Literary Q&A: All About Twitter Pitch Events and Common Agent Responses to Unsuccessful Queries (Series #1)

I’m so excited to dive into these questions! I’ve received some great ones. Keep them coming! I’d like to focus on two per post, so I don’t spread out info all over and repeat myself more than necessary. Without dragging on, let’s see what you asked this week:

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Question 1:

I was wondering about this. . . In June I did #PitMad and one of the agents that liked my pitch, once I queried her, she rejected the book. This past #PitMad the same agent liked two of my pitches for the same book. Do I ignore it or requery with something like –I’m so pleased that you decided to take another look at my submission. I’m not sure what to do. Thanks a bunch!

No problem. I’m happy to help. My first question for you is, when you sent her the query, did you put in the subject line, or anywhere else, that you were sending the query in response to her “like” in the pitch event? That is very important. Unless they specify a subject line, use this one: #Pitmad Request Query: Title/Name #genre. As an agent, I gave extra consideration to pitches that I liked and asked for, and in fact, put them at the top of my pile of submissions.

Always remind them that the query was “solicited.” To be honest, sometimes when rolling through a session of unsolicited query reading, I wanted to get through the slush and sometimes tossed out books that may have been better than their submission materials led me to believe. I didn’t always have the time to dig for more potential that wasn’t obvious in the submission. Because there ARE books that are ready and appeal from their query, and agents are hunting for those. Publishers don’t buy books “with potential.” If the agent can’t tell it’s “ready” now from skimming what you gave them, it gets a pass. She most likely will not notice your story in a new query. Agents get A LOT of books that sound similar. It could be that your query didn’t give her the same promise as your pitch did. Or she didn’t realize it was requested.

My next question is, have you done any revisions to the book since you were declined the first time? If so, you can always send her the query again, saying, “I’m so honored that you chose my pitch from #PitMad, recent revisions have been made.” She may or may not ever remember having read it the first time. They go through so many queries. Obviously your premise intrigued her–enough to request it twice–so I’d take a look at your submission materials. Make sure your query has an interesting hook and really showcase it. I have other posts on writing a great query.

My third question is, what response did she give you for declining the query previously? Let’s look at that and I can tell you more.

For example, if you tell me specifically what she said, I can help you figure out what it is she is having a problem with and if you really like this agent, you could make a few revisions to address that. I also want to look at your query and make sure that you’re setting up your plot in an intriguing way.

BUT how do I know how to fix my manuscript, when the agents give such vague advice with their rejections?

[The following edited segment is taken from The Journey to a Bestseller (Series #27)]

When an agent responds with a decline, they use a kind of code when it comes to answering queries. Meaning, there are certain responses that are commonly used for certain issues. When you know what they all are, it’s easy to decipher them.

An agent can never say, “This sucks.” Besides being rude and crushing an author, it just wouldn’t be good business. Especially since “sucking” would be a VERY subjective opinion. *All agent opinions are subjective.* The response you’ll see most is: “We’re sorry, but your project is not a fit for our agency at this time, so we will have to pass.” That one is just as generic as can be, and means that for whatever reason–maybe they can’t put their thumb on it–but it didn’t trip their trigger, and they are passing. It could be that you just weren’t there yet. Maybe they can see the promise in your story, but also realize there are too many edits needed, and their hope is that in receiving the rejections, you will give it more edits, or shelf it and bring back a better book.

I’m going to pass because it isn’t right for me.” If you see this one, you might be querying the wrong person. You may have something that was NOT on their wishlist, again, this is a personal choice and the subject matter is generally to blame for this. They may have updated their wishlist and posted it somewhere else, or they may like contemporary fantasy as yours was labeled, but found it to have more romance than they they like as a subplot. For whatever reason, out of your control, your book’s peg didn’t fit their shape of a hole.

