Sunday, March 8, 2015

Busting the #1 Twitter Pitch Myth

Image by Jef Poskanser: Source Link
A lot of us out there are prepping for #Pitmad, which is coming up on March 11th. There's a lot of advice that flies around, and the number one piece of advice I hear people saying is:

Your twitter pitch must have STAKES

Heck, I've said it myself, right here on this blog.  
But you know what guys?

It's not true.

Not by a longshot, in fact.

     (See also Gina Denny's "controversial tips for twitter pitching"
       and check out this image on Lara Willard's post on this topic)

See, in prepping some new pitches for this month's #Pitmad, I decided to take a look back at the tweets that got agent favorites in September 2014 Pitmad (see the full list here). The more I looked the more I noticed a trend, or maybe I should say, a 'non-trend.'

A lot of the pitches had stakes. Great stakes: _______ MUST happen OR ELSE ______.
But a lot of them didn't.

So I put all 250 of the YA pitches that got requests into an excel spreadsheet and started counting them up: Stakes or No Stakes.

Then I went through the "No Stakes" list of pitches again and recategorized a few where there was a choice implied but not clearly spelled out. Still, with a little brainwork you could make an educated guess as to what choice + consequences the MC would be facing. So these got recategorized as "Stakes" pitches.*

Final Tally?

Pitches with Stakes: 129
Pitches with No Stakes: 121

Or in other words,

Approximately 50% of the pitches that got requests didn't include stakes in the pitch 


And that got me thinking. Really, a pitch doesn't need to include stakes. All it needs is to get people hooked enough to read on.

So what did the "non-stakes" pitches include? What was the hook?

Premise: 119
Inciting Incident: 50
Setting/Worldbuilding: 43
Diverse Character: 31
Comparative Titles: 30
Voice: 12

Nearly all the pitches were what I would call, "Premise" pitches. They gave a general idea of the story, but didn't go into detail about the specific choice and consequences that the MC faces.

Made up example:

"Guy goes undercover (and under costume) to find out what makes girls tick. Best way to land a date? Maybe not." 

But most of the pitches didn't ONLY cover the premise. Most of them had another element of "must-read-more" factor as well:

Some of the pitches outlined the Inciting Incident, which left the reader thinking "Huh, I wonder how that's going to play out?" (Hook!)

Made-up example:

"Girl inherits undead estate. Everything was going great until the previous owner showed up ... in her bedroom."

Other pitches emphasized the Worldbuilding, (this was mainly for sci-fi/fantasy, or for contemps with unusual settings) luring you in with details about the setting or the interesting characters. (Hook!)

Made up example:

"Dru is more than just your average were-ferret. With the amulet of Zahak at his disposal, he can realign the stars in all nine of the Alliance galaxies. Literally." 

Still other pitches highlighted a Diverse Main Character. Woo hoo! I'm so glad agents are actively seeking these stories out. #WeNeedDiverseBooks! Side note: if you have a main character that is #LGBT or #bipolar or #[______] ... use the hashtags! They seemed to really draw agents' eyes.

Quite a few pitches used Comparative Titles. A lot of them used the format ______ meets ______, but others said things like "a YA Gone Girl" or "a _______ retelling" Sidenote: remember, things like tv shows and movies can be great comps too! Comps aren't just for books!

A few pitches really pitched using the Voice of (presumably) the MC. This is very hard to do in a twitter pitch, but more power to you if you can incorporate it!

My take home from this little experiment? In twitter pitches, stakes are good. In fact, stakes are great. I'd say it's a wise idea to have at least 50% of your pitches on pitch-day be stakes-focused.**

But I'd also say that in addition to those five carefully-constructed stakes-based pitches, you also construct other pitches that highlight other unique features of your manuscript. Features that may have gone by the wayside when you felt like you had to focus on stakes/plot.

And if you're beating yourself over the head while trying to construct a flashy, stakes-based twitter pitch for #pitmad, or #sffpit, or #adpit ... stop. Just forget about stakes for awhile and think instead:

What are my story's hooks? 
What will make people want to pick it up and read it? 

         { See Also: Hook Readers from the First Line }

Maybe it's your MC's quirky hobby. Maybe it's the exotic location. Maybe it's the killer inciting incident. Maybe it's the tragic backstory. Maybe it's all of the above.

Just play around with it. Have fun with it. Don't worry about plot. Don't work about stakes. See where it takes you!

I'd also love to hear your thoughts on this, my obviously subjective, analysis of the Pitmad data. How important is it to include stakes in a twitter pitch? What are alternatives? Tips?

*In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't spend a whole lot of time trying to divine the stakes from less-than-straightforward pitches. About 30 seconds per pitch tops. I figure that no agent wallowing through the craziness that is the #pitmad feed is ever going to waste more time than that on any one pitch. If you can't figure out the stakes in that amount of time, then for all practical purposes, the stakes are not there.

** If you have a plot-driven story.

1 comment:

  1. I love some of the hooks people come up with, which is why I retweet them. I won't be taking part in PitMad this time, but I'm looking forward to the amazing ideas people come up with :D Thanks for sharing this. You're as super informative as ever!



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