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Lessons Learned From #PraPit

Yesterday was the first ever #PraPit practice pitch event. I thought it was a good time. I’ve often looked at pitches during contests and thought about how they could be better, but that’s not the time and place to make a comment. Yesterday we got to talk about them, work on them, and make them better without the pressure of agents, etc. And hopefully we helped some people.

In case you’re still scrambling to get your pitches ready for #Pitmad tomorrow or #SFFpit next week, I wanted to share some of the things I saw throughout the day yesterday. None of this is to call out anybody in particular. It was practice, after all. But I think some of the lessons are pretty universal, and might help other people as they continue to work on their pitches.

prapit-tip This was my favorite tip of the day. Sheena nails it. The one thing I saw repeatedly was pitches that didn’t stand out. Generic wording.

So how do you tell if your pitch is generic. Read your pitch. Think about other books in your genre. Could your pitch apply to another book? If it can, then you need to add specifics. Phrases like ‘must overcome her past’ or ‘will have to fight for everything he believes in’ or ‘must face their demons.’ All of those could apply to almost any story, ever.

So don’t use them. As Sheena says, be specific. What demons? What in her past? What exactly does he believe in that he must fight for?

Michele Keller was nice enough to compile a list of generic phrases to avoid. You can check it out here.

The second trend I saw was pitches that tried to do too much. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that it’s only 140 characters. There’s only so much you can do. Instead of trying to do everything okay, sometimes it’s okay to do one thing well. Sure, a traditional pitch is going to cover Character, Conflict, and Stakes. And you can have a pitch that does that. You *should* have a pitch that does that. But you can also drill in on one super interesting aspect of your story — something specific — something that you think might intrigue an agent. Because that’s what this is about.

Tomorrow during #Pitmad there will be literally thousands of posts. An agent is going to spend mere seconds on yours and make a decision. Nobody is getting an agency contract off a twitter pitch. So it’s about drawing enough attention to get them to hit the star. Only your pages are going to sell your book. This is about getting the reader in the door.

So ask yourself. What are you selling? What makes your book special? Is that coming across? You’re not trying to fool anybody. That won’t do any good. They’re going to read your book, and they’re going to know. What you’re trying to do is find a match. You’re trying to place your book with an agent who’s open to it. Think of it as an online dating profile. Sure, you can put up a fake picture. But when you show up at the restaurant, your date is going to see the truth.

I had a lot of fun with #PraPit. I hope you did too. Assuming I can talk other authors into helping critique pitches again, we’ll probably do it again sometime. Meanwhile, good luck with #Pitmad and #SFFpit and wherever else your writing journey takes you.

calvin-and-hobbes-ready

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5 Comments

  • Good post. You’ve named the same issues I noticed while studying the feed.

  • I love your acknowledgement that a Twitter pitch doesn’t have to be ALL THE THINGS. I once saw someone say “Premise, Character, Voice – pick two” and I try to follow that method. I had a few people call me out on one of my more voicey/character focused/attention grabby pitches for not explaining stakes. But that particular tweet was not meant to. I think being given 3-10 pitches throughout the day is a good opportunity to try out different things instead of following the “Character does Thing to avoid Bad Stuff” formula for every single one. Of course there should be a few of those too, but from what I’ve read, flaunting minutia can be eye catching to the right people. You never know what weird thing will make you stand out. I once had a slush reader tell me he’d give my pages a read just because my query said I went to College of Charleston, and he had a personal connection to that school.

    The only thing I try to universally nail is genre, so if it’s fantasy, I make sure to pepper in at least one element to clearly show it’s not a thriller or a romance or something. Otherwise, different agents have different buttons that can be pushed. A pitch of “It’s Sex and the City meets Dungeons and Dragons” doesn’t say anything about the protagonist or the stakes, but if an agent stops in their tracks and says “now THAT sounds like an interesting book,” the pitch could actually be effective.

  • Michael, so many things you post are super helpful. This, too. Thanks for organizing PraPit. I received some great tips! I just wanted to acknowledge your gracious support.

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I am a Soldier and a Science Fiction writer. Usually I write about Soldiers. Go figure. I'm represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. If you love my blog and want to turn it into a blockbuster movie featuring Chris Hemsworth as me, you should definitely contact her.

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