“It’s just not a fit.” An alternate meaning for this could be that you’re in the wrong genre or age group, or it just isn’t their style. These first few should be mostly avoidable if you know what the agent wants and doesn’t want, theoretically. But you just can’t know what everybody is going to like or think is great. Make sure that you know if your book is an MG, a YA, an NA, or an Adult age group. Who is your audience? And no, you cannot say “everybody.” The biggest reason for that is because there’s no bookshelf in Barnes & Noble labeled “for everyone.” So should they put you next to Percy Jackson, or 50 Shades of Grey? If you’re not sure, keep scrolling…

“I already have a similar story.” The problem here is that the agent just pitched a story like yours to all the editors they know and if the editors were interested in that story at all, they put in an offer, and if they declined, well, the agent already knows the chances of your getting through. So if they have one just like it, and can’t take on another, trust that they know what they’re talking about. And also realize they didn’t say it was bad, or unready necessarily, just that they have one like it that sold. Maybe the next agent on your list will be looking for just what you’re selling.

The voice didn’t resonate with me.” Every author has a voice. It is the way a story is told. It’s the way a writer phrases things, describes scenes, and structures sentences. Different genres often have different voices. That’s natural. Imagine sharing a story with someone else. You wouldn’t tell a horror story in the same voice you would tell a light fairy tale retelling. It makes sense that your voice would change between these types of tale. Just as you wouldn’t use the same voice to tell a story to your adult friend, as you would to tell a small child. Knowing who your audience is, will help make sure you tell the story with the correct tone.

A strong voice is cultivated in the editing process with concise language, sensory words, and emotional expression. Do not think the word concise only means “short.” The definition of concise is: giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive. Try cutting out the word “that,” most often it isn’t necessary. And don’t tell us something “had happened,” or “did happen,” just tell us “it happened.” (This makes it an “active” rather than a “passive” sentence.) Only use passive language if you’re describing a short memory. If the memory is a scene, keep the story active, and put the memory in italics. You generally want to write with an active voice.

For example:

Susan started going to the store. She was going to buy milk, cheese, and eggs. Then, Susan had begun the long walk to her mother’s–who couldn’t buy the groceries herself.

Don’t say “she started going” to the store. Tell us “she went to the store.” Also, don’t tell us she “was going to” buy the items, say she “bought” them. And finally, you can choose to take out the “had begun” and make that “began,” or to make it active, you could add part of it onto the end of the sentence like this:

Susan went to the store for milk, cheese, and eggs, before dragging the groceries along the long walk to her mother’s–who couldn’t be troubled to buy them herself.

That sentence may not be correct, but hopefully you get the idea. Making your writing active makes it shorter and easily concise–giving you the opportunity to add more detail–and as long as you’re telling the right story to the right audience, you’ll do fine. Never forget, the agent’s opinion is subjective, which means one agent’s trash is another’s treasure. You’ve got to find the right one.

I can’t see where this will fit in the market.” This could mean that you are genre-blending, or you’ve picked a taboo subject, or it’s a crossover that goes too far. A lot of first time writers will say, “My book’s for everyone, it’s a book for all ages.” Please don’t tell me that kids and adults alike love your book. Unless you wrote Harry Potter, probably not.

In case you aren’t clear on the age groups for each stage. Here’s a little run down. First come Board Books for babies, then Children’s Fiction, including First Readers, up to about 10-11 years old. Then we move to books for children who are 12, 13, 14 years old, they are called Middle Grade books. The kids who star in them and read them are about middle school age. From 14-18 years old is YA or Young Adult literature. There is a category above that for college-aged kids, called NA or New Adult. However, in the industry I commonly heard NA referred to as “college porn.” Keep that in mind. Most of those books are YA-type stories with older college-aged characters who get more sexually graphic. And books for 18+ are Adult.

Not sure if your book is YA or adult? Here’s a tip. YA is about “firsts.” First kiss, first job, first car, first boyfriend, first road trip, first best friend blood pact. LOL. Your protagonist can be a teen themselves, or college-aged, or they may grow throughout. But their lives and conversations will center around a desire for adult privileges, independence, and justice, and the superior intelligence of teenagers. New adult is about college, and roommates, being truly independent for the first time, and sex, lots of sex.

