By Word or By Bird: Acquisitions through Twitter

In acquisitions, a lot of the manuscripts we receive come unsolicited—we have never heard of the author, but they’ve looked at our submission guidelines and think their work fits with what we publish. We wanted to try a new approach to reach new audiences and expand the circle of writers who already know and submit to Ooligan.

As we are both primarily internet-dwelling creatures, exploring Twitter was a natural progression. And from the time we spent on Twitter, we noticed a large community of agents, editors, authors, and more using the platform to broaden their reach and visibility. The community of writers and publishing professionals on Twitter is vast, but there were a few aspects of the engagement that we thought could help us spark new connections, particularly manuscript wish lists, Twitter pitch events, and personal branding (find us @alyssalschaffer and @joanna_shwaba).

Agents and editors use the Twitter hashtag #MSWL to share concepts they’re looking for (or hoping for) in the submissions they receive. This isn’t meant to act as a writing prompt, but rather to match agents and editors up with writers who are already working on something along those lines. The tweets from individual agents and editors get filtered onto their own profiles on the Manuscript Wish List site. This is a great way to get a feel for what particular agents are looking for, and whether they might be the right fit for you.

Twitter pitch events are designed for authors to tweet out pitches of their book; agents and publishers then like the tweet to express interest in receiving a proposal for that pitch. It allows authors to be seen by a large number of agents and publishers at once, and helps industry professionals find more new voices in a short amount of time. The #PitMad contest (run by the same people who do Pitch Wars) is one of the most well-known, particularly because it’s used for all genres and interests. However, there are many Twitter pitch events that focus on specific niches or demographics, such as #DVpit (for marginalized authors), or #SFFpit (for, you guessed it, science fiction and fantasy).

Less official, daily interactions and, by extension, personal branding on Twitter can also lead to important connections. We’ve devoted a lot of thought and energy into what we tweet and how we engage with people (if you don’t believe us, take a look at our DMs—we send each other drafts to make sure our tweets fit our individual brands). Twitter is a great space to have casual interactions, both personally and professionally, because it allows you to participate in a kind of digital networking. Angie Thomas, author of the bestselling YA novel THE HATE U GIVE, found her agent and her place as a powerhouse in the industry through an agent Q&A.

Over the last year, we’ve experimented with a few initiatives in an attempt to engage with a larger audience of authors, and honestly, we’ve received mixed results. While we didn’t get as many submissions from the pitch events we participated in as we may have expected, we did see more the longer we engaged. When we did a whole week’s worth of #MSWL tweets leading up to our last #PitMad, we saw more people asking questions about Ooligan and what we’re interested in. Similarly, we’ve posted Twitter threads every term for the last year as a call for submissions, and each term, we’ve seen more interest. Although our initial payoff was low, we’re starting to see more online engagement and more consistent submissions.

Though increased submissions and higher visibility for the press are certainly our main goals with this kind of initiative, the real acquisitions are the friends we’ve made along the way. The writing and publishing community on Twitter is a great place to find connection and support.

(And remember: our #MSWL will always and forever include a space opera or steampunk Oregon Trail, so if that’s something you’ve got up your sleeve, please send it in to our brilliant successors, Taylor Thompson, @taylormegon, and Karissa Mathae, @KMathae. They’ve promised to keep a lookout.)

Backlist to the Future: Killing George Washington

Lets starts with a bit of honesty; I don’t usually read poetry. In fact, I’ll go ahead and admit I don’t care for it. I’m a fan of books beginning to end. Intro, climax, resolution, ending. Character development and intricately described settings are what make me flip from page to page, and I have never found poems to leave me feeling satisfied. I respect it as an art form, and a beautiful way for the poet to express themselves, but for some reason it’s just not for me. History on the other hand, now that’s something I get behind. I am a big time history buff, and love to devour knowledge about how the past has shaped the world we live in today. I am also a west coast kid, fittingly born in the shadow of St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, the literal gateway to the west. Raised in the Arizona desert and self-implanted into the heart of the Pacific Northwest, the west coast is, and always has been, home. It’s unlikely that will ever change.

All things considered, when I picked up a copy of Killing George Washington I really had no idea what to anticipate. Was I about to read a collection of poems that I would have to struggle to take meaning out of, wondering all the time if I was interpreting them totally wrong? Or was I about to delve into yet another historical epic of the kind I love so dearly? A collection of poems geared towards historical storytelling was something I had never come across before, and I wasn’t sure if I should settle in for an enjoyable read right up my alley, or run for the hills as if being chased by the ambiguous ghost of Robert Frost. To my relief and joy, I was very pleasantly surprised.

The short introductory biographies on each of the five showcased characters serves to provide wonderfully developed backdrops for the poems. You learn who these people were and how, in one way or another, they helped shape the west as we live in it today. Some are seen as heroes, others hardly remembered at all, but Paris is so eloquently able to show that, like all of us, the characters were people with flaws and histories mixed with both the good and the bad. To be sure, the text does not drone on like so many history books we were force fed through school, the true historical stories are broken up by countless poems of beauty and brutality, and here is where Paris takes her artistic license. Was the Indian fighter Lewis Wetzel an American hero and champion of expansion, or a prejudiced murderer who under modern day laws would be executed for genocide? Paris’ poetry begs the question that perhaps he can be both. Does the famous story of Lewis and Clark and The Oregon Trail paint a fair picture of the two hallowed adventurers, or does the story of York prove that the path to the west was paved with blood, sweat, and tears? Through artistic contemplation, you will be forced to draw your own conclusion.

I will not pretend that reading this book has opened my heart to the previously unseen beauties of poetry. The truth is, poetry is still very near the bottom of what I’ll choose to read. However, Killing George Washington has opened my eyes to the potential poetry has, and shown me that I am only cheating myself by writing poems off at a glance just because I probably will not like them. Because after all, the truth is often buried under layers of what we think we know.