A Survivors Guide to Pitch Contests

Hey y’all! I don’t know if you saw, but #pitmad #SFFpit and #PitchMas all happened in the last two weeks! If you don’t know, or have never heard of them, these are all really awesome contests where you pitch your MS in 140 characters or less, and agents/editors stalk the feed and make requests. It might seem like a one in a million chance of anything actually coming out of this, but you’d be amazed how many success stories there are.

This was probably my second or third #SFFpit and my fifth or sixth pitch contest overall. The first time, I had no idea what I was doing. It was bad. But I had fun, and I’ve learned a lot in the times since then, so I wanted to share it with y’all so you don’t have to go through all of the trial and error that I did.

Here’s the top things I’ve learned from pitch contests:

1. Don’t be intimidated. It can seem overwhelming at first, especially with how big #pitmad and #SFFpit have gotten. There are seriously big names scanning the feed, and a lot of competition. But here’s the thing: if it doesn’t work out, nothing happens. You quite literally have nothing to lose. I love pitch contests because it’s another way to throw your hat in the ring, without all the time, effort, and stress of querying. Plus, all that “competition” is actually really awesome, which brings me to my next point.

2. You will meet amazing people. I’ve learned since joining writerly Twitter that really, no one knows what they’re doing either. At first I saw the other writers on #pitmad and #SFFpit as competition, but now I realize we’re all comrades. Every pitch contest, I get new followers and make a bunch of new connections. Plus, everyone is so supportive and friendly and it’s all just amazing. It makes me want to giant squishy hug everybody 🙂

3. It will get better. My first few times, I didn’t get a single bite. I got a couple RTs from supportive writers, but no requests. Which I was happy to even get RTs at the time, but didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I slowly learned that my pitches needed work. I’m very bad with anything pitch-y, from Twitter pitches to synopses to queries, so this was a big struggle for me. But I surprised myself with what I would come up with each contest, sometimes randomly struck with inspiration in the middle of it all. Each round my pitches have gotten better and better, and so have the responses. I went from a couple RTs and no bites, to a dozen RTs on one pitch and three requests overall. And I’m willing to bet it’ll be even better next time!

4. Polish your pitch. That said, the biggest factor affecting responses and your chance of getting a request is having a great pitch, so work on it as much as you can. Play around. Test out different ones, see what kind of response you get. Don’t overstress about it. The ones you think are the best won’t always be the most successful, and vice versa. Usually, the ones I came up with spur-of-the-moment turned out to be the best. I had a really hard time boiling down my complicated multi-POV fantasy into 140 characters, but I learned to be as specific as possible. My first few pitches just focused on the world and grand scheme, but it didn’t resonate. I learned that it’s much better to focus on one character, what they want, and what’s stopping them.

5. No cliches. For the love of God, please don’t use cliches when writing a pitch. In fact, don’t use cliches in anything: query, synopsis, or your manuscript itself. They might sound juicy but really they’re just vague and don’t actually tell anything. Plus, to agents/editors it comes off as lazy writing, or low skill. Every time I see a cliche, I die a little inside.

6. Use all your pitches. You have the opportunity for up to 24 tweets throughout the day (twice per hour in a 12 hour period) in most contests. Take advantage of that. I used some pitches to show the three POV’s overall goal. I used a pitch or two to give a taste of world-building. I used several pitches for each of POVs individually, to show their voice and what was at stake for them. One agent might be intrigued by one character, another by the world, a third by the overall struggle. Try them all!

7. Use your best pitches in the morning. Whether it’s because all the agents and editors are up and freshly caffeinated, or it’s before they’ve dealt with the stress of the work day, for some reason I get way more response on my morning pitches. Usually by two or three in the afternoon the response has slowed down considerably and almost stopped by four or five. This doesn’t mean stop pitching, though! There have been some agents who get on the feed late, so make sure you don’t miss out. But be sure to focus your best pitches in the morning.

8. Schedule your pitches. I know a lot of people use Tweetdeck, but I never have and have no idea how to use it, but from what I hear it’s worth checking out. I just use Twitter’s built in system: if you go to ads.twitter.com and under the Creatives tab, then hit compose tweet, there will be an option to schedule it. This eliminates any stress of having to pitch every 30 min or hour, or if you’re unable to pitch at certain times. Even if you are available, it helps you focus on interacting with other authors, RTing, and enjoying yourself!

