Where Literary Legends Are Born

The Art of #TwitterPitching

Whether it’s #MSWL, #PitMad or #DVpit, Twitter pitching is all the rage and a great way to catch an agent’s attention.  I recently did a workshop focused entirely on how to pitch for twitter and blog contests and I liked it so much I thought I would turn it into a blog post.

On Twitter you’ve only got one line to impress us, so how do you do it?  The concept is similar to how to write a good query, but this is a much more condensed form.  Essentially, this exercise is very similar to what we do as agent when we talk about finding the “hook” to the story.  The hook functions as a way to grab and editor or agents attention and really sum up the story in a compelling way with very little space.

First let’s talk about how to find your hook. The hook is the main concept of your book told in a condensed way and designed to help catch an agent’s eye.   For the purposes of many contests the pitch and hook will be one and the same.  I find this is the most challenging part of these kinds of contests for most writers. Even harder than writing the novel at times.  Here is an approach that I find works really well for coming up with a short hook that will help sell your story.

  1. Shift your viewpoint.To write an effective hook you need to detach a bit.  The hook is a micro version of your book, so you need to think of it as though you don’t know all the gritty details and try to describe the eagles eye view of the book just like you would in a traditional query, but on a micro level.  To do this you have to start thinking about the big picture of the book, namely what the main concept is and who it will appeal to. When writing your pitch you aren’t a novelist anymore, you are selling your book, so it takes a little adjusting.
  1. Practice on other works first. In order to find your hook, it helps if you practice on existing books, movies, TV shows, etc. first.  You are trying to distill the essence of the story for a reader, so try this as a game and see if you can come up with a great pitch for a book, movie, or series you enjoy.  It’s important to practice in order to get a feel for how this works on something you haven’t just spent hundreds of hours writing.  This distance will help you get a feel for what it’s like encapsulate a complicated work before you have to try it on your own book.
  1. Write three different versions and pick the best one. Now that you’ve practiced finding the hook it’s time to put those skills to work.  Ask yourself, what is my book about?  Does this description make it stand out from the crowd?  And what would I tell people about my book if I could only say one thing? If you can get that in 35 words (the qualifier for Pitch Madness) or under 140 characters (for Twitter) you will have a hit!
  1.  Feeling stuck?  If you are having trouble getting right to the heart of the story here are some additional question to ask yourself that might help you find the right angle for yourpitch. What is the main conflict of my story?  What does my main character want more than anything?  And, what lengths would they go to get it?  These are often the most compelling and important parts of any story, so if you are having trouble focusing your hook, try writing a bit about each of these and ask yourself, what is the most compelling phrase here?  Then you can use what you find to help yourself construct your story.
  1.  Time to trim. Did you end up with more than 35 words or 240 characters?  A full query letter would let you expand on your hook, but for now it’s time to trim all unnecessary words.  Good places to start are introductory phrases like “This story is about” or “in my book.”  Another good place to cut is unnecessary adjectives, they just add clutter. As writers we love to describe things, but resist over explaining here.  A third good area to focus on is repetition.  Once you’ve said it once there is no need to say it again, so budget your words.  Don’t forget to leave some space (4-10 characters) for hashtagging.
  1.  Let a friend review.  Getting an outside eye is a great way to find out if you’ve accomplished your mission.  Let a friend you trust review and critique your hook and let them tell you if you were successful. There is nothing more effective for constructing an outside view than an actual outside view!


Contests and Criteria

  1. Make sure to read and adhere to all contest guidelines. You’ve done the work and you are ready to roll.  There is nothing worse than getting disqualified because you didn’t read the directions.  The world is full of missed opportunities that fall into this category.  Don’t let it be you!
  1.  Get it in on time. Most of these contests have a very specific window when you can submit. So, set those phone alarms and make sure you send only during the window.  Most contests won’t take submissions before or after.  So be sure you get everything in during the allotted time.
  1. #Hashtag. If your Twitter pitching vs. submitting to a blog make sure you use the appropriate hashtags.  Often that will be the contest hashtag plus hastags like #wf or #sff to delineate the genre and help agents and editors sort for what they want.
  1.  Say thank you to your host. Most of the hosts for these contests are writers like you who do this out of the goodness of their hearts.  They donate their time to help connect you with agents and editors, so make sure to say thank you at the end of the day and treat everyone involved in the most professional way possible.  Publishing can be the smallest of small worlds so it’s important to make friends and keep connections professional as it’s likely you will be working with the same people again and again.

Hope these tips help and to see some great Twitter pitches out there soon!