Adult fiction has to do with paying bills, and work, the demands of adulthood, being married, and having kids, and buying a house, and the car breaks down, and you spill coffee on your tie during the commute, etc. etc. You could have a child protagonist, but if the book has these kinds of “adult” themes, it’s an adult book. If it’s a book about an adult who goes through an experience that makes them act or have “firsts” like a teenager, well, that would be weird. But it would probably be a teen book (Like 13 Going on 30). Probably only teens would find that funny. It sounds like a horror story to me. Ha ha. Says the mom of five teenagers.

And the same goes for genres. Not every fantasy fan likes sci-fi, and by mixing them, you’re going to have to decide which crowd to market to. I found out the hard way, that it’s not a good idea to market with both together. You can absolutely tell fantasy fans it’s a fantasy, and tell sci-fi fans it’s a sci-fi, but don’t call it “science fantasy” and try to capture both audiences at once. I’ve found there’s an even greater number of readers who are leery of the combination. This will go for agents, as well.

“I just wasn’t passionate enough about it to be it’s champion.”  This one might mean you’re on the right track. It sounds like they like some part of it, but not enough puzzle pieces are locking for them get behind it. Agents don’t make a cent until you get your first quarterly payment, or you get an advance which is not as common as I’d like. Everything they do for your book, from looking up editors to pitching, to contract negotiation, is all done for free, in the hopes that you’ll stay with that publisher and make some money. I have had clients that I have done all that for, gone to bat for, negotiated the contract, and signed a three-book deal, only to have the author break the contract with the publisher and I never see a cent for all the work I did. And I’ve had authors get their first paycheck for a few dollars and buy their rights back from the publisher, which means I never get paid for that book, either. Being an agent can be a thankless job sometimes. Be nice to your agent.

But what you really need is an agent who is going to get you Top 5 publisher (You don’t need an agent for a small publisher). And that agent will know their contacts and what the publishers are looking for, and what’s expected in the manuscripts they pitch. And if your book is good, but not quite good enough for them to get behind, it might be just right for someone else. Or it might mean you need to give it another round of editing to get even closer, and keep pitching.

“The pacing is too fast/too slow.” I feel like this one is self-explanitory, but maybe not. The pace is the rhythm of the story. You want to vary your sentences in length and cadence. Your characters should have their own style of talking and all that stuff about voice plays into this. But there is still an internal rhythm, like a train on the tracks, or but not necessarily a metronome. Click, click, click. Words vary, speech varies, sentences vary, and that pace needs to vary, too. Scenes of action, must be followed by a scene of reaction, and repeat.

You don’t want to blow quickly through the first couple of chapters and then have someone throw the E-brake and slow things down to a trickle. This can happen if you stop to unpack a concept, or describe the landscape, or dive into some backstory, or just go in a direction that slows the story. Maybe the characters are quite literally on a journey, when they actually stop and you spend three chapters on their cozy night in the cabin, with him chopping wood, and her cooking eggs, and hot cocoa on a bearskin rug…

If your book is a romance, this could be the meat of your story, but if it’s an adventurous journey, you’ve just slowed the pace down to a halt. Make sense? Or perhaps it starts too slow? Your inciting incident should be there in that sample writing you submitted. Of course, there are always exceptions so don’t yell at me. It’s a fine balance. You want to start in media res with action, but not too much, give us a peek of their norm, but not too much, then comes the inciting incident–that thing or occurrence that shakes up the norm as they know it and begins our story. If you give an agent the first three chapters, or fifty pages, or whatever, and they are either still getting to know who the character is in their norm, or if you jumped off the diving board too fast and started with non-stop action gung-ho, they may comment on your pacing. Remember, the reader doesn’t get an emotional break until your character gets one. After big action, let the characters deal with what’s going on and plan their next step.

What have you heard from agents? Are you querying? Let me know some of your responses and I will be happy to try to decipher them with you. If you have more than one, let me know what they all say. It can give me a better idea of what the overall consensus is.

Question 2:

The pitch parties sound like fun. what are they? Can I do one? How do I enter a Twitter pitch party like #Pitmad? Who is it for, and what do I do?

