Probably the single scariest thing I’ve done as a writer was to enter my first Twitter pitch contest. It’s like standing on the edge of a precipice knowing you’re about to jump, but all the “what ifs” crowd for dominance in your mind. What if I don’t make it to the other side? What if I miss the lake and end up on the rocks? What if the chasm is too deep? What if the ground opens and swallows me up? What if, what if, what if?
Then there are Twitter pitch contests. The fear with those is every bit as real, even if they’re on a more cerebral level. What if no one likes my tweet? What if my pitch is terrible? What if everyone laughs at my ideas? What if all the agents and editors snicker at my idea? What if I mess up? What if, what if, what if?
The truth of the matter is that if we want to be published, we have to put our words out there for people to see. Yes, a Twitter pitch contest like #KissPitch for romance manuscripts or #PitMad for all genres or #SFFPit for science fiction and fantasy can be a daunting thing. But it can also be really fun! #PitMad was the contest that started me on the roundabout path to my wonderful agent, Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary.
Before you jump in with a random tweet on a contest day, there’s a checklist you should pay attention to.
1. Do you have a completed, polished manuscript?
This is the most crucial element. If you’re sitting with an almost-finished manuscript, or you haven’t gotten around to doing those edits that your critique partners and beta readers suggested, or you know that saggy middle needs to be tightened up…don’t enter. You’re not ready. On the other hand, if your manuscript has been workshopped, edited, proofed, and you’re ready to query that sucker, by all means enter.
2. Do you have a pitch or three or four ready to go?
You only have 280 words to hook someone’s attention. That includes the contest hashtags, the genre hashtags, and any other hashtags you want to use. In general, the shorter the pitch, the more likely it is to be read.
Remember back in the days when we only had 140 characters per tweet? Remember Polonius going on and on about how brevity is the soul of wit? Forget the rest of Hamlet if you must, but when you’re crafting a Twitter pitch, remember those wise words. Brevity is the soul of wit.
Shorter tweets are easier on the eyes. They stand out in a flurry of other tweets. But whatever you do, don’t add graphics to your tweet. Unless the specific pitch contest you’re entering allows for that, it’s frowned on.
If you’ve got your pitches ready, by all means, enter.
Or be like me. Workshop the hell out of your tweets…then write flippant tired ones the night before and throw caution to the wind. Sometimes, the flippant tired ones are the best.
I could write a whole post on crafting tweets, but that’s a different beast so we’ll save it for another day.
3. You’re querying, or ready to query.
That’s great! It means your manuscript is ready to be evaluated by agent, editor, or publisher eyes. If that’s the case, by all means, enter. The pitch contest is a way to get your manuscript in front of agents, editors, and publishers that you might not have on your list.
But what about the fear?
Conquering fear is something we all need to do as writers. We have to put our words out there. If we’re going to be published, we’re going to have an audience. Some of that audience will love our words. Some will not love our words. It’s one of the truths of being an author: no book pleases everyone.
Don’t let that stop you.
At some point, you have to take the leap. And it is a leap of faith, but experience has taught me that this particular leap gets easier. It goes from paralyzing to scary to not so bad to downright fun. Remember those questions I asked up top? I’ll try to answer them.
What if no one likes my tweet?
That’s happened to me! And look, I’m still standing. An entire pitch event goes by, and not a single like from any agent or editor or publisher. It’s depressing, but it’s not the end of the world. The truth of the matter is that some concepts tweet really well. Others need a little more finessing.
If no one likes your tweet, make sure your query letter and synopsis do a better job of explaining your premise, Make sure your query doesn’t give away the whole book–it should end in a hook. Then query the agents on your list anyway.
What if my pitch is terrible?
We all write terrible pitches. If you think your pitch is terrible, rewrite it. Don’t be offensive, don’t be rude. Stick to the main plotline of your novel, give us stakes, hook the reader, and make it voicey. No problem, right?
Seriously, your pitch will only be terrible if it’s vague. “A pirate has to save the princess, or awful things will happen.” Now that’s a terrible pitch, because we really have no clue what’s at stake. But if you tell readers just enough to make it interesting, you won’t have a terrible pitch. “A dashing pirate must rescue his beloved princess from a fiendish tyrant before she’s bound to him forever, or the life essence will be forced from his body.”
That’s just one way to pitch The Princess Bride. I’m sure you can think of a million more. That’s not even a great pitch, but at least it has stakes! And a little personality! And it leaves a few questions: how will the life essence be forced from his body? How is a princess the pirate’s beloved? Why would she be bound to a fiendish tyrant? You get the picture.
Since you have multiple tweet opportunities in most contests, mix it up. Have a tweet featuring Westley, and have one featuring Buttercup. If you’re feeling brave, put out a tweet featuring the Rodents of Unusual Size too.
What if everyone laughs at my ideas?
They won’t. Promise. But if you can write a tweet that makes people laugh for the right reasons, it will be memorable.
What if all the agents and editors hate my idea and talk about it behind my back?
Trust me, they don’t have time for this.
What if I mess up?
Ultimately, the only thing you can do is try. If you’re ready to take that leap, do it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Nothing. You’ll be no worse off than you are now. You won’t have ruined your chances. Remember, an agent’s inbox is open to your query regardless of whether or not they favorite your pitch.
Now, go on and take that leap of faith! The only way to lose is by quitting.