On #PitMad and Querying

I’M UP late on the eve of #PitMad, the biggest pitch event on Twitter, a quarterly affair that always ends in writers landing agents who go on to land those writers book deals. Untold thousands of aspiring authors participate, vying for the “likes” of perhaps a couple hundred agents.

As writers, the odds are automatically stacked against us. Most won’t see a single “like,” but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that any given writer might.

Why I Love #PitMad

There’s a certain magic to #PitMad and similar pitch events. In the normal course of querying agents, you need to submit several times a week for months before you start getting consistent responses. Querying is a slow process–and it’s supposed to be.

Then there’s #PitMad. The great thing about your pitch being selected by agents during #PitMad is not only that you might be invited to submit more material than they usually ask for–more pages, perhaps a synopsis, perhaps a full manuscript up front–but that the agents who participate typically prioritize your submission. Thus, you get a much faster response than you typically get with querying. It’s quite a thrill for the writer who gets those “likes,” and if they have the right book, it might fast-track them to representation.

Should you participate?

If you’re participating in #PitMad or considering it, and you’re apprehensive about the whole thing, I think the first thing you should keep in mind is that your ability to write a book and your ability to sell the idea of your book are two different things. A query letter is a sales pitch. A #PitMad tweet is a sales pitch. You might have written a brilliant, provocative, engaging, highly entertaining novel and not know squat about how to distill the essence of the story into a few words that manage to touch hearts and form dollar signs in retinas like your book would do if people would just read the damn thing.

The second thing I think you should consider is that you should commit serious time and energy to learning how to sell your story. The information is out there. A pitch, in query form or tweet form, is a three-act structure just like many stories are, though the pitch only gives the starting points of the three acts.

A pitch can be broken down into three steps:

Where do we start?
What makes us go somewhere else?
Where are we going?

That’s it. We could break all three of those questions down and make things way more complex, but for the moment, I’ll frame it another way:

Who is the protagonist?
What is their predicament and what stands in their way of resolving it?
What do they have to do, is anyone helping, and what happens if they fail?

I’m going to make up an example pitch. Three paragraphs, each attempting to answer one of these questions.

Who is the protagonist?

Ten-year-old Billy loves baseball just like his father. In his spare time, he marvels at the old, yellowed ball signed by none other than Babe Ruth that’s sitting in the glass case on his father’s desk.

What is their predicament and what stands in their way of resolving it?

When a group of neighborhood bullies trick Billy into showing them his father’s prized possession, an unwelcome game of catch results in the ball flying over the fence and into the overgrown back yard of Mr. Jenkins, an old hermit purported to have not left the house in twenty years and who legend has it is responsible for every missing persons flyer in town.

What do they have to do, is anyone helping, and what happens if they fail?

With only his three-legged dog Sparky at his side, Billy has no choice but to cross the fence and find the baseball, or else he’ll have to face the wrath of his father, who prides himself on being the biggest Babe Ruth fan of all time. Billy’s pretty sure he’d rather die.

So how would you distill this pitch into a tweet?

Ask yourself, “What is the most important part of each step?” In this example, it’s as follows:

Ten-year-old Billy loves baseball.

A game of catch results in [his father’s Babe Ruth-signed ball] flying over the fence into the overgrown back yard of [a purported killer].

Billy has no choice but to find the baseball or face the wrath of his father.

Now we’re barely over the 280 character limit, and we can distill these three points into a pitch tweet, with room for hashtags:

Ten-year-old Billy loves baseball. When a game of catch results in his father’s Babe Ruth-signed ball flying over the fence into the overgrown yard of a purported killer, he has to choose between risking his life to find it or facing the wrath of his father. #PitMad #MG #S

Give it a shot.

If you’re stuck on how to pitch your novel, try this formula. Start with the three questions I presented. Either set. One might work better for you than the other, and know this structure isn’t set in stone. Not all stories have the exact same structure, but this should present a skeletal frame for beginning to distill your story into its most basic form.

I hope this exercise will help you define and then refine your pitch, both for the next #PitMad event and your next round of querying.

If you’d like additional help with either, I have reasonable rates, and I’d love to work with you on a more complex level by diving straight into your manuscript. Otherwise, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter to keep up with my random attempts to make sense of things.

With love,

Tory

2 thoughts on “On #PitMad and Querying

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