stack of papers tied with black ribbon

Competitive Pitching

All aspiring authors know how difficult it is to write a query letter that stands out in a slush pile. You stress and stress over the exact wording, trying to create something that will make agents pick your manuscript out as the next big thing. But sometimes you just need a break from the standard method of pitching your novel. If you’re looking for a fun way to get your manuscript out in the world, check out #PitMad, a Twitter event put on by the organizers of Pitch Wars.
Pitch Wars is a mentorship program that matches a writer with an author, editor, or other industry intern. It’s a chance for writers to work with someone who will read their entire manuscript and give them suggestions. These mentors help their mentees prepare their manuscripts so they’re ready for the agent showcase. There’s a ton of information on the Pitch Wars website, so if you’re an unagented writer––or just want to learn more––check it out! There’s information on both current and past Pitch Wars, #PitMad––which I’ll be going into here––and other resources for writers. It’s a great site to check out if you’re looking for an agent or just want to connect with other writers.
One of my favorite things about Pitch Wars is #PitMad. Although Pitch Wars only takes place once a year, #PitMad happens in March, June, September, and December on Twitter. Each pitch day goes from eight in the morning until eight in the evening. Writers craft a short pitch using the #PitMad hashtag, and on designated days they post on Twitter. As a writer, you can post your own pitch for your manuscript using the 280 characters Twitter allows, or you can support your favorite writer friends’ pitches by retweeting. It’s a great community event which allows you to find new writers and future novels. And if you’re lucky enough, an agent will like your tweet and you’ll be able to submit your manuscript to them.
To start participating, just write up a few tweets that you’ll share throughout the day! It helps to have a few to work with, as you’ll want to tweet periodically over the day for more chances for agents to see your work. You’re allowed to pitch a manuscript a maximum of three times a day, and it’s recommended to pitch once every four hours in order to not crowd the hashtag. More rules are available on the #PitMad section of the Pitch Wars website and will help you navigate the #PitMad days on Twitter.
#PitMad is such a fun way to jump into the exciting world of competitive pitching. It may not always lead to an agent, but it’s a wonderful way to interact with the Twitter writing community, find some aspiring authors to follow, and see what agents are looking for.

Two hands made of words grasp.

Community Outreach to Find Hidden Gems

Ooligan Press receives many unsolicited submissions through our Submittable from authors all over the world looking to get their books published. Despite the traffic our Submittable receives, however, there are times where the works we have received do not provide the press with the manuscripts we need. This is where community outreach comes into play.

As a teaching press, it is important for Ooligan Press to acquire all different types of manuscripts to provide students with a variety of learning experiences. Our submissions tend to be cyclical, with certain types of books coming to us in groups. For example, the holidays and new year often bring about an influx of novel and memoir submissions as writers wrap up their goals for the year or designate getting published as a New Year’s resolution.

These submissions are always welcome, but we are not always looking for literary fiction or memoirs at any particular time. These holes in our manuscript submissions call for some boots-on-the-ground work from the acquisitions department.

Community outreach can take many forms, such as attending book festivals or author workshops. One of our previous events, Write to Publish, was a great way for the acquisitions department at Ooligan Press to receive submissions; the event featured a panel for authors to pitch their books to the acquisitions managers. Some of our published books came directly from this event. However, in today’s digital and pandemic-ridden world, all of our efforts have been taken online.

Social media is a powerful tool for all sorts of marketing and promotion, and so this is often our first strategy to reach both readers and potential authors. One form of community outreach we’ve been experimenting with in the acquisitions department is #PitMad, which was discussed in our previous acquisitions Manager Monday blog post.

#PitMad is a great way to see what authors are putting out into the world, but maintaining a presence in local and regional writing groups can allow for a more personalized connection with writers, and can help you engage with posts and pages regularly to improve your industry awareness and author accessibility. Participating in local author’s guilds and writing workshops can also connect you with authors who may be new to the publishing world and are not sure of the best way to reach out to a press.

Additionally, community outreach from a lesser-seen portion of the press can help to humanize a publisher, making it more accessible and relatable to not only potential authors, but also the press’s readership. Often, the publishing industry can seem somewhat cold and hidden from the public. The inner workings aren’t always seen, and increasing community outreach and publicity in various areas of the press can help add personality and transparency to the organization.

Ultimately, additional submissions may require more time to work through the slush pile, but it’s a small price to pay to find the perfect author and book for your press. And making an effort to improve community outreach from the editorial, design, and acquisitions departments of the press will humanize an industry that can often come across as an unfeeling machine that doesn’t see the smaller authors and readers who are ultimately the heart of the industry.

