It’s that time again. In just 8 days, #PitMad is going to strike and I’d like to give you some advice from a Pitch Wars mentor! It’s one of the most exciting times of the year, and everyone is revving up to go. For those of you who know the drill, you know there’s going to be a lot going on, and that you need to really stand out to be noticed. The same goes for people entering for the first time, but don’t let that dissuade you, because a great Twitter pitch is all it takes to get noticed – there’s no preferential treatment as everyone only has 140 characters to pitch their work. Check out the rules here on Brenda Drake’s site (the wonderful creator of all things #PitMad).
As a Pitch Wars mentor (on a year’s sabbatical this year though!), I know what it takes to get yourself a request. I also know what not to do. There’s plenty of advice about making sure you have: character + conflict + obstacles + stakes. And I’m in that camp – this is exactly what you need. It really is that simple.
I hear you cry out “but it’s not – how do I boil my huge book down to a measly 140 characters?” Well, let me show you.
To start with keep it very simple. Don’t try to get all unique and quirky quite yet. We need to make sure we have the core plot laid out, otherwise your quirky won’t get many hits. Just as in queries, synopses, and in blurbs, your potential agent or editor wants to see what your book is about in a snapshot. No hanging about. There are literally hundreds of Tweets going on in #PitMad in every event, so don’t think an agent will reread it again just to be sure they know what it’s about. Most likely, they won’t.
Character: Let’s just say it’s a woman called Jane who happens to be a faery cop. However, we’re not going to describe or use any adjectives about her just yet. If there’s space at the end, yes we will. If not, then sorry, it’s not getting in there. Think core plot only.
Conflict: In order to get to this point, we need to determine your genre first. Then we can get to plot and conflict. This is where some writers stumble. Common thoughts: But the mystery is as important as the romance. It’s a dystopian but I don’t want to call it that as it’s not a popular genre right now. It’s a fantasy crossed with a thriller crossed with romance. Or any permutation of these ideas. Stop.
I know your book is big. I get that. I know there’s a lot going on, but you need to first make some decisions and be really tough on yourself. Let’s look at the genre first so that we can best determine which is the main conflict. Think about a physical bookstore. Is there a “dystopian but called something else” shelf? Or a “romance fantasy” shelf. No. You’ll find these online, sure, but you want to be easily categorized, as this will help you not only in physical stores, but it will get you recognized better on online bookstores and booksellers, too. Put it this way. You have ONE word. Only one. What’s it going to be?
Let’s take an off the cuff example: Say your book has an alternate universe where a serial killer hunts our cop who must solve her case before her new boyfriend becomes the next victim. Pretty plain idea, right, except the fantasy element we mentioned earlier adds a twist and must be in there. Now, remember the conundrum above? (“fantasy crossed with a thriller crossed with romance”). Yeah, well, that’s going to be narrowed down. Look at the information above in that example. It’s clear if you concentrate. What’s your genre? Fantasy. You’re in an alternate world. Period. In a query, you have room to expand “Fantasy with thriller elements (or romance)” and you have the whole query to show it. Here you don’t. You only have 140 characters. You may have room for further hashtags of genre if your pitch is tight enough (awesome), but you need to think basics first.
All right, let’s see how determining your genre leads to determining your plot and how that will lead to your conflict. We’ll work with our current example. What is the start and resolution of your novel? That’s right. Does your character start out looking for love, then finds and solves a serial killer case, then finds love at the end? Or does she start out looking to solve a case, finds love on the way, and ends up with both? The first example shows you that romance is your plot – it’s what she set out to look for, and what she ends with. The second example shows you that the thriller is the plot, as that is the first thing she set out to look for, and romance happened on the way.
Right then. Let’s decide we want the thriller angle with our fantasy – for us, she’s starting with the case, not the love. At present, for our example, we have three main components. We know our character is Jane, and we know our genre is fantasy, and our plot is leaning towards the thriller style.
Here’s the example so far: #F Jane must hunt serial killer…
Obstacle: What is the killer doing to try and stop her? Again, pare it back. What is the only big thing he is doing…how is he evading her. That’s what this example needs. Let’s say he has the inclination to taunt her through coded emails she can’t solve. Right, we have our obstacle. We need to shorten the phrasing to make it fit. Let’s add it to the example thus far:
#F Jane must hunt serial killer through coded emails impossible to crack.
Stakes and consequences: Here’s the last bit. What has she got to lose? Does the serial killer target her new lover? Will the next victim die because of her failures? Will it become the biggest serial killer spree in America, the blood on her hands? Will it mean she’s chucked out of the force? Pick one. The main one. Let’s go with he targets her lover, because we mentioned the romance being a solid part of the book.
Note: We want to show this is the important thing she has to lose. Remember, your book should have made the stakes/consequences as personal as possible. If it hasn’t, then there might be a core issue in your book and you should look into that. Seriously. You want your best work out there, so you need to be certain your book has a personal stake.
Right. We’ve chosen her stake (her new lover will be targeted next). Let’s add that to the equation:
#F Jane must hunt serial killer through coded emails impossible to crack, before her new lover’s next.
Alright, so we have a basic pitch. We need to put in our #PitMad tag.
So it becomes: #F Jane must hunt serial killer through coded emails impossible to crack before her new lover’s next #PitMad
We still have 32 characters left, so this is where we can add a unique detail or quirk. What is the most important thing that is left out from earlier? The romance? The alternate universe? Well, we covered the romance in our example. And we said it was an fantasy…but we should really show a bit more. Let’s go with the alternate world.
Our example now becomes: #F In an alternate world Jane must hunt serial killer through coded emails impossible to crack before her new lover’s next #PitMad
We still have ten characters left. What is the next thing we can add in? I’d say up the fantasy. Maybe she’s a faery cop? Or an ogre cop? Or a magical cop? Or a witch cop? Let’s go with a faery cop. Let’s add it to our example:
#F In an alternate world faery cop Jane must hunt serial killer through coded emails impossible to crack before her new lover’s next #PitMad
That actually puts us bang on 140 characters, and there’s still room to tighten, polish up and add more details. For example:
#F In an alternate world, faery cop Jane hunts killer using unsolvable coded emails. She must solve before her new ogre lover’s next #PitMad
Here we are on 140 characters once again, with added unique elements, and an extra punctuation mark for further clarity, In fact, this is even just a rough example of how to make up a Twitter pitch.
What I want you to notice is that out of a silly example that I made up as I wrote this post, we formed a cohesive pitch with a unique twist that showed the genre, the character, the conflict, the stakes and the consequences.
I know how hard it can be to boil down a book to a Twitter pitch, but I think if you try this method it might help.
Let me know your thoughts, and if you have any questions!
Good luck on your #PitMad endeavors, and let me know how you do!
P.S. Sometimes comp titles can help a ton, too!