9. Have patience. It probably won’t work your first few times. (If it does, awesome! You probably don’t need to read this then, and I want to know your secret) That doesn’t mean you’re an awful writer, or no one wants your book, or you should give up forever. Agents and editors are human, and can’t possibly look through every pitch. And even if you don’t get requests or many RTs, I promise you will if you keep working on your pitches, and try try again!

10. Have fun. I know it’s cheesy, but I’m serious! Twitter pitches are probably the most casual way you can get out there. Mess around with your pitches. Read what other authors are doing–there’s some seriously amazing stuff. Get feedback, connect with others, laugh at your bad pitches or the stress of querying or nerdy inside jokes. Pitch contests are really what you make of them, and they can be a lot of fun!

I hope that helps! Are you a pitch contest newbie, or a veteran? What have you learned through your trial and error? Let me know in the comments!

 

TBAS Snapshot

I know I missed last week, but it’s finals and life has been crazy for me. But good news, I’ll be done with the semester after this week and free for an entire month! But here’s the snapshot for this week with an extra long excerpt as promised 🙂

Title: Ember

Current word count: 81,117

Words written this week: about 2,000

Words cut this week: about 2,000

What I’m working on: Polishing. I worked with an editor for the first 10k and used her comments to apply to edits to the rest. I added a couple action scenes, cut down some other ones, and polished the prose and voice. It really made a huge difference, even the small details and changes. I wanted to really perfect it before pitmad, SFFpit, and PitchMas. Also, I just made a couple big submissions, so fingers crossed! 🙂

Favorite lines: 

As I watched, Scar raised it to his lips and drank. He grinned, and his teeth shone red with blood. A wolf tearing into a kill.

“I’m done with her. Drain all of it, even if she’s dead.”

The boy seemed eager to comply.

I grit my teeth against another scream as his ragged knife tore into my flesh, prying skin from muscle. Desperately, I tried to focus my magic as Asa had tried so often to teach me, his chest glowing with energy. Skin and fiber knit together at his touch.

But nothing happened.

Of course it didn’t. It was hopeless. I may have Amaranthine blood, but I was pathetically, hopelessly human.

Scar leaned against the wall, sipping from the bowl as he watched the boy harvest me. I stared at him, and willed all of my rage against him. He was everything in this world I hated. He had hurt the only friends I ever had before I met the pack. He hurt everyone he ever came in contact with, and enjoyed it. He lived off of everyone else’s pain.

And now he was going to kill me.

Scar’s face turned red. He coughed, and it caught at the back of his throat, trapped. Choked. A gurgle slipped out, mangled. The bowl fell from his hands. It shattered as it hit the ground, dashing my blood against the wall.

The boy froze, and cast an anxious look at him. “Are you alright, Scar?”

Scar couldn’t speak.

His hands went to his throat, clawing at his skin and drawing blood. His skin paled to ash. His eyes bulged. His scream came out a strangled gurgle.

Goal for next week: Rock out SFFpit and PitchMas! (After finals, of course)

TBAS Snapshot

Hey all! With the semester almost over and the holidays coming up, things have been a little crazy but I’ve still managed to get some editing in. If you hadn’t heard, I finished my WIP Nightfire! You can read my post all about that here. But I know that y’all have liked the snapshot posts, so I thought I would continue them as I dip my toe into the editing phase, and eventually get into major revisions where I’ll be picking apart my beautiful shiny MS completely.

I created To Build A Story to take you through the writing process and journey with me–which doesn’t stop when I’ve finished the first draft. I’ve changed up the snapshot a little bit so I can give you a better look into my editing process.

Title: Nightfire

Current word count: 67,505

Words written this week: 500

Words cut this week: about 100

What I’m working on: My first full read through of the story start to finish, with some light edits and tweaks. I’m actually surprised by how well it turned out. I expected I would have to destroy most of it since it is only the first draft. But I think that the beginning is very strong, though it does start to change around the middle, with the parts I wrote for CampNaNo. They’re not awful, but they’re not entirely working, though I need to figure out exactly where I want them to go before I try to fix them. I also finally divided (most of it) into chapters! So at least there is some sort of organization and logic now.

Favorite lines: 

In this ever-shifting world, only two things are sure. Tangible, unchanging.

The breath in my lungs, and the drumbeat in my chest.