Pitching in a Pandemic

I’ve read the New York Times article. It certainly doesn’t look great to be sending out media and sales pitches as if all were normal, and as much as I admire the work being done in the #booksareessential campaign, the image of someone holding a book up to their face to mimic a mask makes me a bit uncomfortable. Books are essential, but they are not N90 masks.

As a society in this pandemic, our hierarchy of needs has shifted. Physiological and safety needs are not a given; anyone who has had to go to five different stores to find toilet paper or has had to call the unemployment office for days on end can tell you this. I am telling you this.

To sit down and construct a publicity pitch feels utterly frivolous—more than usual. I love the work I do because I get to communicate with people every day about the books that Ooligan has created. I get to connect with media outlets and people who write stories that I admire and tell them a story of my own about our most recent title, yet right now I struggle to contextualize the necessity of the work I do in the wake of this pandemic. I am not an essential worker, but the books I am tasked with informing people about are still launching and I need to continue with my pitching.

So, after some long reflecting I came up with a few rules to live by in the weeks and months to come.

  1. Don’t act like all is normal. Address the person you are pitching with this in mind. Send them your best wishes and tell them to take care. If ever there was a time to truly personalize and value the human you are speaking to over email, now is it (but in all seriousness, you should be doing this outside of pandemics too). In times like this, small signs of caring can make a big impact.
  2. Be generous with follow up deadlines and emails. With everyone working from home, emails are piling up in inboxes. It is easy to lose track of those you have replied to and those waiting for a reply. We can’t possibly know what is going on in the world of the person who is receiving our email, so be kind when following up on requests.
  3. Avoid the typical pitch-writing techniques. Be clear and communicative about your goals. Speak to your shared interest and try to be helpful. For example, if you want your book on a listicle or gift guide, help the media outlet you are pitching by having something already prepared. Work right now is stressful for everyone, and if you are being helpful the chances of your email being welcomed are greatly improved.

And please remember that books are essential, but they aren’t the essentials. Books can give comfort in difficult times and allow for us to feel connected when environmental factors like this pandemic keep us apart, but they do not usurp safety and health. Avoid hyperbole and do not overstate the importance of your book. There will be many days in the future for that!

Nonfiction Publicity vs. Fiction Publicity

The tricky thing about book publicity is that there is no exact formula—no preset way to promote a book. That’s because no two books are the same, and so no two publicity campaigns are the same. However, depending on the type of book, we can use some general guidelines as a starting place. Nonfiction sales have been on the rise as of late. As book publicists, we must embrace current market trends and learn how to use them to our advantage.

Here at Ooligan, we publish all kinds of titles, both fiction and nonfiction. At any given time, chances are we are working on promoting at least one of each. We can’t treat fiction and nonfiction books the same when creating marketing and publicity campaigns for them, because they are different by nature. So what are the key differences when promoting a nonfiction title as compared to a fiction title?

One perk of promoting a nonfiction book is that they have clear, strong pitching platforms. While fiction books tend to be more vague, nonfiction titles have a more defined target audience. The easier it is to pinpoint your target audience, the easier it is to frame your promotional message.

Nonfiction titles are also good to pitch to news media, including TV, radio, and podcasts. This is because they provide information on their respective topics. If the book provides new information or a new perspective on its topic, it can easily be converted into a spotlight or feature story.

Speaking of podcasts, they have thrived as publicity tools in recent years. It turns out that over half of adults in the US have been listening to podcasts, and this type of platform is expected to continue growing in the future. Regular podcast listeners also tend to be more active on social media than non-listeners, so the odds are greater that they will act as grassroots intermediaries in helping to spread the word about your book.

The last important thing to remember when conducting a publicity campaign for a nonfiction title is to focus on timelines. This includes key dates, events, and other timely news topics. If the topic at hand can be connected to any holidays, important anniversaries, or other current events, use these to your advantage and pitch your book in relation to these dates. This can also sometimes apply to fiction titles, but nonfiction themes often have stronger ties to particular dates than fiction books.

Similarly, nonfiction authors make excellent interviewees. If you write a book on something, you are assumed to be an expert on that subject. Simply put, journalists love to interview experts. This expertise can also extend to additional feature stories, expert commentary, and other byline articles. This is especially useful if your author already has their own platform in their given field. For example, Jeff Alworth (author of Ooligan’s latest nonfiction title, The Widmer Way) has his own popular beer blog and corresponding Twitter presence that came in handy when promoting his new book.

So remember that while fiction and nonfiction books should be treated differently when creating a publicity campaign, each has its own advantages. When working on a nonfiction title, plan according to timeliness, utilize your author as an expert, and take advantage of news media, because in this era, the truth is more valuable than ever.

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.)