Edited excerpt taken from Journey to a Bestseller Series #10:

When you post–or tweet–on Twitter, your messages will appear in the feed of your followers and whomever Twitter wants to expose you to, but when you use a hashtag (#), your post goes in with all the others listed in that hashtag, and anyone looking up that hashtag will see it. Why is this good? Exposure, networking, making sales, finding services… You can use the hashtags Twitter suggests when you start typing them, and/or make up some of your own. If you are an author, you should use a hashtag with the name of your book, and your own name, as well. Maybe even the name of your MC, if you have cool things to tweet about them or from them.

One type of hashtag is a “pitch.” Pitch parties, or pitch events, are for unagented authors with fully finished, unpublished, and edited manuscripts, ready for querying to agents. In a pitch event, you as the author, tweet a captivating blurb about your finished manuscript, with the appropriate hashtag on a scheduled day. Agents and publishers troll pitch events looking for good books. I can tell you this first hand. I signed an author to a New York-based agency from a #Pitmad pitch. *Let me say it again: People DO receive contracts through Twitter pitch events.*

Once you post the blurb about your story, if an agent/editor likes your “pitch” enough to want your query information, they will click on the heart icon to “like” it. (Friends are encouraged to RT retweet the post, but do NOT “like” another author’s pitch!) When an agent/editor “likes” your pitch, you are now free to send your “solicited” query to that agent with the subject heading: #Pitmad Request Query: Title/Name #genre, unless they specify something else. For many agents, this puts you at the top of the slush pile. Agents give priority to manuscripts they have requested. Do send your query soon.

Let me caution you here though, just because someone says, “Hi, I’m Suzie Agent and I love your pitch, send me everything!” DO NOT just run to your email and shoot them your query. Why not? Simple. Not every agent can get you a Top5 contract, and that’s what you need an agent for. There are a lot of agents out there who really think they’re “helping authors,” when they don’t have the connections to get them a contract they can’t get themselves. Anyone can say they’re an agent. There is no school, no license, no certificate–you can say you’re an agent one morning over breakfast, and have your first client by lunch. It happens people.

Please check on who “likes” you. Google their name, then go to their agency website, and any others that are listed for them. Go to Publisher’s Marketplace and it will tell you under the “Deal Makers” tab (*when you have a subscription) if that agent has ever sold a book or not, as well as what genres they have sold, and to what houses. If you want a contract with a big house, you need to find an agent who has contacts with big houses. Either they’ve already sold to a large house, or they belong to an agency who does so regularly. In which case, they likely have access to the same database and can refer each other.

(*A Publisher’s Marketplace subscription costs $25/month, with no contract, on a month to month basis, so you have nothing to lose. If you’re querying, pony up the $25 for one month and do your research.)

What do I do if I want to participate in one?

First, you look up the pitch hashtag and find out the days it’s active and any rules they may have. Some events have their own pages, or websites, but most do not. I will list them below.

Pitch.

When you’re on the right day, go to the hashtag and [1] make a post. You have 280 characters–make up your posts ahead of time. You can schedule the tweets so you don’t forget. You may post three times during the day, per book, so make them different and spread them out. Check to see when the agents you like will be on Twitter and post then. Don’t forget to leave room for the hashtags!

This is an example of what I might pitch for the WIP:

Wyll is pushed through a mysterious door into a dark, steampunk world made with a magic pen, by a madman calling himself king. With the pen, the king creates tortures for resisters and tricks Wyll but the princess wants to help—she’s a prisoner, too. #pitmad #YA #F #AD #R

Wait. What’s all that stuff at the end? What does it mean? Stay with me.

Event.

