Posts Tagged ‘#PitchMadness’

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Around February, when we finally got the last of our beta notes back and made the last of our edits to The Last Princess, I worked up the nerve to start sending out query letters to agents. I invested in one of the online lectures available through the Writer’s Digest website — about writing query letters — and was introduced to the concept of the logline. A logline is a 2-3 sentence thumbnail of your novel which you put in the first paragraph of your query, to entice your agent-of-choice to read on. If distilling your entire novel into a one page synopsis seems daunting, then again even further into a paragraph for the body of the query letter, the logline is ten times as challenging. Because, it turns out, this is probably the single most important tool you have to interest an agent. It has to be perfect.

This was my first attempt:

A homeschooler with the ability to see fairytale creatures living among us must abandon her dreams in order to stop a ruthless changeling from using his magic to rule both worlds.

I quickly discovered the Twitter writing subculture, and immersed myself in twitter pitch contests. I don’t know which came first: the idea of the 35-word pitch or the various pitch contests that use them as your entry, but it seems that 35 words has become the industry standard for the logline, more commonly called the pitch.

Some of the things I learned were that it is important to indicate the age of your character as a way to define your book’s category. In our case, middle grade. Also, you must clearly indicate the stakes – what the main character has to loose if they make the wrong choice or fail. This led to a new version:

A 12yo with the ability to see fairytale creatures living among us must abandon her chance of becoming their princess and embrace her troll heritage to stop a ruthless changeling from dominating both worlds.

Better. But further coaching pointed out that one long sentence is difficult to follow. Better to break it up into two, or even three. And it is good to call your main character by name:

Twelve-year-old Cat sees the descendants of fairy-tale creatures living among us. To stop a ruthless changeling from dominating both worlds Cat must abandon her dream of becoming the fae princess and embrace her trollish qualities.

I got a lot of feedback on this version. Mainly people liked the premise and the set-up of the first sentence, but failed to see the connection between that and the second sentence. Why must Cat abandon her dreams of being a princess? What does “both worlds” mean? Is Cat a changeling too, since she’s both a princess and a troll? Back to the drawing board:

Because twelve-year-old Cat can see the fairy-tale creatures among us she might become their princess. But to defeat a power-hungry goblin and rescue her friend she must acknowledge her trollish heritage, crushing her princess dreams.

Getting closer. We have the MC, her age, the premise, the choice she must make and the stakes if she fails. But what would really push this over the top would be to inject some emotion into the pitch. And icing on the cake, get some “voice” in there – make this match the flavor of the book. In order to fit in the extra words needed to accomplish this I dropped the wordy reference to Cat being able to see the hidden fairy-tale creatures. While I felt this concept was key when I started this process, I now realized it was actually minor to the overall plot. Also, I was beginning to loathe the word “creatures:

Twelve-year-old Cat’s dreams come true when fairy-tale people crown her their princess. But when a power-hungry goblin kidnaps her BFF, she must embrace the anguish of her Trollish heritage and forsake princess-hood to save her.

This is the pitch I entered into #PitchSlam, another Twitter pitch contest with feedback. The coaches quite liked this one; the voice and emotion came through loud and clear. But they all felt there was too much going on. They also wanted to understand more clearly why she needed to give up being a princess. Okay, time to trade in some more words. Another thing I realized was that the bad guy was himself not as important as what he does – kidnaps Cat’s friend. So I made one last tweak:

Twelve-year-old Cat’s dreams come true when faerie folk crown her their princess. But she must embrace the heartbreak of her Trollish heritage to rescue her kidnapped BFF, and nobody wants a troll for a princess.

When I submitted this final version for comment, I was rewarded with universal praise from half a dozen people. And I am very happy with this one. I think I’ll keep it. The thing about this pitch is, when I look at it now, it seems so effortless and obvious. Like how else would I pitch my book? And that’s the reason I think I finally have a winner.