How to Boost Your Query’s Success

With the tenth annual Write to Publish conference just around the corner, there are going to be a lot of exciting learning opportunities available for authors. As to be expected, Ooligan’s Acquisitions Department is particularly anticipating the Pitch Workshop, where we (and several other local publishers) will be able to listen to authors’ pitches and give specialized feedback.

In the past, the Ooligan blog has posted some great advice about query letters. For those who have never written a query before, you should go check those out first. However, with those resources available, we wanted to dive deeper into some pitch concepts: framing and in-person pitches. While the latter will primarily be of use to those participating in Write to Publish (or similar writing conferences), framing your book correctly is useful in all cases. Doing it correctly can really give your query letter a leg up on the competition.

Framing

Building Your Synopsis

The question is not whether you should include a synopsis (the answer will always be yes), but how you include it. The information that you include in your synopsis is going to do the bulk of your framing work, as this is where you need to get across what the book is about on more than just a plot level. The synopsis should be fairly short—one to two paragraphs at most—so pick the storyline that is most important or most portrays the themes of the book and focus solely on that. At this level, you need to be as clear as possible about what story you are trying to tell, and bringing in too many characters in such a small space will muddy that vision.

Once you have your storyline picked out, approach telling it in three parts: the background or set-up (most commonly what the world is like, or what your main character’s life is currently), the conflict, and the stakes that your main character has in that conflict.

Positioning Your Manuscript

How you position your manuscript within the marketplace says just as much about it as your synopsis does. While it is acceptable to just state what books are like yours, an even more engaging—and more useful—way is to show where the books intersect: for example, “the lighthearted camaraderie of X meets the optimistic vision for the future of Y.” Using an intersection points out what makes the story similar to others and how it stands apart, all in one sentence.

As you’ll see with other suggestions about comp titles, using authors or books that are either explosive hits (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games) or canonized (The Bell Jar, Jack Kerouac) is not as helpful in this area as another title would be, as this helps us glean initial thoughts of target audience—and you can’t pick out an audience when it’s “everybody.”

Relating to the Publisher

Almost every article with advice on writing query letters will tell you to make sure you check the submission guidelines, and they’re right! Making sure that a publisher is actually interested in the type of manuscript you’ve written is important, as it saves them time and saves you heartache from another rejection. However, you should also be thinking past just the basic guidelines. If they state that they take nonfiction, does that mean light-hearted personal memoir, or a deep evaluation of the economy? Or both? The best way to figure this out is to look at the list of books they’ve published and compare the titles there. Another strategy would be to see if any of the editors for the press have posted a manuscript wishlist somewhere (most commonly on Twitter under the hashtag #MSWL).

In-person Pitching

Focus on the Synopsis

While knowing about a writer’s background can be useful, it isn’t what really captures an editor’s interest most of the time. Given your limited time, really devote it to your positioning statement and your synopsis.

Practice

Presentations are nerve-wracking, especially when it’s about something as close to you as the manuscript you’ve been working on for months, possibly years. While editors and agents will likely have that in mind, giving a solid presentation of your manuscript will impress them. Practice in the mirror (to see how your body language is coming across), practice to your friends or family, and make sure that you feel confident speaking about your manuscript and answering any questions they may have. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you will be during the actual meeting.

Five Steps to Take Before Writing a Query Letter

Last year, a friend of mine was preparing a manuscript to be pitched to publishers and agents. He asked me to read his manuscript beforehand because he believed my editorial experience would provide him with insight regarding the plausibility of his book getting accepted by a publisher or an agent (it doesn’t). I told him the story was enjoyable but in need of structural work. After revising the manuscript twice, he approached me for tips on how to write his query letter, knowing that I’ve been involved with Ooligan. So to help new authors like my friend, I’ve compiled a list of five reminders that are helpful when writing the dreaded query letter.

    1. Have a fully formed idea of what your manuscript is about. The more concise an explanation you can give about your book, the more you know what it’s about. A good exercise is to try distilling major plot points and themes down to simple sentences that are clear and brief. Doing this will not only help focus your work but it will assist with the concision necessary to write an effective query letter.

    2. Revise, revise, and revise. It’s rare that the first, second, and third drafts of a new manuscript are ready to be sent out professionally—that’s fine! Set aside a reasonable amount of time to revise and edit your manuscript, so that it’s in the best shape possible before pitching it to prospective agents and publishers.

    3. Have someone read the latest drafts of your manuscript. After revising your manuscript, ask someone you know—anyone—to read your work before querying a publisher or an agent. Doing this provides invaluable reader responses that elucidate any shortcomings that weren’t caught during the revision process of your manuscript.