I sit crouched in my vantage point, my muscles stiff with cold yet poised to strike, an arrow notched in my bow. My breath crystallizes as it meets the frigid night air, swirling clouds from my lips. Here in this austere silence, instinct pulses through my veins and my humanity falls away.

I am a predator, born to kill.

Goal for next week: I’m a little over halfway through, and I hope to have finished this read-through by then!

Crossing the Finish Line

I apologize for the lack of posts this week, but I have a good reason: my sister is having a baby! By the end of this weekend, I am going to be an aunt, and I couldn’t be happier 🙂 So life has been a little crazy in between classes, social life, and getting ready for the new addition to our family. But I have some big news for you all today!

Despite the craziness, I was struck with a few good sessions of manic inspiration, and I finally did it.

I finished Nightfire! 

It has officially gone from a WIP to an MS, with a final word count of 67,154. I can’t even begin to explain the feels I have right now. I was crying while writing the final scenes, which I hope is a good sign (or maybe just means I have issues). I feel very strongly about this manuscript. I think it has a lot of promise and could be my best yet. Though it is still very raw, I can’t wait to share it with y’all, and I am so looking forward to all of the plans I have for it and the rest of the series.

Writing Nightfire has been a whirlwind. I started in the end of June this year, wrote 20,000 in July for CampNaNo, then took three months to write the next 20,000, and by November, five months later, I’m finished. It has by no means been a smooth ride–which if you have been following me, you are well aware of. (If not, you can check out my posts tagged either To Build A Story or CampNaNo). But everything is so worth it in this moment. Because though it is still raw and imperfect, I have a shiny, new, beautiful manuscript.

I’ve been enjoying it as much as I can, as long as I can. I read almost half of it in one sitting, cozied up in a blanket fort with a cup of coffee and my dog curled up beside me. At this moment in time, no one else has read this story, known this world, fallen in love with these characters, but me. I love that. And I love everything about this story, even in all its imperfect glory.

Though it’s not the first time I’ve fallen in love with a story, I am still head over heels for this one, and I never want it to go away. I know it will, when I get deep into the edits and start picking it apart into pieces and have stared at it until I want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon. That day will come, but it is not this day. This day is for cuddling my fresh, pink little baby and shielding it from the world as long as I can.

Five months is by far the shortest time I have ever taken to complete a novel. I have learned so much about myself in this process, and grown so much as a writer. This is the first time I have written a novel while connected to the online writing community, and it is a completely different experience.

There are both positives and negatives to this. On one hand, I had to consider others’ opinions and the context of publishing, which I’ve never really had while writing before. On the other, I have never had such amazing support through both the highs and lows. I’ve had all the wisdom and advice of the entire blog and Twitter-verses combined, right at my fingertips. Needed a word? No problem. Advice on a scene? Got it. Without word sprints and words of encouragements from my fellow bloggers and Twitter peeps, Nightfire would not have happened. Well, it would have, but most certainly not in five months. With everything that has been going in my life lately, I doubt I would have finished in a year, or maybe even at all.

So as much as this is a moment for me to feel proud and accomplished, you all should too. Without you, I couldn’t have done this.

In a way, we all wrote Nightfire together. And one day, when it is on the shelves, you’ll be able to pick it up and say, “I helped make this.”

We did it.


I had planned to do another snapshot post for y’all, but I had most definitely not planned to finish before I could. So I thought I would leave y’all with a final snapshot in this post, and maybe do some more as I begin the editing process.

Title: Nightfire

Current word count: 67,154

Words written this week: 3935

What I’m working on: I finished that pesky battle scene, wrote a transitional romantic scene that was so perfect for these characters, and wrote the climax and resolution. I really surprised myself, and I love how everything turned out. I pushed Kera and the others to their brink, and farther. And I ended with a little bit of mystery that alludes to events in the next book, which I am so excited to explore.

Favorite lines: 

His words fall on the austere silence, with only me and the black stalks of the trees as witness. I look up, searching his face. The raw, unnamable pain rooted in my chest is mirrored in his features. “I am sorry,” I breathe.

“I promised him that I would find a way to bring him back. But every year I get older, and he gets older, just rotting in that tank, waiting. And I’m no closer to finding a cure than I was six years ago.” Torren’s voice catches and he clamps his jaw shut, his temple trembling.

“I know the feeling,” I say.

Our eyes meet, and something unspoken intertwines us, binding us through this shared, unnamable ache. We have both known joy and the desolation that comes with having it taken away. Grief deeper than words can touch, lodged beneath our hearts like parasites.

