and market their book instead.

BUT THAT WAS NOT WHAT HAPPENED.

Here’s what happened:

Me: (casual, cool, wearing my favorite blue romper) I do! I write middle grade fantasy adventure. I’m actually pitching a project right now.

Him: Oh, really? Tell me about it.

Me: Well, it’s about a 12-year-old Indian immigrant who gets shanghaied into a magical adventure when he discovers that his aunt is secretly a vampire slayer. I’d say it’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” meets Artemis Fowl.

Him: Really? That sounds cool. (hands me gilded business card) Send it over to me!

Ultimately, that agent gave me a no, but the outcome really doesn’t matter. It was my pitch that made him say yes—my pitch that got him interested enough to read the book. Maybe Apocalypse Key wasn’t for him, but at least I know I was leveraging some interest.

How was I ready? Why was I ready? I had a pitch, I had practiced it (in my head, at least), and I could easily relay the gist of my story in under thirty seconds.

These short little speeches are often called “elevator pitches,” and they’re extremely handy in any sort of circumstance. As soon as you announce that you’re an author (which you really should be doing), people are going to ask you what you write about. You will tell them, and then they will ask what you’re writing. You will tell them that you’re writing a book, and then they will ask what that book is about.

30 seconds? You’ve hit the sweet spot. One minute? You’re getting windy. Over one minute? You’ve probably lost them completely unless they really, really care about the zombie-clown apocalypse.

Think about the commercials you see on TV.[3] They’re not long. They’re not elaborate. They hit hard, take names, and leave you hungry for more. Or maybe I’ve just been missing Taco Bell…

Draft a pitch, even if you’re not going to tweet it.

Practice it on your friends, neighbors, dogs, and lab rats. Come up with a 10-second, 30-second, and minute-long expression of what your book is about and start getting comfortable with sharing the idea with total strangers.

This may be writing, and you may be an introvert, but it’s all showbiz, honey. You are the only one who is going to take care of your book baby, and if you love your child as much as I love mine, you’ll be the first parent surfing the lines of Toys“R”Us on Black Friday.

YOU created the product. YOU are the most qualified to market that product.

Are you passionate about what you do?

Prove it.

Do you believe in your story?

Convince me.

Pitch hard. Pitch fast. Pitch often.

[1] Pitch Wars is also pretty popular. You can find the skinny here.

[2] If you are, congratulations! You’re already EONS ahead of everyone else, and I’d like you to come work for me.

[3] Do people still watch TV these days?

h.kates

H. Kates is a war gamer turned author. Her middle grade fantasy, PATEL PATTERSON AND THE APOCALYPSE KEY, debuts October of 2018.

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