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The Take-Home Message

Did you get a little star next to your #PitMad tweet? Research the agent (or editor or publisher) who put it there before you submit your query/manuscript. Not all agents are created equal. Now on to the rest of the post… With Brenda Drake’s quarterly #PitMad just around the corner (that means tomorrow), I thought I’d tout the highs, give the low-down on the lows, and throw my usual pleasantly curmudgeonly pitch contest warning out to fellow writers. (Yep, two adverbs there. I’m keeping them. Just like I’m keeping my poisoned prologue and my eleventy-million points of view.)

The Good

First, a few upbeat comments. Online pitch and query contests are fantastic and if you have a finished manuscript or non-fiction proposal that is revised, polished, and read by someone who did not give birth to you, you should enter one. Why? Here’s a smattering of reasons:

  1. They’re just damned fun. All that excitement and adrenaline gets your fingers twitching and your heart racing–a great thing for me since I’m caffeine-intolerant and need to get that sort of fix via sources other than coffee.*
  2. You will (and I guarantee this) meet at least one super-cool writer pal. If you’re as lucky as I was during #AgentMatch, you’ll end up with a critique partner who rocks your world. (Yes, Charlotte Levine Gruber, that means you.)
  3. Any exercise that requires you to grind down your several-thousand-word masterpiece into fewer than 140 characters (including those pesky spaces and punctuation marks) has to be good for you. Even if it hurts a little bit.
  4. There’s much to be learned from fellow authors’ pitches. Look for those goals, motivations, conflicts, and stakes in the favourited tweets. You just might have a eureka moment and end up tweaking your own pitch for the better.
  5. You’ll get a sense of what agents are looking for–NOW. And NOW is not the same thing as last year or last month or whenever an agent last updated her Publishers Marketplace profile or website or manuscript wish list (#MSWL). Real-time information rules.
  6. If you’re anything like me (or every other writer in the world), you’ll dig the almost-instantaneous feedback. Amazing what a few re-tweets or I-can’t-wait-to-read-your-book comments can do for one’s ego, quoi?
  7. And best of all, you just might see one of those coveted stars underneath your pitch. They look like this:

Twitter Pitch 1 Twitter Pitch 2 (Note: I didn’t end up with my wonderful agent, Alec Shane of Writers House, through #PitMad. Nor did I end up with Alec as a result of these two pitches. And I didn’t end up with him by way of either of the two books I huckstered in my very first #PitMad back in December 2014. I had to write something else.)

The Bad

There really isn’t anything bad about online pitch contests, but I needed this part to fit in with my nod to Sergio Leone. (In almost all of my blog posts, you’ll find at least one cinematic reference. Many are well hidden or just plain obscure.) That said, I’ll mention a few things I’ve learned:

  1. Your pitches might not get starred by agents. Sad, I know, but true. It doesn’t mean your pitch sucked (it might mean that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that). Not every agent follows every #PitMad feed. Pitches come in faster than you can spell “tweet.” Some nasty god of the literary underworld might have put kryptonite between your dream agent’s eyes and your pitch. Remedy? Keep calm and query on.
  2. You’ve gotten the star, you’ve sent out your material (following the agent’s submission guidelines, naturally), and…thump! That’s the sound of the rejection hitting your inbox. It happens. For the remedy, see #1 above.
  3. It’s eight o’clock in the evening and you’ve been staring at your computer screen for twelve hours straight. The refrigerator is bare, because you forgot to go grocery shopping. Dinner ain’t gonna happen, because your head feels like it’s been in a vise all day. Remedy? Take-away Chinese food. Trust me on this one.

The When-to-Say-No

Here it is, the pleasantly curmudgeonly part: You’ve gotten a star! Whoo-hoo! Fanfuckingtastic funiculi-funicula moment.

Now just wait a cockadoodie minute, friend. (I mean this in my usual pleasant way.)

WHO, exactly, was it who put that little star under your tweet? A small publisher? A–yipes–vanity press? An agent who doesn’t rep your genre? A new agency that cropped up in someone’s guest bedroom the night before #PitchMas?

Nothing’s wrong with any of the above. (I have my own private thoughts about vanity presses, which I’ve brought to light under a different blog in a different country with no name attached to those opinions, but if you dig paying to have your book published, that’s up to you.)

The point is simple: when you get that little star, the game-board spinner now points back to you. Yes, I mean you. It’s homework and research time, writer. That moment when you start (if you haven’t already started) your agent-stalking career. Check the source of those stars out. Like what you see? Terrific. Follow the agent’s submission guidelines to a T (if and only if you have a finished manuscript or non-fiction proposal that is revised, polished, and read by someone who did not give birth to you).

But if you’re not quite sure, if you’ve read worrisome comments on Preditors [sic] and Editors, if anything at all raises a red flag…well, maybe that agent or publisher isn’t what you’ve been looking for after all. Not all shining Twitter stars are created equal. Take your time, do your homework, and know that you can always say “thank you, but no thank you.”

I’ll be hanging out editing and writing and dreaming and waiting tomorrow, but I’m silently cheering y’all on. Happy #PitMad day!

Note: *I do, in fact, consume massive quantities of decaf. Black, no sugar.

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