    4. Get to know the person or organization that you are going to query. Whether it’s an independent press or Penguin Random House, research the publishers and agents you are querying. Pay attention to the genres they focus on, and target specific outlets that fit the criteria of your book. For example, a publisher specializing in nonfiction isn’t interested in publishing romance.

    5. Familiarize yourself with the query letter. In its most basic form, a query letter is a one-page pitch that gives the reader a concise summary of your manuscript, a brief author bio, and your understanding of the market that you hope to reach. A simple Google search will come up with dozens of results showing writers how to compose an effective query letter while also providing examples of pitches that successfully landed book deals.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of steps to take before beginning to write a query letter, but it should be a useful reminder for any writer preparing to pitch their manuscript to potential agents and publishers. Remember that query letters can be difficult to write and the content needs to excite the reader through the brevity of what’s being presented inside the pitch. So fully understand your work, revise your manuscript, have someone read it, get to know who you will query, and familiarize yourself with the query letter itself before sending out your pitches.

Ooligan Press Does #PitMad

The Ooligan Press acquisitions department will participate in the Twitter pitch party #PitMad on Thursday, March 17. If Ooligan’s Twitter account—@ooliganpress—likes your #PitMad tweet, we have officially invited you to submit a book proposal package through our Submittable page. Please note in your cover letter that you were invited to submit through #PitMad and include your Twitter handle.

We are looking for submissions regionally significant to the Pacific Northwest in the #PitMad age categories #YA, #NA, and #A and genre categories #AD, #CON, #HF, #MR, #Mem, #LGBT, #LF, #NF, and #WF.

Our full submission guidelines and more information about our press are available on the Ooligan Press website. Please note, we may retweet your #PitMad pitch to boost awareness of your proposal within our publishing network, but if we don’t like your tweet we haven’t invited you to submit to Ooligan, likely because the age or genre of your pitch conflicts with our submission guidelines.

Our acquisitions team wishes everyone participating in #PitMad the best of luck, and we look forward to seeing your pitches!

Conquering the Pitch

Write to Publish is having a Pitch Roundtable this year! What’s that, you may ask? Well, good question. The Pitch Roundtable is a chance for emerging writers to get their stories out there. It’s a chance to start up a conversation about your book with a live agent. Terrifying? Maybe, but I have some tips for that later on.

We’re pleased to announce both Ooligan’s acquisitions team and representatives from MacGregor Literary Agency will be present at the Pitch Roundtable. Ooligan Press is looking for literature from the Pacific Northwest, specifically young adult, literary fiction, and nonfiction. MacGregor Literary Agency is looking for literary fiction, commercial fiction, women’s fiction, romance, and thriller/suspense fiction.

Helpful Tips

Sometimes telling others about your book can be a little nerve-racking (“what if they don’t understand my carefully crafted plotline?”); pitching it to an agent can be downright terrifying. Here are some tips to help you conquer your anxiety:

  • Prepare—Unless you’re a speech pro, this will be a scary experience. So prepare for it. Come up with a two-to-three-minute pitch about your book in which you boil down your story to four or five sentences. Basically, explain who is trying to do what and why. Include the main character, the main antagonist, what’s at stake, and the obstacle or conflict. Also include genre, comparable books, and why it’s different or exciting.
  • Practice—Practice your pitch in front of a mirror, or better yet in front of whoever will listen (family, friends, other attendees). Practice it so often you can say it in your sleep, so much you can spit it out at will, as many times as it takes for you to stave off that tongue-tied feeling. When the time comes to deliver the pitch to the agent, you’ll know it by heart. Yes, nerves will still spike through your system, but at least your pitch will be perfect. After all, you’re not there to have a conversation over coffee—you’re trying to convince the agent to consider your story.
  • Research—Yes, research. Know ahead of time what agencies will be there. For this conference, make sure to look at Ooligan Press and MacGregor Literary Agency. Research what books they publish and be sure to know where your manuscript fits in the publishing world. Is it romance, fantasy, nonfiction? Who are your readers? As I said before, find a comparison book, one that’s already been published and is similar to your own. But be sure you can point out the differences, too.
  • Accept Criticism—Let’s say the agent isn’t interested in your story, but has some constructive comments. Don’t freak out about it! It’s their job to help writers get better, and sometimes that means they have to point out the problems. Thank them for their feedback and ask questions if anything is confusing. Be sure to be graceful. It never hurts to bring a copy of your synopsis and business card with you to give to them after your five minutes are up.

Pitching can be scary, but it’s an awesome opportunity for writers to get their stories out there. Write to Publish is giving you that opportunity. Pitching at the Roundtable is free for Write to Publish full-price ticket holders, but donations are always welcomed. We ask you to sign up for the event; however, drop-ins are also okay.

For more information about Write to Publish, check out our website.