After you’ve typed in one of your pitches, then [2] follow it with the hashtag for the event:

This is the list of pitch parties that I know of:

#AdPit, #canlitpit, #DVpit#faithpitch, #ficfest, #GUTGAA, #IWSGpit, #kidlit411, #kidpit, #kisspitch, #nestpitch, #PBpitch, #pit2pub, #PitchToPub, #pitchtopublication, #AgentMatch, #pitchAmerica, #pitchmas, #pitchon, #PitchSlam#pitchwars#pitdark#pitmad, #pitmatch, #querywin, #revpit, #SamWritersClub,  #SFFpit#sonofapitch (#SOAP19), #tenqueries, #WCNV, #Wepit, #pg70pit,  #PitchCB#PitchMadness#pitchfest,  #writepit,  #SunVsSnow, #RTSlap, #querykombat, #NoQS, #Pitchtopub, #Writeoncon, #CLCBSD, #writeinthemargins, #someofourvoices, #hotsummerpitchfest, #xmasinjuly, #JustPitchit, #pitchsqueak, #TheWvoice, #secretshop#pitchtopublication, #RTslap, #thewriterstank, , #NLpitchperfect, #teenpit, #WriteOnCon#JustPitchIt, #MysteryAgent#NewAgent#TheWritersTank, #NLpitchperfect

There are certainly more and there might be a few that have become defunct. Let me know if they are. Some may be contests, too, so make sure to read the thread for a bit.

Gen-Z Readers: The New Traditionalists | Generational Reading Survey |  Library Journal

Audience age group.

Next, [3] add a hashtag for the age group of your target reader:

i.e. #PB = Picture Book
#C = Children’s
#CB = Chapter Book
#MG = Middle Grade
#YA = Young Adult
#NA = New Adult
#A = Adult

Genre.

[4] Add your primary genre(s):

i.e. #AC = Action, #AD = Adventure, #BIZ = Bizarro Fiction, #CF = Christian Fiction, #CON = Contemporary, #CR = Contemporary Romance, #E = Erotica, #ER = Erotic Romance, #ES = Erotica Suspense, #F = Fantasy, #FTA = Fairy Tale Retelling, #GN = Graphic Novel, #H = Horror, #HA = Humor, #HF = Historical Fiction, #HR = Historical Romance, #INSP = Inspirational, #MR = Magical Realism, #M = Mystery, #Mem = Memoir, #MA = Mainstream, #LF = Literary Fiction, #NF = Non-fiction, #P = Paranormal, #PR = Paranormal Romance, #PM = Poetry Collection, #R = Romance, #RS = Romantic Suspense,
#STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, #SF = SciFi, #SHRT = Short Story Collection, #SPF = Speculative Fiction, #SH = Superhero, #S = Suspense, #T = Thriller, #TT = Time Travel, #UF = Urban Fantasy, #VF = Visionary Fiction, #W = Westerns, #WF = Woman’s Fiction

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Culture.

And finally [5] add any cultural affiliations such as:

#OWN = own voices

#LGBTQ+ = gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and more

#MH = mental health

etc.

For contests actively seeking marginalized voices, check out:  #DVPit#PitchSlam#SomeOfOurVoices, #WriteInTheMargins,  #WriteInclusively#PitchAmérica, and #WCNV

Finally, here’s my pitch again, and as you can see, after the pitch it has the event name (#pitmad), the age group (#YA) for young adult, and the genres (#F, #AD, #R) for fantasy, adventure, and romance (I don’t have a cultural affiliation):

Wyll is pushed through a mysterious door into a dark, steampunk world made with a magic pen, by a madman calling himself king. With the pen, the king creates tortures for resisters and tricks Wyll but the princess wants to help—she’s a prisoner, too. #pitmad #YA #F #AD #R

There’s even a pitch event going on right now!

Sept 27th-29th — #PitchWars Submission Window – hosted by PitchWars

Nov 12th — #FaithPitch Twitter Party – for Christian Books – hosted by FaithPitch

Oct 5th-9th — Pass or Pages Query Contest – hosted by Operation Awesome

Dec 3rd — #PitMad Twitter Pitch Party – hosted by PitchWars

Give it a shot. Finish up that manuscript, have someone else read it and give you some feedback, then edit until you can’t find another thing to correct, then, when you’re ready to query, join a pitch event and double or triple your chances. There are plenty of places to learn how to write a great pitch, but if you’d like me to go over it, just let me know. That’s the thing with all this information available. You just don’t know who to listen to sometimes. I will tell it how it is, so feel free to ask your nitty-gritty questions for this Q&A series. More next week. Until then, send your questions and keep writing!

~jenn

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