The countdown to #PitMad is just a few weeks away, and with #PitDark on Thursday, I wanted to write a post about Twitter pitches: what they are, how to craft a good pitch, and a link to a calendar. Pitch contests are a fantastic way to distill the essence of your book into a few key sentences, which I think can help hone longer pitches, like query letters and synopses. As with any contest, be sure to read the rules carefully!
What is a Pitch Contest?
It’s a chance to pitch your complete, polished, unpublished manuscript directly to agents who can filter through the feed for what they’re looking for. The catch? Well, it’s Twitter, so you have to distill your masterpiece into 280 characters, including the identifying hashtag as well as your genre and age category. An agent like on your post is an invitation to query, but make sure you do your research! (I once was excited by an agent like and sent my YA fantasy to an agent who mainly represents adult fantasy. I ultimately won a kind, personalized rejection, but I might’ve saved myself some heartache on the front end.)
Who Can Participate?
Typically anyone who’s unagented with a complete, polished manuscript can pitch during a contest. Now, in addition to the manuscript’s completion, certain pitch contests will have additional specifications. For example, #SFFPit is intended for science fiction and fantasy manuscripts. #DVPit is only for creators from marginalized identities. Each contest will have different times of day and numbers of pitches (and manuscripts) allowed. You’ll want to check each contest’s guidelines before applying. You won’t gain much traction pitching an adult horror during a picture book contest.
Crafting an Excellent Pitch
Seems like a great opportunity, right? It can be. You’ll want to distinguish your pitch from the sheer volume of tweets. There are a few key components to stand out.
An eye-catching pair of comparative titles can make a huge difference. When querying, we’re told to avoid huge names like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but my personal opinion is that it’s more acceptable during pitch contests. Comp titles are a great way to instill plot, themes, and tone into a few words.
Avoid Rhetorical Questions
They take up precious real estate when you could be telling us about your plot or character. They’re fairly common–don’t forget, you want to STAND OUT.
Concentrate on Character
Forget your lead-in sentence describing your world’s lush jungle forests, home to the Azyskdfoinslaskdjfian Elves. While world-building is fun to immerse yourself in, people read for characters and story. There are going to be hundreds of YA fantasies about a strong female lead–who discovers she’s a long-lost princess, btw–overthrowing a corrupt empire (just using my chosen genre as an example). Your characters are what set you apart from the masses, so you have to make the reader/agent care about them. You accomplish this by defining the character’s agency and clear stakes.
Here are some starting formulas (which can also help distill your query letter down to its core, but that’s a whole other discussion):
[Main character] must [accomplish action], or else [consequence happens].
When [main character] [experiences/causes inciting incident], [consequences happen] and [must take action], otherwise [stakes].
Below are a few of my more successful pitches:
SIX OF CROWS x THE BELLES Ell’s magical ability to rearrange human tissue makes her more valuable as an executioner than a medic to her immortal tyrant emperor. If she refuses, he will destroy her family, but if she complies, she’ll become an irredeemable monster. #PitMad #YA #F
My comp titles imply elements of heists, magic, and in-depth worldbuilding. I introduce my main character, Ell, and notice how I come out and say what makes her unique–she can manipulate peoples’ bodies. I don’t say “a teenage girl with rare magical powers”, which would also be accurate. The stakes are clear–do horrible things and become something monstrous, or refuse and something horrible happens to the people she loves.
SIX OF CROWS+FMA
A crew hell-bent on stealing a tyrant’s immortality:
[Blood Drop Emoji] Medic who rearranges human tissue
[Bomb Emoji] Bomb-obsessed swordsman
[Diamond Emoji] Discontented noblewoman
[Dagger Emoji] Stone-melting rogue
With these comps, I’m shooting for heists meets a scientific magic system. I wanted to experiment with something visual, so I added emojis (sorry they don’t show up here). This pitch starts with a description of an ensemble cast and a heist. I’m able to distill a few quirky character qualities along with the unique heist target: immortality. Then I finish up with the main character and her stakes.
GILDED WOLVES+BLOOD HEIR To escape her role as a tyrant’s prized torturer, Ell joins a thieving crew. By the time she learns the leader is the empire’s true heir, she’s already fallen for him. If he uncovers her past, recapture will be the least of her worries. #KissPitch #YA #FR
This was an interesting pitch, because I concentrated on the romance subplot versus Ell’s magic. I did use the cliché “fallen for him”, but this goes to show, sometimes clichés work? Or at the very least, don’t detract from the meaning.
So give Twitter pitches a shot! Best case scenario, your tweet gains a lot of traction and agent attention, worst case scenario, you boil your concept to a concise elevator pitch (that you can tell your curious relatives instead of searching for the right words) and meet a lot of other querying authors!
While I hope this information is helpful, if you read this and think to yourself, there’s no way I can distill my 130,000 novel into a sentence, that’s perfectly fine. Pitch contests aren’t everything, and if your novel has lots of plot threads or the main selling point is beautiful language, querying may be your best bet. Don’t be discouraged, it took me about a year practicing during various pitch contests to get a like.
If you want to try your hand at pitch contests, you can find a list of them with informational links here.