What I’ve learned about the all-important 35-word pitch is that nobody expects you to pop one out at will; they are hard and everybody knows it. That’s part of their value – to demonstrate your commitment to your book and your craft. I came up with this pithy analogy the other day, while haunting the Twitter feeds waiting for feedback: Writing a query synopsis is like building a miniature of your entire novel out of Legos. Writing a pitch is like doing that with only 35 words.

Good luck.

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I can’t say that the querying stage of being an author is any easier than the actual writing part.  In fact, I can’t even say it will take less time (I would certainly like to say this).  But I can definitely say it is more exciting!

In the last two weeks we have thrown our hat into a number of query/pitch contests/parties, with mixed success.  I’ve written at length about WriterPitch, and I call that a success.  We collected a great number of promising wishes during MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) day, and now we have a lot of agents that appear to be looking for what my daughter and I are pushing.  That’s a success.

I blogged about #PitchMadness, here. We entered it and spent the next several days haunting Twitter, hoping to see any hint that someone liked our manuscript.  Several of the tweets by the judges teasing their picks seemed to be talking about our manuscript, and our hopes rose.  But in the end our pitch was not chosen.  But the following day I did receive this personal tweet:

LB Tweet

So … that happened.

I also decided to try out the Twitter pitches I had crafted for #PitMad on a smaller Twitter pitch contest for a small book publisher.  They are not as well know, so I’m sure there were far fewer competitors.  I really would prefer an agent to a small publisher, but my goal was to see if I got any response.  In fact I received favorites from three different editors there.  I sent our query, synopsis and first three chapters, per their guidelines, and three days ago we received a request for the full manuscript. So this tells me that based on our first three chapters somebody wanted to read the rest of our book.  Most definitely a success.

But I guess the most important part of this experience has been the many, many individuals and teams who have offered to read our query letters and pitches and first 250 words, etc., and given us free, very helpful feedback.  So the experience has taught us a great deal, and if we win no other contests or get any nibbles on our tweets, we at least improved our chances as we continue to query the old-fashioned way.

So … huge success.

WriterPitch screen

Okay, everyone.  You can relax now.  Help has arrived in the form of WriterPitch.com.  Samantha Fountain’s vision of a platform for authors to promote their unpublished books to agents in the market has been realized.  It’s like a directory of pitches, organized and searchable by fiction/non-fiction, category (Adult, YA, MG, etc.), genre and keyword.  It has been up for about two days and already several authors have received requests from agents.

The obvious benefit to this set-up is that registered agents can window-shop the pitches, learn about the authors, sample a few of their blog posts, and if a pitch peeks their interest, they can read the first 250 words of the manuscript.  Only registered and vetted agents can see this.  So it’s secure.  And agents can tag pitches they’ve read so they don’t waste their valuable time reading them again later.

But there are a number of added benefits not immediately obvious to the casual observer.  And here is where Samantha’s genius shines. The site encourages you to tweet and post links to any author, pitch or blog post you like, so you can promote the books you’d like to see on the shelf some day.  And those pitches that get the most social media love get featured in the day’s Top Ten, along with the top writers.  Most popular agents get their own boost from sharing, too.

Don’t order yet; there’s more!  As a new author pitching his first book, I am somewhat overwhelmed by how much work needs to be done AFTER you’ve finished your book.  You have to craft a Twitter pitch and a logline and a query and a synopsis and the first 250 words and….  What WriterPitch provides is a community.  A place where writers both seasoned and raw can mingle and read one anothers’ pitches and queries.  A place where you can comment and promote those that inspire you, and receive comments from others whom you’ve inspired.  And you can see what’s out there, and what’s working, and who’s in the same place you are.

Samantha didn’t just create a space.  She created a universe.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to create your free profile and get your pitch out there.  If you’re an agent, I invite you to go window-shopping, and bring your wish list. And if you’re anybody at all, I hope you will take a peak at my pitch and tell me what you think.

Better yet, tell the world what you think. This is going to change everything.