In addition to the basic tips I set out in my last post on pitch parties, I saw a few things that clearly hurt people’s exposure and chances during the March #PitMad and April #DVpit events. I paid close attention to who was getting the retweets and likes, and who wasn’t. A few definite patterns emerged as the day went on, and I learned some lessons to tighten my own pitches.
1. Don’t Sacrifice Technique for Space
I saw a few people who were clearly frustrated by the limitations of describing their book in 280 characters. Instead of re-wording their pitches, they crammed their words together in an ungrammatical hodge-podge of missing punctuation, misspelled words, and sometimes skipping articles like “a” and “the” where they were needed.
The pitch isn’t just selling your story, however; It is selling your writing. If an agent sees a pitch that’s a mess of spelling and grammar errors, they’re going to assume that your manuscript will be full of the same. It doesn’t matter how unique or interesting your story is, if they think you’ll write it badly. So do the work. Re-frame. Cut unnecessary characters, names, and sub-plots. Cut it down to the bone, and make it fit well.
2. Know the Rules of Pitching
Who is your character, what do they want, what are the stakes? These are the key elements of your pitch. Leave out side-characters, extensive world-building, and lists of fun fantasy elements. Don’t worry about themes. The core of the pitch answers the three questions first, and adds flavor details second.
The pitches I saw receive a lot of attention from agents and publishers had several common elements beyond the three questions. They were written in third person, present tense. They were written in prose. They focused on the primary plot and MC. They had clear, relatable stakes. Not all of them had comparable titles (X meets Y) but most did.
Yes, many writing rules are really recommendations, and every now and then someone comes up with a brilliant pitch that throws all the advice out the window and blows up with agent likes. But these are outliers, not the norm. Luckily, most pitch parties give you multiple opportunities to pitch, so if you’re really set on that pitch that’s a list of weird fantasy elements in iambic pentameter, put at least one traditional pitch in your rotation as a backup.
3. Know the Rules of the Party
Most pitch parties have a website you can find with a quick Google search for the party’s hashtag. The website lays out rules for participation including times, number of pitches, and who the party is for. A few things I see consistently in pitches that receive few or no retweets/likes include:
Leaving off hashtags: Agents are maximizing their time by searching for the tags they’re interested in. For instance, an agent looking for YA fantasy during Pitmad will enter #Pitmad #YA #F. If you have a young adult fantasy and don’t include ALL of those tags, the search results will not include your pitch. I know they take up real estate you’d desperately like for your story, but if your pitch isn’t seen, it doesn’t matter how well it’s written. Always include the party hashtag, the market, the genre, and any other applicable tags (like #LGBTQ and #Own). They will do more heavy lifting than anything else in your pitch.
Posting too often or outside of hours: Agents are pros. They see a hundred pitches and queries a day. They remember when something looks familiar. So when an author pitched a dozen times during #Pitmad instead of the three allowed, I noticed and I’m sure agents did as well. Ditto for deleting your pitch and re-posting to make it look like you were within the limits. What that tells agents is that either you feel like you’re too special to have to follow rules, or that you’re unable to understand them well enough to follow. Either one makes a bad client, no matter how good your book may be.
Including photos or links: Because popular hashtags are targeted for spam, agents specifically filter out posts with photos or links. There may sometimes be exceptions for picture books, but including concept art or a link to your website may doom your pitch to oblivion when it doesn’t even show up on agents’ searches.
As I’ve said before, pitch parties are just one way to get an agent’s notice. Old-fashioned querying is still how most authors find representation. So don’t despair, and take what you can from the experience to make your writing shine!