Until March 7, 2019, I had only participated in #PitMad as a writer. Before participating as an editor I planned out my #PitMad day in advance, and some of my thinking was based on my experiences as a writer participant.
I had no idea what was in store for me. At 8:05 am I went to the hashtag on my desktop and there were already hundreds of tweets. By the time I worked my way through those I was 3 hours behind and hundreds of new pitches were waiting.
After that round the number to download increased to thousands, and the numbers continued to rise throughout the day.
If I am being generous, in the 10+ hours I sat at my computer reading pitches that day, I covered perhaps 30% of all pitches made. In reality, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was closer to 3%. It’s actually impossible to know, because amidst the legitimate pitches there are also advertisers who decide to capitalize on trending hashtags and people using the hashtag to ask what PitMad is.
In the wake of #PitMad, I felt conflicted. Yes, I had found many pitches to like as an editor, and hoped to see some of them produce submissions for Bronzeville Books. However, I also looked at the thousands of unreviewed pitches and felt a great sense of loss, because I am certain that among them were glimpses of amazing novels I would have been eager to like, but I never got the chance to.
This did prompt me to think about how I could have a more successful #PitMad in the future, and how writers could also improve their chances of raising their profile effectively.
What Writers Can Do
Some of my suggestions here may seem simple, but I think many writers would do better on #PitMad if they considered these tips.
Know Your Genre
This may seem obvious, but one of the things I observed during #PitMad was a lack of clear genre categorization. An obvious area where there were blurred lines centered around #YA, #NA and #A books. While some industry professionals skip over #NA and categorize #YA as simply “13-adult” others are far more specific at identifying #YA as books that are focused on teenagers. General age guidelines would put #YA at 13-18, and #NA would be 18-25. There is some overlap, but it is highly unlikely that an editor would see a story about a 25-year-old as #YA. Writing a good pitch is part of the process for #PitMad, but researching genre guidelines is also important.
Genre guidelines are not limited to age categories, either. Many genres have subgenres, and there are some specific requirements for the primary genre categories. While people often reference SF/F together, science fiction is considerably different from fantasy, and when a pitch is labeled both #SF and #F it raises a clear question about what genre the work does fall in. Not all publishers will consider both genres, and if the editor or agent has any doubt about which genre your work falls in you may miss out on a like as a result.
It is easy to prepare, however. There is authoritative #PitMad information online about how the event works and which hashtags to use and what they mean. Using the hashtags recommended by event organizers will help your pitch grab the attention of the right agents and editors who are looking for work in your genre.
Do Not Overuse Hashtags
It’s tempting to use a lot of genre hashtags so that you will appear in many different genre-specific searches during #PitMad. That sounds logical, because you want to get a chance to put your material in front of as many people as possible, right?
This is not always a sound strategy, because you may find yourself in front of the wrong eyes. When editors and agents are actively searching for specific material it’s bad enough that advertisers usurping the hashtag and people asking questions about the event add content that has to be scrolled past. Increasing the volume of irrelevant tweets only exacerbates the problem; if an agent is actively searching for #H because they are looking for horror and submissions that should be categorized as #S or #T are filling the feed, there is a greater chance the agent will stop reading.
The thinking here is similar to a tactic that many writers take when submitting to agents and editors who do not represent or publish their genre. There are two potential issues that cause writers to do this. First, they may not be confident in their genre classification for their work and think that if they cast a wider net the industry professionals will sort it out for them. Second, some may think that the agent or editor will make an exception for their work.
For those who aren’t confident in their genre classification, I recommend more research. This is also where beta readers come in. You should know what your story is about. While some novels do slide across genre lines, this is usually limited to two or three genres at most. Works that have five, six, seven or more genre hashtags indicate to the industry professional that the writer may lack genre-specific knowledge, and that can be problematic because it may mean that their work doesn’t conform to genre guidelines. Some of us may love a work that pushed the boundaries, but even an #H #S cross-over with a bit of #R would not warrant three genre hashtags, since the #R in that scenario is clearly a subplot and not the central focus of the work. The issue for editors when they see four or five genre hashtags is that they know it’s highly likely the writer doesn’t understand the audience for their work, and a pitch doesn’t tell the whole story of a novel. Some pitches make a book sound like a romance when it’s actually a thriller. An editor who is considering the pitch but then questions the writer’s understanding of their work through excessive genre tags may then opt to pass because they aren’t confident the story will fit their needs.
If you think your work is so distinct that industry professionals will make an exception and represent or publish your work, even when they do not typically cover your genre, you are mistaken. Industry professionals represent or publish specific works because they know how to sell those works and understand the dynamics of those specific genres. Many times, a work is not rejected because of poor writing; it is rejected because the agent or editor doesn’t know how to sell it.
While you may think that perhaps the professional should learn and expand their abilities so that they can take on your work, you do not want to be their test case. The success of your book depends on getting people who understand both the book and the readership for it to actively work to ensure it reaches the right audience. Most people fall into specialties after years of experience in different areas of publishing, and they do so because it is their area of strength, not simply because they have limited exposure to different genres or age groups. A good agent or editor knows what they can do, and what is outside their capabilities. That’s how they stay in business, and that means that you should trust their guidelines instead of pushing them.
