Sunday, April 2, 2017

How to Pitch in Online Pitch Contests

I haven't had any experience with in-person pitching. I hope to have at least some practice with it if I am able to sign up for a time to pitch at Romance Writers of America when I go this summer to Orlando. However, I have done online pitches under another pen name (I'm bi and write both het romance and also am working on f/f romance). I've had some luck with getting likes and requests, so I thought today I'd break down some thoughts on how to online pitch.

First of all, an online pitch contest is traditionally a day set aside where writers are able pitch their completed manuscript summaries in 140 characters or less (i.e. one tweet). They have to use a hashtag for the name of the contest and usually do hashtags also for age group and categories. Some contests include #pitmad, #sffpit, and #dvpit. Depending on the contest, there are also rules for when to schedule your tweet using software like Hoosuite (or you can do it live) and limits on the amount of times per day. For example, Brenda Drake's #pitmad contest only allows 3 pitches per manuscript per pitch session.

Anyway, they're fun events and great practice in order to see a) what other people are writing, b) what agents tend to be favoriting, and c) to practice pitching in a lower stress way than when you pitch in person. However, there are several keys to a successful pitch.

Step One -  You have to make sure that you focus on this basic formula:

Protagonist + goal + antagonist/force working against them + stakes.

This can sometimes be tweaked a bit if you're writing a romance in which there usually are two leads so it could be seen as:

Protagonist 1 + Protagonist 2 + goal + antagonist/opposing force + stakes

Don't get more detailed than that and I only suggest weaving in a secondary protagonist if you're writing a romance and both as equally important in the story.

Step Two - What makes your book different? I'm not talking about detailed world building or the plot twist at the end (that isn't traditionally revealed in a pitch anyway), but what is it about your protagonist in one, precise adjective that sets them apart? What is it about your stakes that are different or intriguing?

Step Three - since you can use Hoosuite, I suggest scheduling tweets ahead of time and spread out over the day. I also suggest practicing pitches and running them by writers' groups, betas and friends. It's best to have three different pitches per manuscript, especially since Twitter is on the look out for identical/spam tweets. Also, the more you practice, the easier it is for you to get the pitch out there and consolidate your 300+ page book into 140 characters.

Step Four - Conciseness is king. Carina Press has done 2-tweets/pitch events for #carinapitch, but the editors have often said that the best pitches are still the ones that are focused into 140 characters, even if that seems impossible. I promise with practice and focus it isn't!

Step Five - when in doubt, use comp titles. Using comps can help get the picture/plot across very fast. For example, maybe your book is like The Matrix + Harry Potter or Fifty Shades + Backdraft. If your book really has a similar flavor (don't lie or exaggerate) to two other movies or books that have been popular, people will want to know that!

Some Examples:

Under another pen name, I tweeted a few different things out for the March #pitmad. I'm copypasting the tweets here as I dissect, but I've blocked the pen name as its private for me.


Example one was liked by the Jennier De Chiara agency as well as Curiosity Quills and Rainbow Nerd Literary. I think the reasoning here was the comps since it gets across quickly that it's about a girl who's deeply into fandom and also has a magical realism flavor. Also notice the tags (#ya = young adult/age group, #mr = magical realism/genre, #lgbt = a book with lgbt+ characters heavily featured, #dv = diverse books/denoting an own voices author).


This is a het paranormal romance. The #pr tag indicates paranormal romance and #A indicates it's intended for adult readers. A few things to notice here are the comp allusion (MiB is like Men in Black) as well as the set up of the protagonists (both the two love interests) and their goal. I didn't have room for stakes here but hopefully it  implies that the fight ring isn't good for the supernaturals trapped inside it/is deadly. This one was liked by two editors at Carina Press and one editor Champagne Books, a smaller press, as well as some people who accidentally liked it. (One of the hardest parts of pitch contests is the let down when someone accidentally "likes" your tweet but isn't actually an editor or agent. Don't do that, it's the worst!)


This is the clearest pitch set up with the most clear Protagonist + Goal + Stakes format, and I think that's one of the reasons in addition to being contemporary romance which is fairly popular right now that it had likes from Harlequin, Kensington, Carina, and several small presses.

You can see that formula here in action

A) Novice (specific description of protagonist 1)
B) rugged yet cocky cowboy (specific description of protagonist 2)
C) win rodeo & payout (goal)
D) sick mother dies (stakes)

Also, it helps that the stakes matter. It's one thing to lose the rodeo and the money because, of course, who wants to lose. However, it ups the stakes to have her mother's life be in the balance because she needs medical treatment the "novice" can't afford without the cash winnings. That becomes the driving "so what" and the "why do I care" about the heroine and, to a lesser extent, her cowboy hero.


So if you try some of the pitch contests out, above all, remember this simple formula:

Protagonist + goal + antagonist (if room) + STAKES

The best pitches outline the stakes very specifically and make them personal. Working from there, hopefully pitch contests will work for you!

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