With thousands of pitches set to pour through Twitter’s #Pitmad feed for literary agent and indie publisher perusal on Thursday, it’s time to tell you everything I know about crafting a quality pitch (illustrated with tweet pitch examples, though advice here also applies to query letter pitches). I’ll also give you advice on preparing for pitch party days, which can be chaotic, stressful and discouraging –if you participate on your own. (For details on which pitch parties exist and their website links, see this post.)
Over the past year, I have critiqued an estimated 50+ tweet pitches for various parties (not including revised pitches), which has helped me note patterns in essential ingredients and maximizing opportunities to hook a reader. However, quality ingredients don’t guarantee a quality end product, so I won’t just list ingredients, I’ll explain why it’s important to address them well, then give advice on how to do so.
Essential Pitch Ingredients
–Inciting event, central conflict & stakes
–Character growth that must occur for the MC to resolve conflict and avoid stakes or impossible choice the MC must make
Before we dive in
Remember that your pitch isn’t just saying ‘this is a great novel’. You’re telling an industry professional why they want to represent your novel. So how does your novel differ from others in your genre? What is unique about your character, inciting event, conflict, stakes & character growth? As you draft and revise your pitch, keep checking that it highlights what is most unique and compelling about your novel.
Note For SFF & Multiple POV Writers
It’s tempting to write an opening which introduces the wonderful world you have created -but don’t. In a tweet pitch, you aren’t selling your fantasy or scifi setting -you’re selling an intriguing character, with a compelling personal role to play in a conflict involving significant personal stakes. This is why it’s so hard to pitch multiple points of view in a pitch and why, if your novel has multiple points of view, I recommend giving the main characters a pitch to themselves, to do justice to each character’s arc.)
Your main character is your hook. In introducing them, you are trying to show or describe something interesting and relatable about your character, which invites a literary agent or publisher to connect with them. (Do name your MC- that provides a mental hook for details about them to be hung upon.) A character description could be a single adjective, or a job title. Ideally, it will show or state what your character draws upon to help them confront the conflict and be unique/ specific to your character. Eg. her fear of swimming from near drowning as a child, where her story of personal growth climaxes when she sees a child drowning off the shores of a deserted beach. However you describe or show something about your character, consider: what is the most unique thing about my character, what helps them resolve the conflict and what are the most engaging word choices to show or describe that?
Character Intro Examples
“17 YO Jorden’s specialties are baking apple pie, hand to hand combat and leaping before he looks.” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad @debbieiancu.
“Elective mute Ashari remembers nothing before the void in her mind.” -Halla Williams @hallawilliams1.
If you’re struggling to find space for an engaging character introduction, you could use the inciting event as your hook instead and frame your introduction with your inciting event, as I have done here. “Thrust to power by death in the family, peace-born Ruarnon…” -Elise Carlson.
Inciting Event and Tension
You might like to frame your character introduction with ‘when’ to lead into the inciting event. ‘When’ is a good opening to lead into a collision of worlds, desires or wills etc. It amplifies the fact that the character we’ve just met and connected with is about to have their world turned upside-down and leaves us wondering how and what the outcome will be. (Try not to use the phrase ‘turned upside-down’, as it’s common to many stories and can sound generic. If you use it, highlight the way in which that character’s life is changed and or their emotional response/ reaction to keep the focus on what is ‘unique’ about your story). Ending this sentence with a clash of wills/ interests with another character or a clash of morals between the character’s beliefs and what they are about to do -an obstacle to their goal and or resolution of the conflict- is a good way to get tension into your opening sentence.
Inciting Event Examples
“His suicide mission: Build a bomb, destroy a space ship and save the world.” -Debbie Haddad.
“Having lost her memory in a storm, she chooses the unlikely safety of becoming a mercenary for the enigmatic Captain Westorr.” -Halla Williams.
“Monsters live under beds, but Julie is sure there’s one in her ceiling.” -mine.
An important thing to note with conflict is that in a pitch you don’t create conflict by saying ‘there’s a war on.’ Conflict here doesn’t refer to external plot events, it refers to your main character’s personal struggles within those events, and or struggles in relationships necessary to achieve story goals, or moral or ethical dilemma’s your main character faces. Again, inclusion of these personal elements creates opportunity for readers to connect emotionally to your character and story and for your pitch to hook them.
Of pitches I’ve critiqued, I would estimate that half do not clearly state the external conflict and or the main character’s role in it. Author bias really kicks in here -you know your story so well that your subconscious fills holes in your pitch, but critical readers can point them out, so you can fill holes and clarify that pitch for industry professionals. This is where I highly recommend trading pitch feedback with other writers.
“But falling in love wasn’t part of the plan…” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad.
“There’s only one way to find out and stop being scared -climb the tree beside the house and meet the THING!” -mine.