There are a lot of articles about how to write a good pitch. One of the key things that the reader is looking for is an understanding of what the story is about. Overcoming obstacles to success? Dealing with heartbreak and grief? Avenging a wrong? I recommend this article about writing a one sentence plot summary. You have an opportunity to make three different tweets for the same project throughout the day; this means that you can adjust your focus in each one if you choose to, but as the writer you should know the core theme of your work and you should convey that in your pitch. Agents and editors are going to scroll past your pitch if it isn’t clear what the book is about.
This is a tip that extends to writing a synopsis or a query; lose the subplots. We all have secondary themes or storylines in our writing that we may love, but the pitch is for the main plot and core theme to shine. When you know what your book is about it will not feel like you’ve reduced the story to nothing by stating the central theme and plot. It should feel like you focused on your main entree without ordering an appetizer and dessert. When agents and editors read a pitch it’s like going to a restaurant and just getting that main course, but they know there are other good things they can try at a later date; the question of the day is whether or not the main course impressed them enough to come back for more.
There is no perfect time to post your tweet; however, a systematic approach may improve your chances of exposure. I would recommend tweeting as close to 8 am as possible so that your tweet comes up in the first round of pitches that a professional reviews. Those that are looking at pitches from the start of their work day will be coming to the event fresh and ready to process what they’re seeing.
After this, it is harder to gauge. Repeating a project’s tweet between 9:30 and 10 am gives you a chance to be seen by those who come into the office at 9 and spend a bit of time going through their messages and emails before jumping over to #PitMad. Assuming they go to the main #PitMad thread this gives you a good chance of having your pitch be one of the first ones they see.
There are also professionals who need to complete most of a day’s work before they can check #PitMad pitches. These are the people you may catch with a 4-5 pm tweet.
Time zones are a factor, but these times are for EST, which is the time zone that guides the event. Those who are hoping to attract an overseas agent or publisher may wish to adjust their times accordingly while still staying within the #PitMad event time parameters.
I do not recommend tweeting after 6:30 pm EST if you are trying to reach agents and editors in the Eastern US. On March 7, 2019 by 4 pm there were thousands of tweets still in the queue and I had been at my computer all day, starting at 8:05 am. While I remained at my computer until 6:30 pm and returned briefly after dinner, I doubt I saw more than half a dozen pitches that were posted after 6 pm due to the sheer volume of pitches.
What Editors & Agents Can Do
With the volume of pitches, how can editors and agents navigate #PitMad and find what they’re looking for? Here are a few tips.
Use Specific Genre Tag Searches
It doesn’t take long for the #PitMad event to produce thousands of pitches. Use #PitMad in combination with the genre tags that you are looking for to reduce the volume of material that you need to review. This will help to ensure that you find what interests you, instead of spending your day wading through pitches that don’t suit your needs.
Have Clear Genre Interests Defined
Do you take poetry? Are you interested in graphic novels? It is important to have a clear list of genre categories that you are looking for and to stay focused on those areas. In my case, I work for a publisher that considers multiple genres, which meant that I was in the main trenches sorting through all #PitMad posts. As the day progressed I was able to identify areas where there hadn’t been many submissions or where I hadn’t found many pitches to like and I adjusted my searches for those specific genres to see if there was good material I’d missed. Know what you’re looking for so that you do not spend time focused on pitches for books that may be fantastic, but outside of your focal area.
When In Doubt, Like
There will be thousands of pitches posted throughout the day, so if you are interested in the content and the pitch fits your genre needs, like it. You have not promised to publish or represent the writer, but there was a reason you stopped and considered that pitch. Let that be enough, because by the end of the day you will not have time to go back and revisit it.
Also, the fact that you like a pitch does not mean the writer will submit to you. They may have specific agents they are targeting first.
I was interested in a pitch and went back early on in the day to like it and the pitch had been removed. Perhaps if I’d like the project immediately the author would have left it in place; I never did locate that author’s project again, and it taught me then that I must take action and like any pitch that catches my interest, because I may not have a second chance to review it.
Do Retweets Help?
I am not convinced that they do. Of all the pitches I liked, less than 3% had been retweeted. Others may have found great success with retweets; I can only say that I saw very few myself during the entire day I spent reviewing #PitMad posts.
We are all actually on the same side. We want to play a role in telling great stories. Some of us write them. Others represent those stories, and others publish them. Authors typically deal with a lot of rejection throughout their journey to publication, but agents deal with that rejection, too. When they sign an author they submit it to editors and may find themselves reading several rejections before the manuscript finds a home. Not only do they have to process those rejections, they have to inform the author of them.
We often set ourselves up with antagonistic relationships between the different professionals involved in publishing, but at the end of the day we are all working to serve the interests of readers by making the greatest stories available for the readership we work for. When a writer is clear on their intended audience for their work and an industry professional knows exactly who they’re producing books for, the chances are much greater that the right authors, agents and editors will connect and be able to produce a successful book.
Sandra Ruttan is Bronzeville Bee’s managing editor and an editor with Bronzeville Books.
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