Words left to write: Zero! *throws confetti*

TBAS Snapshot

Hey all! So I thought the snapshot last week worked out pretty well, so I’m going to try it again this week. It is finally starting to feel like fall here, which I am loving, but I haven’t gotten many words down with Halloween weekend and trying to catch up in school. Not to mention I’m starting to get sick, but I hope it will give me some time later this week to write some more, and hopefully I’ll have a better word count for y’all next week. 🙂

Title: Nightfire

Current word count: 64,134

Words written this week: 1345

What I’m working on: Still working on the same battle scene (sigh). I haven’t written much this week though, either. But I am very close to the end of it! I have the action all down, I just need to fill in some details and the aftermath. I also surprised myself with some awesome bits of gore.

Favorite lines: 

She is gone.

I cry out involuntarily, a strangled mix of frustration and grief.

“Kera?” Torren says from behind me.

“Hana,” I manage, my voice raw with a sudden, searing ache. “Hana!”

My voice is swallowed by the clash of metal and bone, by the garbled cries of dying men. I throw aside the bow and take up the sword, running headlong into the fray, only one thought in my mind. I have to get to her.

I can’t lose her again.

Words left to write: Around 4k, maybe even less. It really depends on how long the climactic scene ends up, but it shouldn’t be too long. Really looking forward to the next couple scenes!

Resisting the Urge

As writers, we constantly have inspiration and ideas floating around. Most of the time, they’re just fragments of ideas that we jot down for later and then forget about. But sometimes, we are struck like a bolt of lightning with an idea we can’t ignore. What happens when  you’re struck in the middle of another project?

I already wrote this post about the struggles of working on two manuscripts at once, and the difficulty of keeping the voices and stories distinct from one another. Of course, now I’ve been struck with an idea for an entirely new story, and though I’ve tried my best I can’t ignore it.

I already scribbled a brief outline of all my ideas, just to get them on paper in the hopes that it would make them leave me alone and I could still save them for later. Of course, nothing is ever that easy. This morning I had some words rolling around in my head and I couldn’t get them out, so I decided to jot them down. That turned into the opening scene, which turned into culture research, which turned into more ideas, which turned into character development, which turned into characters. Now I have two more voices, shouting for my attention.

When we’re faced with a competing idea, we either have the choice to ignore it or give in. At this point, with two current projects–one manuscript, Ember, I am preparing for publication, and the other, Nightfire, I am so close to the end of the first draft, with three more books to write in the series–I can’t possibly start another.

I’ll admit, it’s exciting. I am starting to see the bare bones of this story come together, and I love it. I’m excited about this idea, and this world, and all the possibilities. But I can’t get excited over a new story when I need to stay excited and devoted to this one in order to make it through three more books.

I tried ignoring it, but that didn’t work, so I wrote what I can to save it for later. Now it feels like I’ve opened the floodgates, but I’m still trying to plug the holes.

How do you resist the urge, when a new story is tugging at you? Do you give in, or do you stop the holes and hope that is enough?

TBAS Snapshot

Hey all! Hope you are getting ready and excited for Halloween! I know I am 🙂 Since I have been so busy this semester, I have only been able to post about once a week. I came up with the idea to reblog a worthy post from the writing community every week to fill the gap, but based on your feedback, I decided that wasn’t the best answer.

So I am going to try something else.

Since I started To Build A Story to take you along the journey of writing a book with me, I thought I would give you a little snapshot of where I am, every week. It’s a more detailed look than my usual overall posts, so I hope you like it and maybe even find it helpful. Feel free to join in, and let me know where you’re at in your writing! After all, we are in this together 🙂

Title: Nightfire

Current word count: 62,786

Words written this week: 2,421

What I’m working on: A battle scene before the climax. Or at least, trying to–battle scenes are not my favorite. I’ve been stuck on this one for a little while. If anyone has tips, I’ll gladly take them 🙂

Favorite lines: 

I grit my teeth, fighting the sudden, desperate ache in my heart. Hopelessness–in the bitter tang at the back of my mouth, in my heart with the skittering pulse of a cornered animal. I can only hope their plan for escape doesn’t depend on any divine gifts they think I have.

If that is our only chance for escape, then we are already dead.

Words left to write: I’ve estimated about 5k, but will likely end up being more before cuts. Excited to finish this draft!