Once you have introduced a character and conflict which has hooked our interest, we need to know not only the external stakes, but the personal stakes your character faces. A pitch in which the stakes are ‘or the world will be destroyed’ is generic and ‘the world/ fantasy kingdom x’ is an anonymous entity the reader knows nothing about, so it has little impact on us. A character however, is someone we can connect with, so when you threaten that character -we feel something. If external conflict is key to your story, be sure to state the character’s role in it and the personal stakes their role entails.
(Conflict and) Stakes Examples
“…completing his mission means sacrificing the girl he loves.” -Debbie Haddad.
“But ‘safe’ is a relative term. For both of them.” -Halla Williams.
Character Growth and Impossible Choice/ More Tension
Perhaps the greatest place to hook a reader into your pitch emotionally is when you state how your character must grow or develop in order to overcome the conflict. If main character Jane hates estranged uncle Tom, but his knowledge is crucial to preventing granny’s murder and Jane must learn to forgive Tom his past mistakes to enlist his help in saving Granny -that adds tension to the conflict.
Specific demons from your character’s past (or other obstacles or shortcomings) they must overcome to resolve the conflict are often the thing that makes me lament your book not being in print yet, because I want to read it. Think about how your character must change to overcome the conflict they face and try to include it in your query. If you struggle to identify how your character changes (I did in my first Pitmad), this may be a sign that your novel isn’t ready to query and that your main character’s arc needs another structural edit (as mine did.)
Impossible Choice Example
“…she must use her voice or let her captain perish.” -Halla Williams.
But Wait, There’s More
The Save the Cat Formula features an addition that may be difficult to fit in a pitch, but can make a pitch highly engaging to read. This final ingredient to kick your pitch up a level is adding a complication to your character’s ability to resolve the conflict and indicating how this complication raises the stakes. What factor makes it even harder for your MC to achieve their goal? Does a friend betray them? Do they lose an asset crucial to success at the eleventh hour? Can you jam this complication and an indication of how it raises the stakes into your pitch?
“When a monster army invades…” (the second conflict in my novel).
Whole Tweet Pitch Examples (More preparation and party advice below)
The above pitch elements may seem like a lot, and you may only fit some of them into each pitch -which is why it’s great you get 3- so you can highlight different elements in each one. Here’s the pitches I’ve referenced above -each reference is often sections of 2 different pitches.
Late June update: Halla is now agented -congrats Halla!
My (Elise Carlson’s) pitch. This was from #PBPitch but it got a literary agent favourite so it’s going here!
How Do I Achieve All This On My Own?
You don’t. Tweet offering to trade or asking for feedback. If this is your first pitch party and or you’re not comfortable sharing your draft pitches in public tweets, ask some writers if it’s ok to DM them for feedback. I’ve spent hours drafting, revising and completely re-writing my pitches -aided by excellent feedback from other writers and learning from critiquing other people’s pitches as I go. I recommend doing as much of both as you can!
Another way to learn from other writers is to enter ‘#Pitmad’ (or whichever pitch party you’re doing’s tag), and the genre tags you will pitch on into the twitter search bar, to read pitches from previous parties. Some will unfortunately be rough and in need of editing, but some will be jaw dropping and they’re great mentor pitches to learn from.
If you’re in a time zone where pitch parties run through the day (i.e. not Australia or New Zealand -if you are schedule your tweets on your twitter!), you may be bubbling with nerves on the party day. On seeing thousands of tweets pitches flashing through the #Pitmad tag feed, you may feel alone. You’re not! Thousands of writers pitching means lots of company! So how do you connect to have company during a pitch party?
Before the Party
Tweet to ask your followers who’s pitching a few days beforehand (lots of writers will do this). Tell people you are participating! Some writers who aren’t pitching and who are in compatible time zones will go out of their way to retweet writers who are pitching, so look out for tweets offering to rt. Personally, my favourite reason to tweet on #Pitmad before the party is to trade pitch critiques. This is where you get to interact meaningfully with fellow pitching writers, get to know them a bit and have people’s tweets to look out for and interact with on the day -people you can mutually cheer on.
During the Party
Get on the pitch party feed or even better, join a Pitch Party Support group DM to chat, comment on each other’s pitches etc. My group is still going strong, so reply to this tweet (or a newer one on my feed 😉) if you’d like to be added. Then/ when you find pitches of writer friends, associates or pitches you like -reply or quote RT saying what you like about the pitches. We’re all nervous, so acts of kindness like words of encouragement during a pitch party make people’s days. And yes, hopefully you will also get some of what you have given -and you will have earned it.
After the Party
Celebrate, commiserate -ask how writers how they fared and share anything you learnt or ideas you have for next time with anyone likely to participate again. If you pitch in a future party, try and connect with the writers you’ve met this time and see if you can continue supporting each other in future.
I’ve listed the pitch parties I’m aware of, which months they’re held in and links to Pitch Party websites here.
You’ll find resource links spanning Query Letters & Synopsis to Finding and Communicating with Literary Agents, in this post.
If you’re new to Twitter, the bottom section of my Social Media For Writer’s is full of advice to help you get started, and I’ve cataloged other #WritingCommunity hashtags to help you navigate the community in this Guide.