METHOD TO THE (PITCH) MADNESS
Pitch Madness was my first ever Twitter pitch contest and I entered not knowing what to expect. I’m still new to querying (heck—I’m still new to Twitter!), but I was curious to see how my work would stack up. Could I get into the agent round? And if so, would I get any requests? If nothing else, I thought it would be an excellent learning experience.
Preparing my submission
An entry consists of a 35-word (max) pitch, along with the first 250 words of the completed manuscript, and since the submission window is only open for 24 hours, I began work on my entry a few weeks in advance. I tried a lot of pitches until I came up with one that I thought best encapsulated my plot, and then I extracted the first 250 words of the manuscript.
Looking at that section apart from the rest of my book was jarring. It was clear I’d wasted precious real estate on descriptions and exposition. The beginning needed momentum and a tighter focus on my MC. Why would anyone care about her story if the initial paragraphs were heavy on setting and light on character? Granted, 250 words isn’t a lot, but if you think about it—that’s the length of text you see on the first page of a published book. You know . . . the page everyone flips to when they’re browsing in the bookstore.
The page that makes them buy the book.
I studied the opening with a critical eye, cutting unnecessary descriptions and rewording sentences in order to convey more voice. I made sure the questions beneath the surface spurred the plot, while aiming for the exact sentence I wanted my excerpt to end on. The result was much more dynamic and it taught me a valuable lesson. Look at your first 250 words apart from the rest of the story. You don’t need to tell everything in those paragraphs—in fact, you shouldn’t. Reveal just enough to hook the reader. Make them turn those pages.
Hitting ‘enter’ and stalking the #Pitchmadness feed like mad
The form for the Pitch Madness entries went live one day early, and I was ready. I inserted my pitch along with total word count, target demographic and genre, and pasted in those 250 words. Then I hit enter and the screen switched:
Thank you for entering Pitch Madness! Your submission has been received.
Um. Now what?
Round one readers were busy sorting submissions behind the scenes, but 11 days had to pass before the blog hosts announced their finalists! That’s when I discovered the #PitchMadness feed. With the hashtag, I unlocked an entire world within Twitter completely devoted to the contest. The slush readers were there posting encouragement, as well as all of the other writers who had submitted just like me. I struck up conversations and made new friends, and I read EVERY TWEET the Pitch Madness readers tweeted as they sorted entries. It was so revealing—like getting to peek inside an agent’s brain! I got to learn what excited them and what made them pass. Tweets were intentionally vague so as not to identify the entry, but the advice was universal. Examples included things like:
Make sure the word count is on point for age/genre. Not too high/too low. This can constitute and immediate pass.
Voice should match demographic. For example, MG shouldn’t sound like YA.
Refrain from starting off with a dream sequence or a weather report.
But the best part of the #PitchMadness conversation was connecting with other writers! I met so many contest entrants on the feed, tweeting about their projects, nerves, hopes, and offering support to one another. The energy online was amazing, and it was nice to feel like I wasn’t the only one in the world who was sending out queries and dealing with the oh-so-lovely side effects of stress and rejection.
Out of 811 Pitch Madness entries, it was announced 68 would be making it through to the agent round, which was 8 more than originally intended. Still, that meant there was only an 8% chance of being chosen as a finalist in the live-tweet draft.
Yes, a draft… Because all that waiting hadn’t been nerve-wracking (I mean, exciting!) enough!
The Twitter draft didn’t start until noon, so I concentrated on a new WIP and took my kids to the grocery store. Driving home, I realized it was 12:40 and immediately pulled over into the dirt lot of an antique store, took out my phone, and there it was. My entry! HINTERLAND had been drafted in the first round for #TeamBowsersCastle! I couldn’t believe it. With shaking hands, I tweeted back to check-in with my team leaders, Rebecca Coffindaffer and Marieke Nijkamp, thinking all the while there had been a mistake, but I’d made it into the agent round!
The agent round
After making friends with all of my fellow #TeamBowsersCastle teammates (who are all awesome!), our entries went live on the blogs. It was crazy to see my excerpt for HINTERLAND posted along with the other finalists, and I read through a good majority of them. There were so many amazing concepts and tons of great writing, and it was very helpful to see what had risen to the top of the slush pile.
To read the 2016 Pitch Madness picks, go to:
Team Rainbow Road: http://www.fizzygrrl.com/pitch-madness-2016-mario-kart-edition/#.VvQDcdJdWSo
Team Bowser’s Castle: http://rebeccacoffindaffer.com/category/pitch-contests-2/
The agent round lasted 2 days, during which a pool of 20 participating literary agents combed through Pitch Madness entries, making comments on the ones they wanted to request. The comments were locked (of course!) so we were in the dark. Needless to say, there was A LOT of activity on the #Pitchmadness feed during that time. I don’t think anyone slept.
The day of reckoning
Noon. Again. And this time I wasn’t driving. I was staring at Twitter, my heart in a fist. The tweets came in one team at a time and #TeamBowsersCastle was third to go. I made lunch for the kids and at 12:49 it was announced that 2 agents had requested a full of HINTERLAND! I was so excited, and then they unlocked the comments and I had 2 requests for partials as well. I must have checked my entry on Rebecca Coffindaffer’s blog 50 times just to make sure it was real!
Since then, I’ve responded to my requests and I’m waiting to hear back. No matter the outcome, I’m happy I took a chance on Pitch Madness. It was a tremendous experience—from the preparation, to the tenquery-like tweets, to all of the writers I’ve discovered online.
Pitch Madness is more than a contest. It’s an incredibly supportive community. Thanks go out to Brenda Drake and her amazing team for all of the hours and effort they put into helping aspiring authors realize their dreams. I’ve heard it said that if you want to write a novel and you can imagine doing something else—do the something else. Publication is consistently tough, and not just for aspiring authors, but for multi-published authors as well. Pitch Madness got me to step out of my comfort zone. I shared my writing (online!) and saw interest from agents I might not have queried. But above all, I feel more connected to my tribe. As it turns out, there are a lot of people out there for whom writing is it and there is no ‘something else.’
Megan LaCroix is a YA writer, currently seeking representation. When not writing (or reading, or querying) she can be found adventuring around Northern Virginia with her husband and their two little girls. She is a member of SCBWI. Follow her online at: www.twitter.com/meganklacroix.